Most everyone knows Delaware native Elena Delle Donne as a gifted basketball player.
Not so well-known? That when the WNBA Chicago Sky star is not playing ball, she exercises another passion: building furniture.
Delle Donne spends her spare time making impressive, intricately patterned coffee and dining room tables with friends Megan Gainey and Amanda Clifton.
Indeed, the future Olympian’s mad skills with a miter saw captured so much attention when she posted photographs of the homemade furniture on her social media accounts, Delle Donne and her friends decided to start their own business, DelleDonneDesigns.
Since then, customers have been, well, coming out of the woodwork. The customized handcrafted furniture, made in Chicago and Middletown, Delaware, can be ordered through Delle Donne’s website, elenadelledonne.com. Look underDelleDonneDesigns
“We might need to hire more people,” Delle Donne says. “We’ll see.”
Costs vary according to size and complexity of the table’s design, but prices can range from about $350 for an end table to about $1,250 for a dining room table. Shipping and handling is extra.
Customers are fans. “It’s basically people who follow me on social media and different friends and family,” Delle Donne says of the made-to-order tables that can require assembly. Instructions are included.
Delaware jeweler Carl Doubét, one of Delle Donne’s first customers, says he spotted a photo of the tables on her Twitter account. He was so impressed with the modern, elegant look, he ordered two tables for his 2900 Concord Pike store, Carl Doubét Jr. Jewelers.
“As soon as I saw the post, I said, ‘That’s it!’ I sent an email within five minutes,” says Doubét, who has been hunting for tables for his store for the past two years. “Before that, nothing grabbed me. I saw her photo, and it was perfect. The design captivated me first, and I thought the Delaware tie-in was fantastic.”
Doubét says he was surprised to learn that Delle Donne was making furniture. “The relationship to the two, on the outside, seems like such a bizarre fit. But then, you think, ‘What a neat way for her to showcase another gift.’”
The tables, where Doubét’s customers can sit while they shop for engagement rings, were delivered to the Brandywine Hundred store earlier this month. Each is about 6 feet long and cost Doubét about $1,000 a piece.
Doubét says he doesn’t personally know Delle Donne, who graduated from Wilmington’s Ursuline Academy and the University of Delaware. The jeweler simply appreciates her talent for custom design. And he says he’s a supporter of any hometown hero.
“As a Delawarean, I like supporting other Delawareans,” Doubét says.
Delle Donne, 26, says she has long been a fan of do-it-yourself projects and TV shows.
“Ever since I was little, I loved to build various things. It’s kind of like a dream,” she says.
But her budding furniture-building side career started simply because she needed a dining room table.
Delle Donne says Megan Gainey, a college friend from UD, was already making “crazy, cool designs” out of wood. Together, they decided to turn her art into a table. Delle Donne posted the table on Instagram and Twitter, and the response was greater than she expected. Fans began asking where to purchase similar tables.
So, does Delle Donne really make the furniture? She laughingly says “yes” and knows it sounds a little far-fetched to hear that she is actually doing the sawing, staining and sanding. Yet, after basketball practice, she says she goes home and works on the furniture, usually with Wrigley, her 3-year-old Great Dane, by her side.
“Right now, [Amanda Clifton] and I do it in Chicago on my rooftop. My other friend [Megan] lives in Delaware and does all the East Coast orders.”
During the basketball off-season, Delle Donne says they will all be making the furniture in Delaware.
Delle Donne and her partners divvy up the work and tend to leave the wood cutting to Gainey and Clifton, especially during basketball season, which runs from May to late October.
“We try to keep [Delle Donne] away from the power tools,” Clifton told the Chicago Sun Times in a May interview.
So far, they’ve made 10 tables, and new orders are coming in every day. Delle Donne says they’ve just received an order for a headboard.
The symmetrical designs are made using a smartphone app. Patterns can range from Chervon (an inverted V shape) to herringbone. Then, the partners use different wood – some reclaimed, some purchased at home improvement stores. Each piece is stained, cut and sanded.
“It’s been a really fun, artistic process. It was kind of a hobby and a fun outlet away from basketball,” Delle Donne says. “It’s very involved, but we’ve gotten much better. It’s very time-consuming. Luckily, Megan and Amanda have a lot more time.”
Each table, from start to finish, takes about two weeks. The furniture is only sold online, but Delle Donne says she wouldn’t mind, in the future, possibly opening a store.
But not just yet. Her dance card is currently filled.
Delle Donne, who recently filmed a not-yet-aired Gatorade commercial at Ursuline Academy, is gracing the pages of ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue” and will be featured in the July issue of Glamour. And she is one of 12 players on the U.S. Olympics women’s basketball team going to the 2016 Rio Games, held in Brazil Aug. 5-21.
Delle Donne and the U.S. squad will be in Delaware on July 27. The team is playing an exhibition against France at Newark’s Bob Carpenter Center at 7:30 p.m.
Given Delle Donne’s current packed schedule, Doubét counts himself lucky to be one of her first furniture customers.
“It’s really amazing that in about month or so, she’s heading to the Olympics, but she still has time for tables,” he says.