Krista and Stephen (Steve) Bull are a husband and wife duo who own and operate Among the Pines out of their home in Ontario’s Durham Region. They make handcrafted, one-of-a-kind goods inspired by Canadian nature.
I met Krista and Steve at a holiday market in Toronto in late 2016 when I was picking up wooden ornaments for a friend. They were lugging in boxes and boxes of handmade goodies to sell, wearing smiles bigger than the boxes themselves. I soon became eager to learn about their journey.
Read the full Among the Pines story below:
- When did Among the Pines launch?
The creative process behind our brand, well, that seed was planted long ago. On paper, technically February of 2016 — and in terms of hustlin’ and bustlin’, we launched in the summer of 2016.
- How did the name of your brand come to be?
In Canada, we’re blessed to have one of the best backyards in the world. Nature is what inspires our brand and no matter where you go in our province of Ontario, you’re never far from a wooded area. The eastern white pine is our province’s official tree, and the Jack pine is one of my favourite species. It can grow in extremely harsh conditions, even growing outwards from rocky soil — a site made famous by the great Canadian, Tom Thomson.
We live to explore and create, and that’s what our brand is all about. Among the Pines was created based on our love for the great outdoors — and although we focus on handcrafted gifts and home decor, each piece is in some way inspired or influenced by nature. Whether it’s the methods we use, the materials we source, or the initial idea that encourages us to create — it all relates back to the natural world.
- Have you always been creating things? Where do you think your drive to create and craft came from?
As Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist — the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”
Both Steve and I have always been creative, and luckily, we bring that out in one another. Growing up, I lived in a small hamlet — yes, a hamlet. Who knows what the population was, but there certainly weren’t any children to play with. We spent a lot of time outdoors, but while indoors, my siblings and I were always crafting up something.
We had a “craft closet” that was dedicated to anything from my first wood-burning kit to every possible craft material under the sun. We were always encouraged to create, and that’s something that we’ve carried into adulthood. My mom was an architect and my dad is a master carpenter, an area in which Steve has thrived in. When he moved to Canada, he was a gas engineer, but took an interest in carpentry and so began his woodworking journey.
Although he can build custom homes, he enjoys the smaller projects in which we do together — creating something that was once drawn on a piece of paper, as he makes that concept come to life. He’s really skilled and his creativity is what drives him. You know what they say, two heads are better than one — and two sets of hands are even better. We make a good team — and we’re constantly furthering one another’s creative capabilities.
- Being a creator myself, I know blocks can sometimes arise – making it hard to focus and hard to find inspiration! Is there a pep talk you tell yourself when you’re feeling a little low?
I find some of our best creations happen kind of out of the blue, steaming from a random idea or even a happy accident. Whether we’re sitting by the lake or looking into the flames of a campfire, these are the moments when we’re most relaxed — and creativity is certainly able to flow.
A good example of that, is our distressed coasters. Hand-cut, hand-painted and then finished by hand, this set represents the boathouses of northern Ontario. Representing the look of weathered, natural materials, we first came up with this idea while having a few beers on the dock. As the waves crashed against my family’s nearly 50-year-old boathouse, it just made sense.
We have notes jotted in just about every journal we own [which are scattered throughout the house] and to be honest, a finalized concept generally doesn’t happen overnight. That’s the beauty of an “idea” book — you never know when you’ll have your next ‘ah-ha’ moment.
In terms of a pep talk, sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we do what we do. No matter what you do, there will be some days that are harder than others. It’s all about pushing yourself and staying true to what it is you want to achieve. For us, this is only the beginning.
- Right now, you’re living in Whitby. Is there where you’re originally from? What’s it like owning and operating a business here?
As mentioned, I grew up in a hamlet, which was outside of Port Perry, Ontario. My school only had one class per grade. Our school yard pretty much shared the same plot of land with cows. We hatched and raised chickens in our fourth grade portable — so yeah, you can say it was pretty sweet.
Steve is from England, which has allowed us to explore the best of both worlds. We actually just got back from a North Devon adventure, lending a helping hand on a 15th century farm. We stayed in a little pond cottage that was as charming as they come. The oak beams alone were a sight to see.
Whitby is like any other suburb, which is a good starting point in terms of our business — but one day (hopefully) in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be building a small cabin northeast. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to run a business in this day-in-age, you’ll need to show your face in a city or two, but our hearts certainly belong Among the Pines.
- You produce home accents and handmade gifts, all inspired by nature. Do you have a favourite product to make?
That’s a tough one. We often make a lot of one-off products, so I think they’re the most fun for us to create. Custom work is always exciting.
