All in a Word

Signs Brighten Homes Inside and Out.

By Kimberly Lawrence • Photography by Kjeld Mahoney

If you’ve driven past homes in Norwell, stopped at JC’s Dairy in Hanover or picked up vegetables at Norwell Farms, then you’ve probably seen the bright, colorful, hand-painted wood signs that are the signature work of Jenny Cohane, creator of Citrus Daisy.

Cohane started her custom sign business out of her colonial home and barn about six years ago. Housed in the big red barn with the “be kind” sign at the corner of Main and Central Street in Norwell, Citrus Daisy is a small business with a big heart.

“It is a creative outlet for me, because I have always loved color,” says Cohane, who began painting signs after she was laid off from her position as a merchandising director at Reebok. “But the signs also represent how my family and I try to live—cheerful with a positive outlook.”

“Girl” was the first sign Cohane painted to hang on her barn door when her daughter, Annie, was born. She started changing the sign as different seasons and events cropped up. She hung a “rake” sign in the fall, a “two” sign to mark her son Petey’s second birthday, “trois poules” (meaning three French hens) at Christmas, the Olympic medal count for the winter games that year, and “roar” and “bah” for the month of March.

Before long, people in town started to notice her work.

“I would see people driving by, looking at the barn. The signs were making them happy,” Cohane recalls. A friend at Norwell Farms asked Cohane to donate flower and herb signs to the newly established nonprofit farm—which Cohane was glad to do—and also encouraged her to start selling her work. That is when the hobby evolved into a business.

Norwell resident Linda Cataldo and her son, A.J., were two of Cohane’s first customers. After spotting the “girl” sign, Linda and A.J. made it a point to see what sign was hanging on the barn every time they passed. A.J. would even look when he was on the school bus. “It became a family thing,” says Cataldo.

Then one day in February a few years ago, Linda and A.J. noticed “signs for sale” posted outside the barn, and they decided to stop in. Linda recalls that Cohane made them feel like welcomed guests. A.J. bought a pink wood sign with red “xoxo” letters for his mom for Valentine’s Day—a gift Linda still cherishes. “That was the beginning of our addiction to Jenny’s signs,” says Cataldo.

JC’s Dairy soon came calling. Cohane painted many of the ice cream shop’s signs, using lots of its trademark pink and green. Later, Abbey Knoll Photography hired Cohane to paint the studio’s outdoor sign.

All Citrus Daisy signs have Cohane’s distinctive look—painted freehand in a simple, clean, lowercase font with rounded edges, using a blend of colors from her ever-growing palette. With an aptitude for picking color, Cohane spends a lot of time at stores going through the paints and creates her own shades when she can’t find what she needs for a project. She painted only words on her first signs but soon started adding images as well. Her husband, Kevin, who Cohane jokingly refers to as “Mr. Daisy,” helped with the earliest designs—a lobster, anchor and oyster. With no formal training herself, Cohane says, “I am starting to feel like an artist.”

As the signs have grown in popularity around the South Shore, so has the business. Cohane now has two people who help out with painting as well as sanding. Depending on the size, Cohane’s signs range from $12 to $250. For custom orders, Cohane collaborates closely with customers, brainstorming colors and phrasing together. “People have been so kind about spreading the word. That is the reason we’ve grown,” she says.

Another reason Citrus Daisy has grown is that Cohane’s signs are all originals. North River Lacrosse director Chris McGuirk ordered about 200 signs with the team’s name, Skipjacks, to give to new players who were selected for the travel teams. From a branding perspective, McGuirk says he didn’t want to go the mass-produced route.

“We wanted something that was created and crafted in Jenny’s style with her flair. We want to be a South Shore-based program that kids and families take a lot of pride in and having a handcrafted, original piece of art fit with that.” Cohane appreciates that her signs represent a local feel and that the barn is “sort of an unofficial community center.”

Spending hours painting, sometimes throughout the night, is one of the things Cohane most enjoys about her business. “I can get lost in my work,” she says. “When I hand off a sign, it’s like handing off one of my babies.” But the most meaningful part of the job, she says, is listening to people who pop by the barn. “Many times, people come in with news about getting engaged, losing a loved one, or celebrating a birth or graduation, and they want a custom sign to honor someone or mark a special occasion,” she says. “I paint signs that represent their stories and lives.”

Cohasset resident Blanche Whitman has a collection of Citrus Daisy signs. Whitman, who often drives the back roads to visit her sons who live in Pembroke and Hanson, began noticing signs reading “believe in miracles,” “sunny” and “namaste” hanging on houses along her  route. Whitman was intrigued and soon learned where the signs were coming from. The first time she stopped by Cohane’s workshop, she walked out with signs that read “believe,” “hope,” “faith” and “miracles.”

Whitman now has a variety of holiday and seasonal signs from Citrus Daisy and often gives them for gifts—her nine grandsons have various sports signs and her seven granddaughters all have their names hanging in their bedrooms. And while it is hard to choose, Whitman considers her “hope” sign her favorite. “That sign means the most to me. I lost my husband 10 years ago, and I have wonderful sons and daughters-in-law, and I just hope their lives will be as fulfilled as mine,” she says. “Hope is a good word. If you have hope, you have all sorts of good things coming your way.”

Cohane likes to hear that the signs inspire her customers. The philosophy behind Citrus Daisy is much like her “be kind” sign on the barn—to spread kindness, whether she is painting a “laugh out loud,” “seas the day” or “make me smile” sign, or creating signs for various charities and donating a portion of the proceeds. The Foundation for Retinal Research is particularly close to Cohane’s heart because her daughter, Annie, now 6 years old, is blind. “I think some of my most powerful signs are the ones that I create for these causes,” says Cohane, who always wanted her business to be about giving back.

Meeting customers through Citrus Daisy has been a gift to the Cohane family. It also has helped build support for Annie as they work to help educate people about blindness. Each year, the Cohanes host a backyard fundraiser to raise money for retinal research. To date, they have raised more than $85,000 and the event continues to grow, thanks to so many of her Citrus Daisy customers-turned-friends who attend or donate. “These signs—little, simple things—have opened a whole world of a community for us,” she says.

Whether talking about her signs or her philanthropic work, Cohane wants to help make this a kinder, more positive world. She describes the barn as a place to be happy. Linda Cataldo agrees, “It evokes a feeling—It’s a pick-me-up.” Cohane acknowledges that not every day can be bright and cheery and there are always challenges, but as her business card reads, “Words make us smile.” And that’s just what her signs aim to do.

 

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