Start with an inveterate beachcomber who admits to loving to collect “lots of stuff.” Add a creative soul and a graphic designer’s eye. The result is By The Sea Driftwood Company in Orleans, Massachusetts. It was launched by Catherine Wissmann and her husband Rob in 2005, after they moved to Cape Cod from New York City.
They create unique furniture and home and garden accessories using naturally-weathered driftwood, vintage nautical hardware, shells, reclaimed rope, antique bottles, old lanterns, oars, shipwreck parts and other locally-sourced objects. Their designs are sold from their gallery and studio, which is set on an old sea captain’s property on the road to Skaket Beach.
Catherine launched the company after leaving her New York City career in graphic design to raise a family. But as a creative person, she knew she needed an outlet for that energy. She began creating professionally after building a collection of unique beach finds. “I started playing around with driftwood when my kids napped,” she said. “I had been doing similar work in New York, before moving to the Cape, but once I was here my designs became a lot more whimsical. I think that was due to the natural and creative environment. The arts community here is very supportive, which makes it easier for artists to explore their creativity.”
Her local collecting usually is done on Lower Cape and Outer Cape beaches during late fall and early spring, often along sandy stretches that few people can access. She has an over-sand vehicle permit and a boat.
Although Catherine finds most of her raw materials on local beaches, she readily admits that she can’t resist beachcombing whenever she is near any beach. “I just can’t help myself,” she confesses.
Sometimes, when an artist has created something very special, he or she knows it right away and just can’t part with it. For Catherine, that piece was a driftwood wreath (shown in the photo at the beginning of this article). It is so evocative of the Cape Cod spirit that it was chosen to appear on the cover of Cape Cod Life magazine in 2002. “That wreath is hanging over the fireplace mantle in my living room. Many people wanted to buy it, but I just couldn’t sell it,” she said.
Catherine and Rob have custom-created many projects for interior designers. One Philadelphia-based decorator asked them to design a foyer table for a city loft. It was unusual in that it was a very modern design and the designer’s specifications were “almost architectural” in nature. “It was outside the box for me because most of my work is free-form. I simply follow what nature presents,” Catherine explained.
Catherine also was asked to create a logo from driftwood for a clothing company that used it during the industry’s high-profile Fashion Week in New York City. The piece was three-dimensional and hung by a mono filament against a curtain. “It was quite challenging,” she said.
Visitors are welcome to stop by the gallery and working studio at By The Sea Driftwood Company on Saturdays in July and August from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s also open some Sundays and weekdays by appointment.