Going from feature films to building design may not seem like the most obvious career trajectory, but Shawn Sweeney says it’s not as far-fetched as one might think.
“A script is the blueprint for a movie and a blueprint is the script for a house,” he said. “A great script makes a great movie and a great blueprint makes a great house. The organizational skills are similar.”
Sweeney was working on the movie “Lolita” on location in Texas when he met his wife, who was based in North Carolina. “I fell in love with her over the phone,” he recalls. After they married, they lived in New York City, but decided that if they wanted to start a family, the movie business was not the ideal career path. Sweeney grew up in Montpelier and his wife had vacationed in Vermont, so the two headed north. They couldn’t quite shake the movie business, so Sweeney worked on a film in Woodstock while his wife was involved with “What Lies Beneath” in Burlington. When she became pregnant, he took over her role, recognizing that it would probably be the last movie he worked on. In 2004, the couple built and moved to a home near Shelburne Pond.
While helping out a high school film program in Lamoille County, Sweeney met a general contractor who was looking for a project manager. Sweeney spent six years with him before opening the doors to Sweeney Design Build in 2007. He took classes at Yestermorrow to better understand design work. “It was more about the process than the details of architecture,” he said. “I learned the process of having a client come through the door, finding their needs and wants and helping them fulfill that.” The company does both renovations and new design. In 2013, Sweeney won an award from the Home Builders and Remodelers Association for a renovated kitchen.
For eight years, Sweeney worked out of an office in his garage, but as his business grew, he needed a new space and purchased the Harrington House. Sweeney has done a great deal of research on Benjamin Harrington, the former legislator who built the home in the late 1700s, and he hopes to have a historical marker installed in front of the structure. “This is a gem of history for the town of Shelburne,” he said. “It was becoming a rundown property so I’m happy to be able to turn it around into a nice space.” The main house is now apartments, and Sweeney’s office is in a converted chicken coop. “I really enjoy the history,” he said.
Sweeney loves being his own boss and making his own decisions, but he also appreciates the fact that his hours are roughly half of what he worked in the film industry. “In this business you have your own life,” he said. “As thrilling as the film industry was, this is thrilling in its own way and very rewarding.” For Sweeney, the best part of his job is bringing people together to come up with and execute a plan. “I really enjoy the people I work with,” he said. “I love opening up the doors in the morning. It really is a lot of fun.”