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Elena Delle Donne and her wife Amanda needed a coffee table for their home. They were living in Delaware during the WNBA offseason at the time, and like many couples, they visited several furniture and home decor stores in search of the perfect piece.
No luck. They left not with a coffee table, but a realization.
“A lot of the stuff we were seeing, we thought that we could make ourselves,” Amanda says. “It was super expensive in stores. So we decided to go home and make the coffee table.”
And they did. They bought the wood, invited a friend with woodworking experience over to help, and watched YouTube tutorials for guidance. Weeks later, they had their own homemade coffee table.
Four years later, Delle Donne and Amanda are still working with wood. Except now, they’re making things for other people as the only members—not including their dogs Wrigley and Rasta—of the recently rebranded Deldon custom woodworking company. It’s a full-fledged business. When she’s not working out at the gym, Delle Donne, a star for the Washington Mystics and the 2015 and 2019 WNBA MVP, is likely diving into projects with Amanda inside a 1,500-square-foot warehouse near their home in Alexandria.
Deldon, which started off as a table business and has morphed into more of a wall art and custom cutting board company, has given Delle Donne a glimpse into her post-WNBA life.
“It’s almost like we have a 9-to-5 [job] and we’re carpenters, which we never thought either one of us would be, but we are,” Amanda says. “It’s been great.”
Delle Donne gets on the phone and starts defending herself. In 2016, ESPN profiled Delle Donne and wrote about her interest in woodworking. The author of the piece, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, explained that Amanda “does most of the design and cutting work.”
Translation: She does most of the grunt work.
“Well, that’s the story of our relationship,” Amanda says with a laugh. “No, I’m just kidding. As far as, like, designing pieces, I think she designs most of the wall art. As far as design, kind of coming up with the ideas, I think it’s equally both of us, but when it comes to, like, the work that nobody wants to do, honestly, yes, I am doing that.”
That includes handling everything on the business side, answering emails, and cleaning up the shop. “I think for the first time the other day I caught her vacuuming the shop, which was a sight,” Amanda jokes.
Delle Donne is nearby and hears all of her wife’s comments.
“My response is that every business needs a doer and a dreamer, and I have taken on the dreamer role,” she says with a chuckle.
Neither had much experience with woodworking prior to 2016, but both grew up in households where building things was the norm.
Delle Donne’s father is a real estate developer, and she would follow him around during his projects starting at age 4 or 5. But instead of taking an interest in the business side, Delle Donne gravitated toward people using tools. Some would even let her use a nail gun or play with the wood. At home, she would make her dad gifts out of wood, like a wooden house he still has in his office and wooden golf clubs.
“I just have been really into making things,” Delle Donne says. “It even started when I was young. I loved K’Nex and Legos. I just loved building. It was something my dad and I would do together.”
Amanda says she grew up building forts, ramps, and whatever projects involved nailing things together with her brothers. As a couple, Delle Donne and Amanda, who got married on Nov. 3, 2017, have bonded through their shared interest in DIY projects.
After Delle Donne posted a photo of their first coffee table to her Instagram account in 2016, they started receiving comments about where to get the table. People were interested in purchasing one from them. Their passion project and side hustle quickly turned into a full-time business. The hours working in the woodshop each day has brought them even closer together.
“We spend every minute of every day together,” Amanda says. “And we just really enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun. I married my best friend. I go to work with my best friend every day. And honestly, we’re just blessed. It’s great.”
For Delle Donne, woodworking is therapeutic.
“I feel like I just get into the shop, and it’s just me and that piece, and then to be able to be doing it alongside Amanda and then also our shop dogs, like it’s the perfect thing, especially through COVID,” she says. “But my favorite part is when a customer comes to us with an order—I always do the wall art, so sometimes the customer will just give us an idea, and I can literally run with it any way I want.”
Her most recent project is a basketball hoop line based on throwback NBA jerseys. Delle Donne mostly works on the wall art, while Amanda handles the cutting boards. The drawings for the basketball hoops are complete, but the pair haven’t had time to focus on them due to an influx of holiday orders.
Delle Donne describes the Deldon aesthetic as “very clean lines, sharp.” She and Amanda draw on inspirations from their own home.
“Sometimes Amanda has to stop me because I go back to, like, whites, blues, and grays,” Delle Donne says. “And she’s like, you know, not everybody has the same house as us. You might want to change it up. But yeah, I think it always kind of goes back to, like, what my favorite things are, and those colors will come through often, and I have to remind myself to change it up.”
When the 2020 WNBA season started this past July, Delle Donne did not make the trip to Bradenton, Florida, with her Mystics teammates out of health concerns. Her personal physician, who has treated her for Lyme disease, determined Delle Donne was at high risk for contracting COVID-19. Even though the league’s panel of doctors denied her medical exemption, she still opted to sit out of the season. Delle Donne initially believed that meant forfeiting her paycheck, but the Mystics announced shortly after that she would be paid even after opting out of the season.
The time away from basketball allowed Delle Donne to dive further into woodworking. But there were moments where she felt she needed to do more to stay connected to what was happening in Florida. Throughout the summer, the WNBA and several Mystics players took on prominent roles in calling attention to police brutality and anti-Black racism. Before a nationally televised game in August, the Mystics decided to sit out the game in protest over a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a White police officer shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times in the back.
Delle Donne put her woodworking skills to use. She and Amanda came up with the idea to create a “Demand Justice Basketball Hoop.” All of the proceeds will go to the NAACP.
“I was like, gosh, like, we gotta do something,” Delle Donne recalls. “And we’re kind of just going back and forth, like trying to figure out what we can do. And we’re like, yeah, we’re woodworkers, we could create something so amazing, and something that we were kind of able to just reflect on what Black Lives Matter means to us and to our culture. So that’s where the design came from.”
Eventually, the two want to turn their focus toward designing and away from cutting the wood themselves. That way, they could ideally lower prices so more people can afford their pieces. Perhaps they would even hire other woodworkers to join the team. The current turnaround for orders generally takes two weeks.
“I think the end goal is to still always have this business, but to be more on the design side and just kind of be able to create pieces and offer them at lower prices where we can kind of get everybody some Deldon pieces,” Amanda says. “Right now, obviously, everything’s handmade. So we’re kind of more of a premium product. It would be great if we could, in some way, lower prices to make it so everybody could afford them.”
As for basketball, Delle Donne says she’s only doing “light stuff right now,” like lifting and practicing shooting. She trains at her strength coach’s gym, and there’s a basketball hoop in the warehouse, as well.
But with Deldon, she can already envision a future beyond being one of the best basketball players in the world. In that reality, Delle Donne is a woodworker.
“Like Amanda said, we do need to find a way where we can make more quicker and be able to charge less, and I’m sure that’ll be the next step,” she says. “But for now, this has been amazing, and I do feel like it’s something we’re so passionate about. I don’t see this ever going away.”