Bellevue shop upcycles bourbon barrels, coffee bags to make gorgeous home decor

'In a way, we're kind of recycling stuff'

BELLEVUE, Ky. -- It started with a Pinterest project.

When Tanner and Kelti Ziese built a DIY coffee table three years ago, they had no idea it would inspire them to create their home decor business, Coda Co.

Though it’s far from their best work, Kelti said the table sparked a passion for upcycling locally-sourced materials to create handmade goods.

Now, the couple sells pillows made from coffee bags, macrame plant hangers, bourbon barrel end tables and goods from local artisans at Coda Co.’s brick-and-mortar location along Bellevue’s historic Fairfield Avenue.

Before the shop's Aug. 12 grand opening, Tanner and Kelti sold most of their products at pop-up shops like City Flea, Maifest in Covington and the O.F.F. Market in Oakley.

Their product eventually took over their home, and family, friends and other customers would shop out of their living room, Kelti said.

“Before we had this space, a lot of people thought that we did have a shop, which was kind of funny,” Kelti said. “So they’d be like, 'Oh can I come pick it up?' So we’d give them our address, and they’d show up and look so confused. It’s nice to actually have an outlet so people can come in and shop around.”

Kelti and Tanner Ziese opened their first brick-and-mortar location at 400 Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue. Coda Co. sells eclectic home goods made from upcycled materials. Photo by Abby Anstead | WCPO

Tanner said they would sometimes deliver large pieces of furniture before they had the shop because it was more efficient than mailing it.

“We would do deliveries, and it was super awkward because we would have the stuff, and we’d park the truck and run and drop it on their porch and run away really quick. It felt like ding dong ditch. I think sometimes they thought we were sending it in the mail, but some of the stuff is so big that it’s more convenient if they’re local just to drop it off,” he said.

 

Building furniture from a 'little Kentucky flare'

Tanner makes Coda Co.’s wooden furniture; he uses bourbon barrels to make nightstands, coat racks and serving trays (and pretty much whatever anyone could dream up).

“Bourbon being the staple for Kentucky we thought, 'Let’s have a way where people can take this and use it in their house,'” Tanner said. “So we do the serving trays, the coat racks -- all the Kentucky bourbon barrel stuff -- that little Kentucky flare.”

But hauling the bourbon barrels wasn’t always easy.

The couple didn’t have a truck when they started their business three years ago, so they’d pack the bulky barrels into the back of their little Honda.

Tanner and Kelti laughed as they talked about driving from Louisville to Northern Kentucky, the smell of bourbon pouring from the backseat.

“When you’d open the door, it’d just hit you,” Kelti said.

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how to talk my way out it if I get pulled over,’” Tanner said.

How Coda Co. gives new life to old materials

Both agree that the bourbon barrel goods are a Coda Co. trademark, but their favorite pieces are the coffee tables.

“Making these are so much fun just because every piece has a different, unique characteristic about it,” Tanner said. “This one, that’s a piece of black walnut. This one is a spalted maple, so it has all these intricate lines … every piece is a little different and it’s fun seeing how it turns out.”

The tables take about 10 to 15 hours to sand down, but the end result is worth the labor, Kelti said.

“It’s cool because when you first get them, it’s just a super rough looking piece of wood. It’s hard to see the beauty in them … you can’t really get the full effect until you start sanding it down, and then things that you didn’t know where under there will pop up,” she said. “It almost looks like somebody took a little Sharpie and drew all of those lines.”

GALLERY: Take a look inside Coda Co. 

Kelti makes intricate macrame wall hangings, planters, keychains, pillows and dreamcatchers. She takes pride in finding a new purpose for used materials.

“With the bourbon barrels or the coffee bags, even with the floor pillows I do, I use the scraps from the coffee bags that are left over, so I try to use as much as I can to minimize the amount of waste that we’re using,” she said. “In a way, we’re kind of recycling stuff that would get thrown out, and we try to make it nice again.”

'It's cool to be more than just living in our community'

Between the two of them, they make “just about” everything in the store, Kelti said. Some products, like handmade soaps and blankets, are sourced from other local vendors.

Kelti said connecting with other artists and business owners has been instrumental in getting their shop up and running.

“Meeting a lot other business owners, it’s been incredible," she said. "Even just on the Avenue, everybody’s been super helpful. We’ve obviously never owned a business before, so there was a lot more that went into than we realized."

The couple saw the spot at 400 Fairfield Avenue a few years ago when they had just started their business.

“I remember looking through the windows and just daydreaming about it. We never thought a few years later we’d actually be here,” Kelti said.

The couple moved to Bellevue from Covington in July, and they said they have fallen in love with the city’s tight-knit community and urban charm.

Tanner said he loves the location of their shop because it’s on the same block as Schneider’s Sweet Shop, a characteristic he says is “very important.”

“I think it’s cool to be more than just living in our community,” Tanner said. “You can live somewhere, but then you can really be a part of it. That’s something fun about this too.”

But not everything has always been smooth; owning a business as a husband and wife duo has had its challenges.

They’ve had to catch themselves before being competitive about whose products sell better.

“I do a lot of the wood stuff, and she does all of the fabric and macrame stuff, so at the pop up fests, she’d always be like, ‘Your stuff sold more than my stuff did.’ So we’ve had to be like, ‘No, it’s our stuff, not your stuff and my stuff,’” Tanner said.

Kelti said her competitive drive is mostly accidental. 

“My whole life, I’ve always told myself, ‘I’m never going to work with someone I like or I’m dating,’ and now we’re married and starting a business together. It’s tough sometimes, but it’s been good,” she said.

Kelti works at Coda Co. full time, making product and running the shop. Tanner works full time at Crossroads Church, but he also helps with the shop and makes furniture. They might hire someone in the future to manage the shop when they go to craft shows or leave for vacation.

In the coming months, Kelti said she would like to expand their product line, attend more shows and enhance their online presence.

“I think once we get established here that will be helpful, getting the word out that we actually have a space and people don’t have to come to our house and we don’t have to ding dong ditch them with their product,” she said with a smile. 

For now, the Zieses are just trying to take it all in. Their business has evolved over the years, but their passion for their craft has always been the same.

“Seeing the finished product is so rewarding,” Tanner said. “You put sweat … and really sometimes blood into it, so seeing people appreciate that affirms what you’re doing is kind of cool.”

Kelti said she loves when people send them pictures of custom pieces in their home.

“Knowing that something you did is in someone’s house is really awesome,” she said.

Though they don’t have much time to spend together outside of work, they enjoy working together on the business they started with a date night idea from Pinterest.

“It’s great because you can work in your backyard,” Tanner said. “We’re together, hanging out, our dogs are running around, and you can have a beer at the same time. It’s really the best job ever.”