(from left to right) Harry (Hobart’s son), Steve, Mike & Tim Carleton
More than two hundred years ago, Wilber Reed ran a ferry between the towns of Litchfield and Merrimack, on New Hampshire’s Merrimack River. The town of Reed’s Ferry took it’s name from Wilber’s enterprise. Later, in 1960, Hobart D. Carleton built a shed in the town, and decided to name his fledgling business ‘Reeds Ferry Sheds’. Today, the company employs over eighty carpenters, and takes great pride in their workmanship.
If you don’t consider the humble ‘shed’ to be the pinnacle of architectural beauty, talk to Hobart’s grandsons; Tim, Mike and Steve. Your mind may be changed. We recently caught up with the brothers, to discuss sheds, BMW’s, weather-vanes and signage:
What makes us different? It’s like buying a car. Many shed dealers sell the Honda Civic. There’s nothing wrong with it, it will get you to where you want to go, but some drivers want the styling and attention to detail offered by BMW. We are the BMW of sheds. Aside from the higher quality we work to ensure a better ‘shed buying experience’. We go beyond to ensure the customer gets their shed with no complaint, because it doesn’t matter if you sell a BMW if you deliver it in the wrong colour.
Our Colonial style shed won the award for ‘Top Garden Structure’ in the Boston Flower Show. We’ve also been named by Business New Hampshire Magazine among the ‘Top Small Companies in New England’, and we’ve won the Angie’s List Super Service Award four years in a row!
(image courtesy of Nutfield Genealogy)
We partner with Good Directions Weathervanes in Danbury, Connecticut. They supply hundreds of different styles. The weather-vane is not decided by the shed style chosen, the customer can choose any style shed, then they choose the weather-vane they want. As a customer you might not be the only person to own our ten-by-twelve-foot Country Carriage with Sagebrook siding, but you’re likely to be the only one to own that exact style with a pelican on the weather-vane!
We chose Danthonia Signs because we wanted a New England handcrafted look and many of their samples fit the exact look we were searching for. We wanted a sign that looked like the signs made by artists back in the days of Paul Revere. Like our sheds, the signs had to reflect attention to detail and craftsmanship. Danthonia delivered exactly that… Even though ‘computer technology’ wasn’t what we want in a sign, technology does make doing business easier. We found Danthonia on the Internet, we ordered our signs online, we corresponded halfway around the world easily by phone and email… and it was no different that Danthonia was in Australia than if they were two miles down the road.
Our style of handcrafted signage has it’s roots in the carved quarterboards of New England sailing ships. Here, a traditional quarterboard is carved from redwood. If you’re interested in the history of carved signs, take a look at this post on the Pre-Vinylite Society’s blog: A History of Creative Sign-Making
The ‘Popsicle Shoppe’ is located inside one of our display sheds. Like a car dealership that serves free cappuccino, we serve free popsicles because it adds to the ‘shed buying experience’. Many folks shop for sheds in the middle of the summer, they bring the kids, and the pay-off is seeing the look on a kid’s face when you give him a popsicle on a hot summer day… It should be noted that there are limits to our generosity. Even though the popsicles are free we take great umbrage if any other flavour besides ‘Reeds Ferry Berry’ is ordered and our signs strongly convey the customer should share our popsicle flavour preference (wink). Yet despite our narrow minded view regarding flavour choice, we’ve been voted the top popsicle shop operated by a shed company in America and we don’t consider it any less of an honour just because we ran unopposed (wink part-two).
Right now we’re expanding our showroom offices. The previous office was fine, but when it was busy it was difficult for our salesmen to communicate with the customer without distraction. The new private cubicles will be outfitted with computer design software and allow the customer to create a virtual design and see it on a large wall mounted monitor. It’s a great idea. We stole it from BMW !
