Wood with a past

Cabinets made from reclaimed barn wood. (photo by DB Leonard)

Reclaimed and treated barn boards add unique accents

When Rocking Horse Ranch owners Gloria Turk and her husband Toolie were ready to renovate their cedar home kitchen 40 years ago, they made the very avant-garde choice of using reclaimed barn wood to flatter their dude ranch’s Western Colorado mountain lodge theme. The look’s warm, rustic look appealed to the family, and they used wood reclaimed from dilapidated barns in Orange County.

Gloria Turk also recalled how the cabinet-maker swore off barn wood after getting splinter and after splinter. “I wouldn’t recommend it for people, however, with young kids, though, because if you rub against it you can get a splinter,” she said.

Today, however, old wood can be cleaned, heated and treated to keep it from being a painful material to use. Though the treated repurposed wood is not cheap, its installation requires far less effort and contains fewer perils than it did in the past. For many people who crave the distinct nostalgic feel to their house it can provide, reclaimed barn wood has become a no-brainer of a choice.

In fact, Gloria Turk said, the ranch is proceeding with restorations in its nightclub, flooded during Hurricane Irene, using wood reclaimed from mushroom factories that offer a deep and aged look. They’ll create a “saloon” look for ranch-vacationers to enjoy, she said.

Ever upward with re-use

Christina Sauer of Excelsior Wood Products in Kingston summed up why people opt for reclaimed timbers. “People are looking for more green products, and are inspired to re-use things,” said Sauer. “[Customers are choosing reclaimed barn timbers and woods because] the look is in, and it’s beautiful. People want to see something historical with a story and something that no one else has.”

In the era of mass production, Sauer said, people love the authenticity of the story behind the wood.

Excelsior uses all types of different woods for custom projects, such as reclaimed oak from barns, antique heart pine from old New York City factories or the burned Marcellus building in Syracuse, and even scavenged wood from the Coney Island boardwalk. The company remade a boardwalk for Woodstock’s Comeau property’s trail system using many of these resources. “They loved the idea of using recycled wood, and they had a problem with the soft ground on their trail system,” reported Sauer. “It’s a very dense wood, it’s a very hard wood. I have ironwood, one of the hardest woods in the world, with a fire rating of concrete. It almost doesn’t even burn.”

When Excelsior did a home in the Orange County community of Crawford with ABC’s hit TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” it used a wide variety of reclaimed materials. The look was lauded by the homeowner, the show’s cast and the viewers.

Elegantly flawed

Gloria Turk with her barn wood cabinets. (photo by DB Leonard)

David Chittick from Hudson Co. in Pine Plains, formally Antique and Vintage Woods, said that the woods’ flaws were the best part, the part most worth saving. “Occasionally we remanufacture [reclaimed beams] into flooring and make antique wood, even though it might look like it’s newly manufactured,” he said. “It will have some of the characteristic nail holes of an old floor.”

Chittick said that reclaimed woods were typically used more for decorative than structural effect. “These are not structurally rated,” he said. “There’s not a huge chance that we would sell something that would collapse. But we don’t put an engineer’s stamp on it.” Using decorative beams to create a rustic appearance dramatizes visual effect. The beams look like they’re embedded, even when they do not actually serve a structural purpose.

Hudson Co. uses hemlock, white pine, spruce, and occasionally oak or antique chestnut (There’s less and less of the extinct chestnut, of course; it doesn’t grow on trees any more.) