From Wastes to Wonders

Chatham craftsman and tinkerer Scott Feen transforms pieces steeped in local history into high-end functional furniture and décor inspired by the sea.

By Jacquelyn Mysliwiec • Photography by Michael and Suz Karchmer

For most, a demolition site is a vision of chaos. It’s a massive cleanup—one we wouldn’t dare go near. Rather, we watch as it’s revamped and turned into a new and improved space.

But for Scott Feen, the vision is a little different. A demo site is a gold mine of treasures, with pieces of history scattered throughout. The Chatham craftsman scoops up aged elements from a torn-down building or retired boat and transforms them into elegant and eclectic tables, couches and light fixtures. He also satisfies an innate sense of duty to keep hazardous materials out of the local landfill. As an affiliate of the Chatham Historical Society, Feen helps salvage the bones of some of Chatham’s historical buildings before they are demolished and reworks them so that history can live on in the form of a new, one-of-a-kind piece of art.

“The beauty is in the bones,” says Feen, who settled on the Cape six years ago after living on both East and West Coasts. “They just need a little love,” he says, referring to the hundreds of reclaimed items spread throughout his two-story workshop, located a few miles down the road from his new store, Atlantic Workshop, which shares the space at 1291 Main St. with high-end home goods shop Bungalow.

Feen’s treasures include antique portholes, reclaimed lobster traps, buoys (a few from the once-great Chatham fishing fleet), and colorful vintage sails. They are all pieces that the artist discovered and dismantled from a building or a boat, and turned into clever furnishings: a cue stick holder made out of the ribs of a multi-hull sailboat frame, a wine tasting table made from an 1800s meat locker door, or a desk in which he recently made for a client using wooden beams salvaged from the Chatham Marconi Listening Station. At each site, Feen typically fills several 20-yard containers with materials that would have otherwise been disposed of directly into a landfill.

His recycled items even act as functional décor in his workspace. Antique ladders mounted sideways on the second level stand in for railings, while white wooden columns recycled from a restaurant in Provincetown support the walkway and main area. Even the walls in his top-floor office are made out of windows he retrieved from Seamen’s Bank in Wellfleet when it was razed two years ago. The materials may be old, but they still have soul.

“Everything has a story, and that’s part of what is so special about what I do,” says Feen, “and I get excited when I find them.” This is especially true with items tied to the ocean, as he incorporates a nautical twist into each work of art. Now a series, his great white shark wall sculptures are made of strips of salvaged wood from vintage boats—cut and sanded lightly so you can still see the weathered paint. (The series was originally created for Chatham’s Sharks in the Park fundraiser.)

Feen, an avid sailor, has owned a few vintage boats himself over the years. One was a 55-foot double Monk mahogany yacht, the only one of its kind, in which he installed a marble-wrapped fireplace, along with a handful of other functional luxury additions. The other was a Pearson yacht that he raced professionally up and down the pacific coast when he lived in southern California.

One of the first pieces of art he ever made was out of the first antique he found when he moved to the Cape. It was an old optometrist chest. He used severed vintage sails to embellish the exterior and turned it into a jewelry sea chest.

“Fifty percent of my collected pieces I have a vision for when I find them, and then something, or even someone, will inspire the rest,” explains Feen. A collection of early 1900s Japanese glass fishing floats (used to help keep fishing nets above the water) rests on his workbench. The hand-blown glass is soft and smooth after years in the ocean, and it glistens with just a hint of baby blue under the light.

He set them aside until he could figure out how he could drill a small hole in the antique glass to fit a lightbulb and light socket inside. It was similar to getting a ship in a bottle, only this piece needed wiring, too.

“I’m kind of like a mad scientist,” says Feen. “I’ll be thinking about an idea and toy with all the possibilities of achieving it. Then, at 3 a.m., I wake up and say, ‘I’ve got it!’” Taking after his grandfather, who at age 13 built his own diving helmet out of a boiler, he claims to have an artist-meets-engineer instinct and approach that others might view as insane. He can’t help but chuckle every time he looks at his grandfather’s boiler helmet, which now resides in his shop.

Feen’s seafaring style comes in large part from falling in love with the sea at a young age—the Cape partially to blame—in Western Massachusetts. He would spend summer vacations with his family at their home on Lewis Bay in West Yarmouth. That’s where he developed a passion for all things nautical—the boats (his grandparents had a wooden cruiser), the scenery, the old cottages and the character of the Cape itself.

His knack for science, engineering skills and artistic creativity come from several different sources: his grandfather, his first career in hospitality management and his second career in technology. He also spent a year running a family’s 100-foot power yacht out of Ft. Lauderdale to the Keys and the Bahamas.

Now, home is back on Lewis Bay, with his two children: Landen, 4, and Stella, 3, who both love to help their dad in his workshop. The second professional piece that Feen ever made was an 1800s dresser. He hand-carved coral heads into it to create an underwater scene. In the midst of this process, his daughter was born. He named the piece Stella.

But it’s really Chatham that has his heart and where he spends all of his days, at his workshop, the storefront, taking a breath of fresh air along the shorelines, learning the town’s history through the items he picks, and even inside Chatham homes where he installs fixtures or renovates an entire room.

“Chatham’s rich history as a hardy outpost and its access to the ocean, dunes and incredibly rich light was a big attraction to the area,” says Feen. “Once I saw the old Chatham Bars Inn carriage house, I was sold. It’s got everything I love—small-town charm, quaint downtown and art lovers.”