Though now a well-regarded name in the world of sign-painting and graphic design, Sean Starr began his sign-making career by helping out at his dad’s sign shop (Starr Custom Paint) in San Antonio, Texas. Among other things, they painted Willie Nelson’s tour bus, and Sean picked up his dad’s determination and work ethic. Later, Sean plotted vinyl at a Seattle sign shop. The work was less than fulfilling, so he kept up his painting skills at home. After moving to San Francisco, Starr Studios was born:
Starr Studios got started in San Francisco in 2005 in my brother’s garage in the Mission District. I had just moved from Tacoma, Washington to San Francisco and was looking to make a fresh start of things and stayed in the garage apartment of my brother’s house and built a tiny studio there. I hadn’t painted signs for a few years at that point and the first paying job I got was for an organic grocery store in Haight-Ashbury (Fresh Organics on Stanyan Street) . All we had at the time was our motorcycle, so I strapped my paint box and kit to the back of the bike and headed to the Haight to take care of the job when it started pouring rain. Showed up completely soaked but painted new lettering in their window, collected a check and was able to buy a couple more cans of OneShot.
Now Sean has a whole shelf of Oneshot paints
We’re now in Denton, Texas, but we actually moved first to the Los Angeles area, in the mountains outside L.A. for two years to be near Kayleigh’s family in a little town called Big Bear. That allowed us to work on a lot of projects in Beverly Hills, including a job for Lindsey Buckingham (from Fleetwood Mac) and some other notable folks, but southern California just wasn’t for us. We came to visit some of my family who lives in Denton, fell in love with the place and started making plans to move. We got here at the beginning of 2012 and absolutely love living here. It’s like San Francisco with a Texas accent: lots of art, music and organic food so we feel right at home. I grew up in South Texas so it was kind of a homecoming for me, and Kayleigh just fell in love with it here too.
Is Denton very different to San Francisco in regards to the type/style of sign work people are after?
Yes and no. We work all over what they call the Metroplex, which is Dallas, Fort Worth and all of the surrounding towns (something like six million people live in this area) so its a pretty good mix of work. People here really love our vintage style of design and some of the more rustic looking work we developed in San Francisco.
I guess we have our style and people like it, so we just get up every morning and do our thing. We stayed busy in California, but here we have been almost too busy. Most of the year we have a waiting list that can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on what’s on our plate. That’s a good thing as well as bad. Kayleigh and I like to live life simply and don’t have aspirations of building the studio any larger than it is, so it can be a struggle to maintain a pace that doesn’t become unmanageable.
You started out with painting signs, but you’re doing a lot of graphic design as well. I noticed you even have a separate website for that. Can you tell us more about the two disciplines? Is it first a sign & then a logo, or the other way around?
This has been a back and forth thing for me. I have always done what is now labeled as “branding” but my first love has and always will be painting signs. I have merged the two websites into just one and don’t openly pursue the branding work on the website. We have a handful of repeat clients who come to us for that and that’s great to work on those projects too, but first and foremost we design and hand paint signs and I work hard to not let that become secondary in how we are identified.
We have worked with a lot of big name clients and I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. I am grateful for the projects we have been fortunate to work on, but these large companies are sometimes a pain in the neck to deal with, have insane deadlines and may have practices and ethics we don’t agree with.
Sean paints a sign for ‘The Gap’ while his nephew Anderson looks on.
Early on I had the mindset to take the money (and the headaches) from those large companies and use it to build the studio the way we wanted, and that’s what we have done, with no regrets. We still get calls from some huge entities and if I am not liking where the conversation is going I walk away and make no apologies for it. Last year a huge retailer wanted me to fly to nine different cities and paint lettering in their top producing retail stores. Once I got down to the details it would have meant being away from home for three months and basically kicking my local clients to the curb for that period of time. They offered me an enormous amount of money (what I would normally make in almost a full year) and when I said no they called back and offered even more. They were really tripped out that I wouldn’t do it, at any price. But that’s big corporations, that’s how they treat everything: throw enough money at someone and you can get them to do anything you want. It’s shameful. I was contacted by one of the higher-ups at the company after I stood my ground who told me that she really respected my integrity, which was a nice gesture, but in the end you have to decide whether its about living a decent life centered around family, friends, your community and the craft itself or if its about the almighty dollar.
