Retired from teaching and unable to sell truckloads of wood from his property in Durham, Mike Hartlen decided to create a new partnership with his wife of more than 40 years, Donna. While neither of them call it a business and a lot of their creations get donated back to the community, they are seeing a lot of success.
With a storage shed set up at their home on Durham Road to store and organize their stock in preparation of local craft sales and markets, the new hobby keeps the couple busy in their retirement. While Donna says the shed is just intended to keep herself organized, it closely resembles a tiny gift shop just steps from the comfort of her home.
Previously teaching at NSCC Stellarton, along with some high schools, Mike Hartlen creates the wood pieces such as benches, Adirondack chairs and smaller, popular flower decorations, Donna then lets the wood speak to her as she finishes pieces with sealant or by painting a character.
“It started by accident,” Mike declares, clarifying that they simply started clearing their land and trying to sell the wood with no success. “At $40 a truckload nobody would buy it,” so they decided to buy a mill and see what else they could do. Always dabbling in crafts, this transition keeps the couple laughing and active in their community. Their own projects — like their own deck — get pushed down on their priority list.
Putting quality over quantity, it can take the couple longer than expected to complete a piece but with finishing a table with a bookmatch technique, the attention to detail stands out. A bench can be seen at the upcoming Christmas in July event or tickets can be purchased at the Scotsburn Fire Department Pork Chop BBQ in support of the local community centre.
With a month and a half of orders still to build, the orders continue to come and word of mouth has been their only form of marketing.
From jewelry to benches and all things in between, Donna and Mike Hartlen make to order and Donna says, “It’s a lot of fun and gives us something to do. It’s a good family hobby with our kids coming along to help once in a while.”
Mike and Donna Hartlen with dogs Mork and Mindy. (Butland photo)