Kris Morris has worked with wood since he was 15 years old.
And now, 19 years later, he has set off on his own with Morris Custom Concepts, an independent woodworking business that specializes in everything from fireplace mantles to home decor furnishings that double as dog kennels.
“We were doing it as side stuff and keeping our weekends and nights busy, and it got to be so much that I decided to leave my full-time job at Patzer Woodworking,” Morris said recently in his workshop about five miles west of Mitchell. “I started working there when I was 15 in the summers and when I graduated from high school I started working there full-time.”
The Mount Vernon native and his wife, Alex, have since set up their small business specializing in the design, construction and installation of custom woodworking. They work directly with their customers, envisioning concepts that fit the needs of their homes and their tastes. They have been full-time with their business since September of 2018.
Setting off on their own was an intimidating prospect, but they worked well as a team and did not want to look back later in life and wonder what could have been. That determination and teamwork helped get the ball rolling, he said.
“I always wanted to do something on my own, so I finally just decided I better do it or it’s never going to happen, and I don’t want to be old and retired and wonder what if I had done it. So I said, 'Let’s do it,'” Morris said. “Thank god I had Alex’s support, so it was a pretty easy process, actually.”
Morris, 34, already owned most of the equipment he would need to start the business, and the couple moved to a small acreage west of Mitchell that had a building that would serve the needs of a commercial woodshop. That was two years ago, and orders and work have been flowing in ever since.
He creates whatever his customers are looking for, be it for the bathroom, kitchen or flooring throughout the home. He has installed numerous fireplace mantles, vanities, custom bathrooms and showers and any number of smaller specialty items by request, such as custom easels for displaying paintings and prints.
But one of the more unique items that has found a receptive audience is the furniture he designs that doubles as dog kennels. The kennels are built to serve as a comfortable retreat for the family pet as well as function as usable furniture in the home, such as an end table or entertainment center.
“We had seen them before, and I talked about doing one for our own dog,” Morris said.
He built one and presented it for auction at the Pheasants Forever banquet earlier this year in Mitchell and received a positive response. Hunters at the banquet approached him about his design, which Morris said was encouraging, and the response to pictures on social media also told him that there may be a market for similar kennels.
“We got a good response. It also got a lot of likes on social media and stuff like that. I know when we took it to the Corn Palace for the banquet, a lot of people came up and talked to us about it,” Morris said.
Morris said they build the kennels to meet the size needs of the dog and to make sure it’s a good fit with ample room for comfortable bedding. And they’ll build it out of just about any type of wood available, including hickory, birch and maple. He has even used wood reclaimed from a razed barn, noting the naturally-aged wood gave it a rustic appearance that is hard to recreate.
Alex said the design is meant to be a combination of form and functionality, and Kris will work to match the kennels with the customer’s home furnishings.
“People don’t want the ugly crates. This gives it a dressier look,” she said.
Kris said the kennels are all built to order, and he can construct them in just a few days when he has the information he needs from the customer. He said he would continue to build them in between larger projects as long as there is interest. He already has another one planned to be auctioned off at the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet in Mitchell in February.
“What kind of dog is it for? How big should the beds be? Do you want it to match something in your house? We can match stains, paints,” he said.
The kennels may be a relatively new endeavor for Morris Custom Concepts, but Kris said it’s an enjoyable one that allows him to create unique, one-of-a-kind furniture for dog owners. And there’s always the other custom work he does for every room in the house, with which he said the young business has been blessed.
He said he’ll continue to work with customers to find the right design and fit for anything he can envision in his head. If customers call, he’ll find the time to make it work.
“Sometimes I’m overly busy, but I’m not going to complain about being busy,” he said.