Pointer of Interest: Hands-on hobby turns into burgeoning business

Photo by Jody McVeigh
Chelsea Cousineau holds up one of her favorite pieces in her studio at Pointe Hardware & Lumber. A selection of colorful stains she created sits next to her.

There’s a storage room toward the back of Pointe Hardware & Lumber where Chelsea Cousineau has carved out some space for herself. She calls it her “own little studio” and it’s where her new business, Detroit Craftswoman, began to take shape.

Crafting works of art from wood is a fairly recent undertaking for Cousineau, who has spent most of her life at the hardware store owned by her father, Randy Cousineau, and uncle, Ric Becker. Though she’s always been creative, finding the right medium took some time.

“I was always interested in art,” she said. “It runs in my blood.”

Following in the footsteps of her artist grandmother, who preferred stained glass and acrylics, Cousineau was influenced by her surroundings when she selected her medium of choice. Creating art from wood seemed a natural avenue, though it began as merely a hobby.

“I was young and short on cash,” she recalled. “I needed a birthday present for my mom or dad. I thought, let’s see what I can do with wood.”

Courtesy Photos Cousineau uses stain, rather than paint, to color her artwork to maintain the natural wood grain in each piece.

Early on, she spray painted stenciled designs on planks of wood, but expanded her woodworking repertoire after a little online browsing. Seeing what others were doing broadened her artistic horizons.

“It started as one thing and turned into, what else can I do?” she said. “I’m always trying to progress, trying to see what else I can make. What can I add? What can I change?

“I really wanted to figure out how to take it further and had seen some really cool geometric patterns from a quilting book that I knew I could cut if I learned how to use a miter saw,” she said. “It’s really progressed from there as I continue to try new things and learn to use different tools.”

Cousineau realized her hobby could be turned into a business after a social media post generated fairly lucrative offers for her work. She’s made everything from Christmas ornaments to serving trays and currently is working on a series depicting the national parks. Her mountain pieces are her biggest seller, she said.

She also receives custom orders, recreating clients’ photographs in wood.

“I want people to look at my pieces and connect to them in a somewhat nostalgic way, reminding them of a special vacation or a place they love,” she said. “It makes me happy to recreate people’s memories. Every time I get a new order, I try something new, something different.”

She appreciates the fine details in a plank of wood, the different grain patterns, which she uses to create textures in her artwork. She appreciates the natural beauty of wood so much, she chooses to stain her work rather than cover it up with paint.

“I create my own custom stain colors,” she said. “I never use paint, always stain, in an effort to maintain that natural grain pattern in the wood. I’ve always felt like the grain of the wood is so beautiful and I really want to showcase it rather than cover it up. … I’m taking things I learned from my grandma, using techniques I learned from her with acrylics, and putting my own twist on it.”

She starts with a base of clear pre-made stain and adds pigment, creating a rainbow of colors that add another dimension to her work. With more than 130 colors on her pallet, she continues to make more — mixing up the perfect hue for each creation.

“I really found something unique for me,” she said of her craft. “I really like working with wood. It unlocked something in me. This is it, something I want to do more of. When I’m in the zone, it feels like it’s right.

“I have fun doing it,” she added. “I lose myself in it easily. It’s my escape to dive into. It’s more than a business; it’s for my mental health.”

Cousineau said she is grateful to have the support of her father, who lets her slip away to her studio when business is slow.

“That’s given me the chance to do more with it than I would have had time for if this were a different kind of job,” she said. “I got my start with everything I do working here. My dad is very supportive of my creative endeavors here.

“… I’m very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to express myself in this way and I’m grateful for my resources — the shop I get to use and the help of everyone who has taught me how to use different tools or pushed me to try new techniques,” she added. “I’m truly blessed to be able to live my dream life as an artist and I’m excited for what the future holds for me as I continue to learn and expand my artistic abilities.”

She also has found tremendous support from the community. The Chesterfield native moved to Grosse Pointe Park when she was 20. She’s still nearby, because she fell in love with the area.

“The people here are very supportive of what I’m doing,” she said. “Mostly all of my orders have been local.”

Looking ahead, Cousineau would like to fine-tune her business, update her website to accept orders and streamline the operation a bit.

“I’d like to have my wood art business be my full-time job, taking in larger custom orders, with a gallery and workshop/studio combined,” she said, “maybe even do workshops with precut designs for others to stain and assemble themselves.”

Though she has a degree in marketing from Oakland University, Cousineau said she never really felt like corporate marketing was the job for her. For some time, she debated what her future would hold and wondered if staying in the family business was the right move.

“Being in the position I’m in now makes me feel like I definitely made the right decision,” she said, “and I’m very grateful to have the resources available to make this happen and for everyone who has supported me and believed inside me.

“This is my heart and soul,” she added. “I love doing it.”

To check out her inventory, visit detroitcraftswoman.com. To place an order, message Cousineau on Facebook or Instagram @detroitcraftswoman or email detroitcraftswoman@gmail.com.

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