Hand-Crafted Signmaker Lisa Oehler Puts Her Stamp on the Hamptons

In a tiny outbuilding at her home in Remsenburg, Lisa Oehler brings words to life.Five years ago, Lisa Oehler was a single mom in Connecticut, not necessarily struggling, but definitely looking to put some extra cash in her pocket. Because money was tight, she started painting her own furniture and selling it. Today, as the owner of Serenity Dream Decor, she is happily remarried and a resident of Remsenburg. She hasn’t put down her brushes, but now she gets to keep the family furniture when she paints it.

Oehler works on one of her hand-painted signs.Oehler has moved from furniture to hand-painted decorative signs, a hit with East End homeowners. Not surprisingly, the most popular are location-driven—emblazoned with the name of Hamptons villages—or covered with family surnames, children’s first names, beach motifs, and wedding-themed slogans. (Her “Endless Summer” wooden wall hanging is a personal favorite.) Oehler’s signs are typically hand-lettered and -stenciled in antique fonts on distressed wood, some of which she picks up during walks on the beach near Moriches Bay, where she scours for driftwood, washed-up planks, weathered boards, and other wooden detritus. And she’s always on the hunt for discarded shipping pallets. “You know how you drive around looking for boxes before a big move?” she asks. “I do that everywhere I go, searching for interesting pieces of wood by the side of the road.”

The various brushes that Lisa Oehler uses to create her hand-painted signs.Sign making isn’t rocket science, confesses Oehler, who starts the process by covering a piece of wood in a layer or two of water-based paint. Once it dries, she then hand-paints or stencils letters, numbers, or more elaborate designs or drawings on the surface, after which the sign is hand-sanded. “I go heavy on the edges and the knots and holes,” says Oehler, who pays particular attention to areas that might weather more quickly over time. When the sign takes on a distressed look that’s to her liking, she applies a stain or glaze to further amplify its antiqued appearance. A thin layer of polyurethane comes next, for protection and durability, before the piece goes out to a client. “There’s meaning behind each and every sign I make, and I put my heart and soul into every single one. It’s an honor to create things that people want to bring into their homes, and to commemorate the people and things that are important to them.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 1, 2016 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Signs of the Times.