That’s been a passion project from day one. James Thomas who runs Bluejacket Sign Company in Los Angeles jumped in to help with that last year and has been doing a great job. It’s basically just a way to put the spotlight on some people working the craft who really have it down and have something to share. We have plans to expand it more in the near future and James is working on a new podcast that will be announced soon.
The Traditional Sign Maker Website
I get asked periodically to lecture at some of the local Universities and enjoy doing it more than I thought I would. The enthusiasm from design students, as well as staff at the Universities has been really exciting. I have been invited to do some lectures out of state as well, which I will eventually do when it makes sense to do so. We have been asked repeatedly if we would be willing to do an in-studio workshop which we are considering doing this coming Fall. We have never done that either, but the interest has been really huge, so we will see if we can’t put something together for that as well.
I only want to lecture on sign painting, and that so far is all I have done. I have done this kind of work for over 25 years, it’s what I am passionate about and what I know (kind of). Even with that being said, I am learning new things daily and will continue to do so. There are no “expert” sign painters, never have been. We are all just trying to refine what we know, to improve, and then wham! you see someone like John Lennig or Chris Dobell doing some freehand script and you realize you don’t know squat. But, that’s what makes it awesome.
Sean takes a breather during a lecture at TWU.
Being included in The Sign Painter Movie was such an awesome experience for us. Not only was it a real honor to be included in the film, but we got to provide some of the archival photos that are seen through the film as well. We put together a Letterhead Meet for when they flew out to our studio in California which included one of my mentors, John Arnott who owns Signgraphics in San Diego as well as Derek McDonald who owns Golden West Sign Arts in Berkeley, California. The biggest treat was having our buddy John Lennig there, who also appears in the film. John has been painting signs for over 50 years and operates Big Top Sign Arts in Vancouver, British Columbia. We first got to know John when he came to San Francisco and taught Kayleigh and I some gold leafing tricks. He is the epitome of an old pro, who makes everything look easy and effortless. He is a daily inspiration and several of his pieces hang in our studio (mostly a reminder of how good I will never be, no matter how hard I try!). We got to see it on the big screen at the Texas Theatre in Dallas this summer, kind of surreal, but totally awesome.
We haven’t done a step-by-step article since the one about faux woodgrain. Time for another one! Here’s a sign we made last year, which I photographed at various stages of production. Here’s the sequence (albeit incomplete):
Painting the panel with a roller
Hand-carving the groove
And the letters
Meanwhile, the add-on was being hand-sculpted. Can you tell what it will be?
Painting the letters and grooves
Artist-Painting the add-on. It’s a loon.
Painting the trim with a roller
Screwing in the stainless steel eye-bolts.
And finally, the finished product!
If anyone happens across this sign, in the region of Farmingdale, New York, please send us a photo!
On a narrow street in Portland, Oregon, a small industrial-looking building – complete with garage doors – sits between a petrol station and a garage. Welcome to Factory North.
Factory North, 1010 SE Woodward St., Portland
The building’s facade – like the company name – tells us little about the nature of the enterprise within. You won’t see trucks full of boxes pulling out of this factory, but it’s not standing idle, either. Inside this former garage, Tyler Segel and Nicole Sakai are busy producing great designs for local food vans and global corporations alike.
Eastside Exchange, Portland. Signage designed by Factory North
More than most design firms, Factory North seems to take a special interest in signs. Of course signage is a big part of any identity design, but these folk see to it that it’s an important part. Although not sign-makers themselves, they’ve collaborated with numerous letterers and makers in their area to come up with some very original and eye-catching signs in a city that has a special appreciation for it.
Today they’ve taken some time to talk about design, craft, and of course signage:
In our design work, we definitely make a conscious decision to utilize the wealth of amazing talent here in Portland to collaborate on projects for our clients. There’s so much talent in this town that it would be silly not to seek out these craftsmen when the resources are so readily available. Portland is a city where both our clients and the design community notice and appreciate the hands-on approach and the craftsmanship that is required in sign painting. It also makes sense for Factory North’s brand and builds the community of strong design here in Portland.
