Some local folks may not know Shawn Ouellette, but they probably have seen his Milford home near the Greenbush town line. During high water, the property, which sits on the banks of the Penobscot River, floods, leaving the home completely surrounded by water.
Some people might look at that spot as being a less than perfect place for a home. But for Ouellette and his girlfriend, Carrie Loring, and their children, it’s an beautiful setting for a home. And as of about six months ago, it also has been the ideal setting for Driftwood Treasures, Ouellete’s rustic furniture business, where every piece of wood that washes onto the land may present an opportunity.
“I walk out in the woods, and there are beautiful pieces of driftwood here and there,” said Ouellette. “Every time the river rises and fall, it brings me another load; I walk out in the woods with the kids and grab it. During the summer, my workshop is my deck; I can work in my slippers some days.”
Ouellette had worked for years in area mills, including Costigan, Bucksport and Old Town, but the end result for all three was the same – the mills closed. Ouellette had mulled the idea of making driftwood furniture for a living when the Bucksport mill shut down; after the Old Town mill closed, he decided it was time to take the step.
“I had been making things for many years, but it was just a hobby, mostly Christmas and birthday gifts, After the Old Town mill closed I decided to try a stay at home job and to be a stay at home dad,” said Ouellette. “I’ve been banging nails since I could hold a hammer, and I learned a lot from my dad and uncle, but I’m entirely self-taught with the driftwood furniture.
Ouellete started slowly, perhaps a bit hesitantly, making wooden animals that for the most part kept him busy and his son entertained. Then, he said, he decided to “up his game” and make a memorial chair for his aunt and uncle to commemorate lost loved ones.
“To my surprise, I was amazed at how excited they were and how much they loved the chair. From there, it evolved quickly,” said Ouellette. “I made a rocking chair next. And that came out nice too. Now I’ll try just about anything – benches, rockers, chairs, you name it. I even made some antlers out of driftwood just for fun. There are pieces of all shapes, I like putting them together like a puzzle.”
A big push for Driftwood Treasures came in the form of an order from First Settlers Lodge of Weston. A sister of one of the owners drove by Loring’s house on the Bradley Road, saw one of Ouellette’s benches and turned around and drove back to inquire about it. The woman wanted it as an early Christmas present for the lodge owners; they were thrilled with the piece, which Ouellette called the most challenging he has done to date.
With word of mouth and a Facebook page, Ouellette has had a steady business in the past few months. He’s done between three and four dozen pieces, at typical prices of $250-300 for benches and $150 for chairs.
“Some of the stuff is customized, tailored speicfically to customers’ requests; I work with people to make sure they get exactly what they want. I am trying to keep it affordable though,” said Ouellette.
Ouellette said he hopes his career change is one that sticks – that it results in something than can be passed down to his children.
“The mills were nice for a guaranteed paycheck, but unlike some folks, I didn’t have to depend on them – I had carpentry work I could fall back on,” said Ouellette. “And when everyone was panicking about the Old Town mill closing, I saw it as a chance to do what I’ve always wanted to. I’m glad I took that chance.”
For more information about Driftwood Treasures, which currently can turn orders around in just a few days, call 852-7473 or go to the Driftwood Treasures Facebook page.