Everyone has an escape. Surfing the sea, making melodious music, flourishing in a flower garden. For Carlina Sacco, creating mosaic masterpieces is her life’s passion.
The vivacious 23-year-old spends a great deal of time with her family in Ocean City.
“Every time I cross over the 9th Street bridge, all of my stress is released,” she explained. “Once I’m in Ocean City, I can decompress. I love wakeboarding, paddleboarding, and surfing, just being me and letting everything go.”
She recently graduated from Rutgers New Brunswick. There, she excelled as a D1 field hockey player, enjoyed riding dirt bikes, and worked with her dad out in the yard.
“I did a lot of boy stuff,” she laughed. “I loved it, but it was very stressful to constantly perform to be the best. My escape became drawing and painting.”
Carlina began exhibiting at festivals, and highlighting her portfolio on Etsy as “Sawdust Gypsy.” Once she felt confident people appreciated her work, she started to fully embrace her creativity and craft. She drew much inspiration from her boyfriend, Patrick Bilazzo. He got laid off from his construction job for a time, and when he received an offer to return, Patrick turned the company down to help Carlina develop her business.
“Patrick builds amazing furniture, and I started helping him out,” she recalled. “He actually transformed a school bus into a home and taught me a lot. I soon realized I wanted to start making my own pieces.”
Carlina, who had never touched a power tool in her life, became an instant natural at sawing.
“She wanted to build something for her best friend, so I taught her how to use a chop saw. She’s better at it than me,” Patrick chuckled.
Carlina then taught herself how to use a scroll saw to make tiny, intricate cuts.
“I can’t keep up with her talent for art. It’s wild,” said Patrick. “People ask ‘Does she use lasers at all?,’ and I say “‘No way.’ She amazes me every day.”
The COVID-19 quarantine played a major factor in propelling Carlina’s business.
“Everything kind of blew up. We had so much time on our hands it was crazy,” she recalled. “I started getting custom orders every other day, and it hasn’t stopped.”
She’s found steady business creating custom signs globally, but most of her orders come from local companies, weddings, and baby showers.
You can purchase her work at West End Garage in Cape May. You can also find Carlina’s unique decor at Blue Rascal Distillery in Hammonton. The restaurant commissioned her for their project.
“My absolute favorite piece is the ‘Earth Grown’ mosaic at the distillery. It’s a mash-up between a natural vibe and the restaurant’s industrial atmosphere. It encompasses a unique design lined with different shades of brown, preserved moss, and copper foil.”
Next, she said, is the “Deep Ocean” mosaic that incorporates different shades of blue, which reminds her of her happy place, the sea.
“I also love my ‘Indian Summer Mountain’ mosaics, which are a top-seller. I originally started my mountain pieces due to my love of hiking,” Carlina explained. “I grew up hiking. My parents were very active, and we spent a lot of time on the mountains, ocean, and river. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with nature, and my experiences have inspired me to bring more of those feelings to the forefront.”
The best feeling, Carlina said, is when customers see their finished pieces.
“They send me an idea, and I try to bring it to life. To see them light up makes my job way more enjoyable. I understand I bring the light to them, which is very cool,” she said. “That’s what’s fun about being a maker, having that personal connection and feeling what they feel.”
The process to create a piece, Carlina says, is quite methodical and specific.
“Once I come up with a design, I sketch it out, and figure out the size of a piece, then I make a backer cut, mill it down to the strips, and stain it. It takes about two to three days for the paint to cure before it’s ready.”
All the materials, she explained, are reclaimed, recycled, and refurbished barn or pallet wood.
“People will message me that they have reclaimed wood from an old barn that’s available. It’s a lot of word of mouth. A company might have stacks of pallets they’re not using which is great,” she said. “We also look for fallen timber, mostly in the Shamong and Medford areas. It’s cool because we’re not using wood from all over the world, but right here in our backyard.”
Carlina and Patrick’s backyard is where you’ll find their storefront, Pine Barren Pallet Works. In fact, it’s an extension of their home located at 1101 Elwood Road in Hammonton. If you’d like to connect with this dynamic couple, and experience Carlina’s artwork for yourself, find them on social media at pinebarrenpalletworks.com, instagram.com/pinebarrenpalletworks, or facebook.com/pinebarrenpalletworks.
Imagine their inspiration from around the globe right here at home in Ocean City.
As Carlina proudly said, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
In late June, the Pine Barrens Pallet House storefront burned down in an overnight fire. Fortunately, no one was injured, but nearly everything inside was damaged. We spoke with Carlina afterward. Here is what she said.
“The day of the fire my sister texted me this, ‘a phoenix is a big beautiful red bird in mythology that towards the end of its life, lights up in flames just to be reborn even bigger and more beautiful than it was before… great things are born from destruction’. Patrick and I agreed that this fire will not bring us to a halt, we will come out of this being strong than ever. We wanted to find a way to make something beautiful out of this tragedy and that is where the Phoenix series came from. We were able to salvage some pieces from the fire along with wood from the walls that we have ripped down and turned into mosaics. I wanted each piece to tell a story so they are all unique!”
Find this story and more in our August magazine.