One Man’s Trash is this Man’s Treasure
Cape Cod Life / August 2015 / Art & Entertainment, Home, Garden & Design, People & Businesses
Writer: Ellen Albanese / Photographer: Josh Shortsleeve
At Chatham’s Atlantic Workshop, Scott Feen transforms lobster pots, boat rudders, and pretty much anything else into custom furnishings and decorative pieces
Scott Feen hates to throw anything away. In fact, the West Yarmouth resident is so averse to waste that he spends a good part of his time rescuing items that others want to throw away. The founder and owner of Atlantic Workshop, Feen has built a thriving business salvaging everything from ships’ rudders to school lockers to lighting fixtures—and turning them into custom aesthetic and functional pieces for businesses and homes.
“There’s just a vast amount of resources that we throw out,” Feen says, “and the number one least-recycled item in the United States is household furnishings.”
Feen’s workshop in South Chatham’s Commerce Park is a massive, floor-to-ceiling hodgepodge of raw materials; it’s hard to know where to look. Boards of all sizes—some painted and some bare wood—are stacked on shelves. Wood crates on the floor are filled with fence pickets and water skis. The walls are hung with fishing nets and lobster pots. Outside, a massive storage container overflows with more wood, more furniture, more stuff.
While Feen collects items from a wide range of sources, his business focuses on pieces with coastal cachet. What might an old rudder become? A bench. Water skis? A headboard. What about lobster pots? Chandeliers! And what to create from shiny metal balls designed to divert lightning from the top of a Manhattan skyscraper? To be determined: “I envision them as the feet of something really cool,” he says.
Feen, who grew up in Central Massachusetts, caught the do-it-yourself bug while working in California as a sales manager for O’Reilly Media, a publisher that spreads the knowledge of innovators through books, e-books, online services, and conferences. In 2008, he moved back to Massachusetts to be closer to family and bought a home on Lewis Bay that had been in his family for three generations. He was in the process of reassessing his career when he saw a battered antique optometrist’s cabinet, the kind used to hold individual lenses, at a yard sale in Harwich. Something in the piece called to Feen—his dad was an optician in Springfield—and he bought it on impulse. After staring at the cabinet for a few months, he decided to turn it into a jewelry chest. He fixed it, felted the individual compartments, covered the outside with sailcloth, and sold it to a gallery in Chatham. The rest, as they say, is history.
Feen set up Atlantic Workshop in 2010 in the former carriage house of Chatham Bars Inn. Last fall, he moved his workshop into a larger space at Commerce Park to give himself more time and space to create. Now, he’s partnering with the owners of Bungalow, a home staging/high-end consignment store that recently moved to Chatham from Orleans, where a selection of his home furnishing and décor items are for sale.
Most of Feen’s work is custom; he estimates he spends about 20 percent of his time working for commercial customers and 80 percent working with homeowners. Sometimes those categories overlap.
Sandy Wycoff, the owner of Chatham Clothing Bar, a retail store on Main Street, is one client who displays Feen’s work in both her business and her home. Wycoff’s store is in a building that dates from the 1800s and still has its original tile floor and tin ceiling; the shop’s name is a nod to the building’s former life as a liquor store.
“It’s important to me to have fixtures that fit with the age of the building,” Wycoff says.
When Wycoff wanted to display wine glasses, Feen built her a cabinet out of old shutters. When she needed a movable clothing rack to hold men’s shirts and shorts, he crafted one out of metal pipe from an old blanket factory and used an antique door for a shelf on the bottom. When she wanted a steamer trunk for a front window display, Feen found an old silver one and polished it up. “I start with what my need is,” she says. “Then Scott runs with it.”
Wycoff was so pleased with the work Feen did for her shop that she hired him to create a custom cabinet for liquor and glassware for her home. She started with the top of a curio cabinet she had bought at auction. Feen found a complementary base, then added shutter doors and slide-out shelves. “What started out as two completely unrelated pieces, he put together to create one big astounding piece,” she says. Wycoff was so happy with the result that her daughter and son-in law had Feen make a similar creation for them.
Just down the street from Chatham Clothing Bar, Mahi Gold Outfitters could not be more different in atmosphere. The store is sleek and contemporary, done in bright whites and teal blue. One of the highlights of the décor, says co-owner Rebecca Voelkel, is a set of awnings Feen built above the store’s faux bar area and dressing room “shed.” In typical Feen fashion, the work incorporates a sense of the company’s history.
In 2008, Voelkel, along with her husband and brother, started a business selling dresses out of their grandparents’ shed in Chatham. When they opened their Main Street store last year, the trio designed the dressing rooms to look like a shed. Feen crafted awnings in the store’s signature teal blue to hang above the dressing room “shed,” and he made a matching awning above the faux bar from the door of an actual shed that had to be removed from the property to build the current store.
Shoes at Mahi Gold are displayed on racks Feen made from wooden spools from electrical warehouses, whitewashed and wrapped with hemp rope for a nautical, contemporary look. Feen has already put his imprint on Mahi Gold’s new Edgartown store, too, where shoes are displayed on a pyramid of lobster traps. And for Voelkel’s home, he fashioned an ice bucket from a discarded porthole.
“These days you can go out and buy anything,” Voelkel says, “but when you’re buying something from Scott, it’s really one of a kind. And every time you look at it or walk by it, you’re going to appreciate that.”
A few years ago, Newton residents Mark and Liz White bought a house in Chatham and contacted Feen about some decorative items. “He’s been able to take some of our family antiques and preserve the old craftsmanship but make them more contemporary and usable,” Mark White says. One of those items was a hutch that had sentimental value but didn’t really fit in with the couple’s new kitchen. Feen painted the hutch and added fence pickets of different heights in contrasting paint. As a result, says White, “it went from the garage into the house.”
The Whites then gave Feen a bigger project: turn an antiquated garage into a rec room that teens would love. Feen was up to the challenge, creating a 20-foot-long seating and sleeping area with a drop-down sailor’s bunk. He raised the floor, insulated it, then coated it with Line-X, a product typically used for truck bed liners that can be washed with a garden hose. He used lobster pots and lights salvaged from a Wellesley College theater for lighting fixtures. “He knew what we were going for, and he anticipated what kids would want,” White says. “Now, these kids don’t want to even go into the house.”
Feen has earned a reputation as someone interested in saving pieces of history, particularly pieces of Chatham’s history. When Frank Messina, chairman of the Chatham Historical Commission and vice president of the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, found he would have to demolish part of the interior of the former Nautilus Hotel on the center’s campus to bring it up to modern building safety codes, he says one person came to mind: Feen. “I found myself with a significant amount of historic materials—things I didn’t want to see go to the dump,” Messina says. Feen put Messina in touch with people who would reuse sinks, tubs, and fixtures. He also personally hauled away “truckloads” of timber, including hundred-year-old 8 x 8-inch, and even 12 x 12-inch, timber supports that had to be taken out to make way for an elevator shaft in the renovated building.
Contractors across the Cape are making a greater effort to salvage and reuse materials, Messina says, especially in high-end homes. In Chatham, when preservation efforts are unsuccessful and a historical structure is slated to be demolished, the town’s Historical Commission alerts all interested parties that significant architectural elements may be available for salvage.
But not too many pickers will turn those elements into pieces of functional art, such as the bench outside the Chatham Chamber of Commerce—which Feen crafted from beams he took out of the old Nautilus Hotel, along with a rudder salvaged from a Kennedy yacht, and an antique door from Chatham’s Lutheran Church.
Atlantic Workshop is at 239 Commerce Park North in South Chatham. For more information, visit atlanticworkshop.com, or call (508) 241-9675.
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