The Big Egg’s logo was developed in house with custom lettering by Tyler. Jeremy Richter of Richter Signs hand painted the hanging wood sign. We met Jeremy through a friend who thought we should meet him, because he does all the hand drawn signs at Whole Foods (Gourmet Grocery chain) in town. Jon Stanton of Orange collaborated with us on the menu board.
Chop’s logo was custom designed by Tyler. We handed the design off to a friend of ours who works at Nike as an industrial retail sign designer. We met him through a friend who manages Hand Eye Supply, Core 77’s flagship store in town. He routed out the butcher block sign and stained the wood. It was just a fun side project for him, not a regular job.
The Trigger logo was developed by Tyler and we had Justin Riede who we’ve collaborated with on a number of different projects. He does a lot of hand painted signs around town and was referred to us by OMFGCo, another design studio in town. Justin did the large painted sign on the building and Jeremy Richter did the smaller hand painted signs inside of Trigger.
Creative signage gives a small business something unique to get noticed and does something different for your brand than just having a vinyl plexiglass sign that was made by a machine. It shows that you really care about your business’ perception and that you pay attention to all of the small components that build a strong brand. It’s also a win for the business when the customers are doing marketing for them by sharing photos of their sign or space on social media. They’re also supporting other small businesses when they choose to have a sign painter or woodworker create a custom sign for them. We’re all about building a strong sense of community.
We balance our work by treating both local clients and multinationals the same way. We have a process that we go through for every client that we take on and helps us stay true to our studio structure. When working for larger companies that already have a brand in place typically that’s a lot of production work that we can give to other people on our team and free up time for our principal creative, Tyler.
The word Factory encompasses many capabilities and has the industrial feel that’s in line with the type of work that we produce; minimal, classic, timeless, and reflects the personality of each brand that we’re representing. The North direction/location was added with potential to eventually open other offices. It’s also worth noting that Andy Warhol called his creative space The Factory, it’s hard to deny his influence on contemporary creative work.
Tyler is especially inspired by Aaron Draplin of DDC and Christian Helms of Helms Workshop. Both of those designers have aesthetics that are super clean and reference classic modern design. I’m inspired by OMFGCo because of their capacity to build brands into full environmental experiences and they have a similar studio structure to ours. We both look at blogs and social media daily and are constantly inspired by the work that so many people are producing!
Dimensional Signage by OMFGCo. (image courtesy of OMFGCo.)
We’re especially seeing an appreciation of the hand-crafted aesthetic here in Portland where there’s a greater interest for the hand made, small business atmosphere. Plenty of people like that aesthetic but it’s another thing to get a small business on a budget for something hand crafted. A lot of is on the designer to educate the client on what the budgetary restrictions are for materials and production. If we can figure out a realistic and affordable way to create things that are more long lasting and aesthetically pleasing it’s a win for everyone. We’re interested in making the city we live in more aesthetically pleasing. Growing up in places where it’s strip mall after strip mall of cheap looking work, we don’t want our city to become that.
Beer Label design project for Widmer Brothers
There are certain spots in the US where there is a greater appreciation for the hand-crafted aesthetic; Portland, Austin, Brooklyn. We think that appreciation is going to keep spreading to other cities that haven’t yet experienced that wave of resurged interest in hand-crafted quality.
Right now we’re working with a bike builder and designing his brand and bike frames that will be hand painted. We’re working with Widmer Brothers Brewing on a project to design 30 different bottles of beer where we’re curating the selection of local designers and illustrators to collaborate with. We’re also beginning work on a restaurant in San Diego where we’re designing the brand as well as the space where we’ll be working with mural artists, sign painters, and be very involved in the build out process of the space. And many more this year!
We can’t wait to see it! Thanks Tyler and Nicole for taking some time with us. Keep filling your city with great signs and designs!