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With the grain

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

The ability to go green is paying off for Carl Simerson.

Using driftwood salvaged from local salt marshes and neighboring barrier islands, Simerson's line of hand-crafted products – referred to as Pawleys Wood – includes mirror frames, picture frames, tables, and benches, as well as other custom creations.

Offering area residents the chance to add local treasures to their homes, or enabling visitors to take a piece of Pawleys Island with them when they return home, has proven to be marketable opportunities.

Simerson is thrilled that what started out as a hobby has been able to provide him with extra income.

"I've always enjoyed working with my hands," Simerson said. "It gave me a creative outlet. When I'd see a nice piece of driftwood washed up on the beach, I'd take it home and find a use for it. I'd make jewelry boxes or frames for friends, and over time, I began to think about selling some of the stuff I was making."

Environmentally conscious, he's also proud to do his part to help keep the locale he has called home for more than 40 years as naturally beautiful as possible.

"It's the greenest thing I can do," Simerson said. "I get to clean up the marshes and the beaches, and people who buy the products get something they can keep in their home."

Simerson's pieces have the weathered look consumers relish, the elements and time making an impression on the wood that varnish can't match.

"People get bored with the same old thing," Simerson said. "The wood I find is unique. The wind, the water, and the sun have created a graying effect that is hard to duplicate. The things I make are from materials that have truly been a part of Pawleys Island. I think people enjoy that."

Currents Home Furnishings – owned by Simerson's long-time friend Dana Malinski – is the retailer for the Pawleys Wood line, which has become a favorite choice of consumers.

"Carl and I have been friends for years," Malinski said. "He's a very resourceful person and he has a definite passion for the coast. With the [Pawleys Wood] products, he has found his niche.

"His work is quite popular and word is continuing to spread. He does excellent work and his pieces are a great additions for primary residences or second homes."

Simerson was born in North Carolina and spent the first 12 years of his life in Michigan. A skiing aficionado in his youth, Simerson turned to surfing upon arriving in Pawleys Island. To this day, he remains an avid surfer.

And the married father of three has seen the area go through remarkable changes since his first visit.

"When I first came here there were only three houses in Hagley," Simerson said. "As kids we’d come down, camp on the bluff, and hang out in the woods. Between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. you wouldn't see a car between here and Georgetown. The only traffic would come when they were changing shifts at the mill."

A construction worker by trade with expertise in areas like flooring, electrical needs, and cabinet making, Simerson has relied on the Pawleys Wood line to help get him through the construction slowdown caused by the economic downtown.

Simerson believes there are signs the construction business is returning to form, though he has no plans of abandoning his burgeoning sideline endeavor.

"Last December and January were the worst times for the construction business," Simerson said. "I'd get out and drive around and there was no building going on. I was fortunate the [Pawleys Wood] products were selling. That gave me some options.

"Now, construction seems like it is picking back up. I'm getting more calls and more work. But I'm not going to give up my hobby. It's turned into a money-maker, plus I enjoy it too much. I want to take it as far as it will go."

Simerson said the travel affiliated with construction jobs will afford him the opportunity to gain more materials for potential Pawleys Wood products.

"I keep my eyes open when I'm traveling," Simerson said. "I'm always looking for grayed-out lumber. If I see something like an abandoned tobacco barn, I'll ask someone about it. I'll even tear it down for them if they want."

Retrieving the driftwood is a labor of love for Simerson which, given the effort required, is a necessity. The materials have to be wrestled from the marsh and lugged back to his workshop in Hagley. There are the ever present factors of heat, humidity, pesky insects and muck, not to mention the more ominous threat posed by water moccasins.

"You can't get on the river banks right now, there are too many snakes," Simerson said. "You really have to watch for them. During the winter is the best time to gather lumber because the snakes aren't around."

Once removed from the marsh, the wood is pressure washed to remove mud and then dried. Though he has an idea of how he can incorporate each piece into his work when it is initially salvaged, Simerson's creative vision comes into full focus once back at his workshop.

Located down the sandy trails that run from Hagley Drive to the Waccamaw River, the workshop is nestled in a clearing among stately oaks and old pines, the backdrop serving as an ideal backdrop for Simerson.

"When I'm out here there is no stress," Simerson said. "I'm free to create."

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