By Mary MacKay
One Prince Edward Island couple is taking the upcycling old furniture trend to new heights.
Using salvaged materials, Lenny and Heather Gallant of Souris design and build unique new items, many of which have a whimsical quality that is not typical of anything found in a furniture outlet.
“Why can’t your furniture be artwork, like you have a painting on the wall? I think you should love your furniture and it should be one of a kind,” says Heather, who like her husband hopes to transform this hobby into a fulltime business called Birdmouse.
This creative couple doesn’t mind bucking trends.In fact, when many people their age are heading west in search of greener pastures, last summer they struck out in the opposite direction, trading the constant race and chase pace of Edmonton, Alta., for the quiet laid-back life in rural Kings County, P.E.I.
For Lenny, who grew up in what is now Stratford, it was a revisit to his old stomping grounds.
“My roots are all over the Island,” he says.Heather hails from Alberta, where they met and married.
Life was humming merrily along for the Gallants until April 2011 when at the age of 28 Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“That kind of shook our world up a bit. I had just graduated from university (with a degree in environmental science) the summer before and I was six months into my career and this happened,” she remembers.
“So we were like ‘You know what? Maybe we should make some changes.’”In February 2012, when Heather had finished all her treatments,
Lenny’s father became ill so he travelled to P.E.I. to see him.That put the idea of moving to the Island in their mind so they could be close to his family.
And so in August 2012 they sold the bulk of their belongings, packed what was most needed into their vehicle and headed for P.E.I.
They are presently staying in a rural Souris West home that belongs to relatives but are searching for a plot of land they can someday call their own.
“Really the reason we’re doing all of this is we wanted control over our lives . . . ,” Lenny says.
“A big part of (the move) was family; a big part of it was slow down and be a little more independent.
”One thing they did take with them was a love of repurposing old items into renewed useful things.“As far as the Birdmouse goes — the furniture — in Edmonton, we were just making it as a hobby and friends and family were liking it. So we just started making pieces for them,” Heather says.
“We would just wander through back alleys and find junk that people were throwing away. At first we would just refinish pieces that were already made, and people were interested in them.
”Lenny’s creativity pushed that repurposing envelope to the max when he began taking the old items apart and upcycling the pieces into imaginative new furniture.
“Once it’s in a big pile on the floor, then it turns into something else,” he says.
“The longer you stare at it, all of a sudden a chair can turn into a coffee table in a few hours, no problem — just that kind of creativity and problem solving. It’s like a puzzle.
”For example, their kitchen table was a puzzling mound of scrap wood in his uncle’s basement until Lenny got his problem-solving hands on it.
“Eventually it will turn into something, you’ve just got to have patience and patience in your own creativity,” he says.
The idea of turning this environmentally conscious passion into an actual business surfaced not long after they arrived on P.E.I.
“We want to take something that’s not valuable and make it valuable,” Heather says.“
Because there’s no need for anything new anymore in our philosophy. There’s enough old stuff that people don’t want that if you just use your mind a little bit you can repurpose it,” Lenny says.
The name Birdmouse, which they’ve used on their Facebook page and website that showcase their upcycling design work, came from the most unlikely place.
“We are two cat lovers and we had a cat toy that resembled a bird and a mouse, it had the feathers and a mouse tail — and we referred to it as ‘bird-mouse,’” Heather says.
“We liked the sound of it,” Lenny laughs.
With a little imagination and some hands-on work, old wood or furniture can come to life as hutches, end tables, coffee tables, TV stands and more.
“Just anything that people don’t want that’s cluttering up their life,” Lenny says of their search for materials.
In addition to creating a Birdmouse website and Facebook page, the Gallants recently had an information booth at the Eco Economy Expo in Charlottetown that was hosted by students in UPEI’s environmental studies program.
“Basically, the pieces kind of dictate what I have to do. I try not to modify too much but I start throwing pieces into a pile on the floor. I may have a table or a hutch in mind and as I go things just progress naturally,” Lenny says.
“And that’s magic. Just letting the creative process go.”
AT A GLANCE
- Birdmouse lovingly builds upcycled furniture. Using salvaged materials, Lenny and Heather Gallant of Souris design new and unique items, thus increasing the materials' life span. This clear conscience, quality furniture is one-of-a-kind.
- They are always looking for materials no longer serving a purpose in their present households.