- How many hours a week do you spend on Among the Pines?
Considering we’re a two-person band, doing everything from design work to accounting, we spend anywhere from 35 to 60 hours a week on our budding business. As mentioned, Steve builds stunning homes and I’m a writer — so we’re trying to find that balance. To be honest, if you account for all the hours we “think” about the next steps, you’re looking at closer to 80 hours a week. Once you begin a journey that’s undeniably your “path” — the more hours you work, the more rewarding it becomes.
- When you’re prepping your products, do you have anyone to help you? Or, are you making, producing and doing all things branding solo?
Steve and I do EVERYTHING — creating, building, marketing, web development, you name it. My old man has also lent a helping hand when we’ve been under the gun — after all, when it comes to woodworking, he certainly knows his way around a workshop.
We have a fairly clear vision regarding the direction we’d like to take, and hopefully one day soon, we can employ a few hard working Canadians. We’d also love to work with aboriginal youth in the future. At this time, we’re still in the early stages, but we work hard and dream even bigger, so who knows what the next couple of years will hold.
- Starting your own business can be challenging (and very expensive). Who has been your biggest support since you started this journey?
Definitely one another, as well as my dad. Family is everything to us, and we’re grateful to each have a loving, supportive family. At the end of the day, individually, Steve and I believe in ourselves and then together, that feeling that anything is possible, is certainly amplified. We just kind of went for it. We’re learning along the way, but that’s what it’s all about.
- What’s one of the toughest lessons you had to learn when creating Among the Pines?
For the most part, owning a business is exciting and rewarding — it’s a labour of love, for sure. On the other hand, you learn to quickly have thick skin and stay true to what you set out to do. Not everyone is going to love what you do, and that’s okay.
As long as you believe in yourself and send out positive vibes, there’s nothing that can bring you down. Being in touch with nature has allowed us to continuously see the bigger picture — we understand what truly matters. Having that connection while living in modern society, has also taught us that we have a long road ahead.
We will continue to educate as many people as possible so that we can enjoy our natural surroundings for many years to come. Please check out our Eco Rewards program to share your ideas, helping others live a greener, more sustainable lifestyle — all while winning some lovely prizes.
- You recently launched your website! What has this process been like?
We FINALLY launched our website — www.amongthepines.ca. I was coding, taking product shots, and designing for what seemed like an entirety. One day, I sat down with my mentor and she said, set a date now and don’t allow yourself to not meet that deadline — which is exactly what I did.
We’re thrilled that it’s launched and excited to begin writing our informative blog. From environmental news to DIY projects, you’ll be able to read all kinds of good stuff. If you want to stay in-the-loop, please feel free to subscribe to our mailing list.
- Having just revamped our A Quarter Young website, I know how long it takes to make a website just the way you want it – and even with that said, it doesn’t always work out the way you hope! What’s been the hardest part about creating this electronic landing place for potential customers?
Aside from all the technical junk, definitely just putting ourselves out there. If I kept nitpicking about every little detail, I would never have launched it. Like most things in business, and life in general, it’s a work-in-progress. The main thing is that our website is accessible, secure, and representative of who we are — and I’m happy with that.
- Throughout this entire journey with Among the Pines, what would you say has been the most rewarding part?
Definitely that feeling of knowing that you’re on the right path. We both have that gut feeling that this is what we’re meant to do, and regardless of the potential hurdles ahead, we’ll continue to push forward. It’s also been amazing to be a part of the ‘small business’ community. Market after market, we meet people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and it’s really something special. Sharing our stories and hearing theirs, is also incredibly rewarding.
- What do you do when you’re not working on product and material for Among the Pines?
I write — mainly health and neuroscience-related content, actually. I must admit, I do love a bit of science and plenty of reading is done between tasks for Among the Pines. Any chance we have to spend time outdoors, obviously we snatch it up. My family cottage has been in the family for nearly five decades and is easily my favourite place on the planet. It’s fun when our friends come from England, because sharing that place with them is so special.
It has actually inspired the majority of our initial products. Our beer tote started on the dock at the cottage. After all, between the cottage itself and the lake, there’s like 30 stone steps. We needed a more sturdy container for that precious cargo — bring down a small bucket of ice and you’re laughing. Same goes for our hand-painted, distressed pine coasters; our wood earrings, our mini soap packs; and even our beer flights. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love sharing a few craft beers at the cottage?
- What’s next for Among the Pines?
Just keeping at it and working hard. Although we love our current product line and will continue to participate in plenty of markets throughout Southern Ontario, we will also be moving into more custom work. If you’re looking for unique, handcrafted gifts or decor, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.