Ross Hunter at his NY NOW booth
Ross Hunter dressed appropriately for last week’s winter NY NOW home/lifestyle/gift market trade show at New York’s Javits Center.
He wore a kilt.
The Edinburgh-based Hunter, who parlayed his success with the family-run Armadilla luxury “eco-pods” (armadillo shell-shaped single-room office or living spaces) construction business into Whisky Frames, brought his latter company’s wooden picture frames to NY NOW for the first time.
As the name suggests, Whisky Frames—which uses the Scottish spelling for the distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash—makes handmade picture frames from reclaimed Scotch whiskey casks.
“It was my wife Kristen’s idea!” said Hunter. “Our family dog died, and she wanted to find a rustic frame for the dog’s picture. She eventually found one made from an old barn’s wood—which was lovely but expensive and cheaply made. I got the idea that maybe we could do something—over a glass of scotch, in the manner of all good ideas.”
The Hunters went to a salvage yard on Kristen’s birthday and happened upon an old scotch barrel.
“It was a eureka moment!” continued Hunter. “We bought the barrel and rolled it into the car, but it wouldn’t fit into the boot [trunk] so we had to keep it open all the way home. Then we just started prototyping.”
A zero waste company, Whisky Frames makes use of the entire barrel, incorporating parts including the wooden barrel head and chime, the various hoops and rings, and the wooden stave planks. The frames can be customized with monogrammed rivets, messages inscribed along the top edge, and use of family tartans or hand-woven Harris Tweed as matting.
“We try not to use plastic,” said Hunter, whose kilt, by the way, was a Stewart Hunting tartan.
The Hunters spent two months on their first Whisky Frames, which they made on their kitchen table.
“We brought them to a Christmas market and sold out after lunch!” recalled Hunter. “We were inundated with orders and went to a Scottish trade fair and it became a business.”
This was in 2016. In short order, the Hunters bought a new workshop and machinery, started attending trade fairs, and sold over 20,000 frames to some 250 accounts in two years.
“We got huge sales from appearing on Dragon’s Den—the U.K. equivalent of Shark Tank—and won a ‘Startup of the Year’ award,” said Hunter.
Whisky Frames gets its raw materials from “all over the highlands and islands of Scotland,” said Hunter.
“Each frame has a unique frame number,” he noted, “so each one’s origin can be archived in the ‘Frame Origin Archive’ page on our website to tell you the distillery or cooperage where it was made or used. So a lot of distilleries give us the barrels—and people can buy a [corresponding whiskey] bottle to give with the frame as a gift.”
And to top it off, “You can still smell the whisky when you first open the box!”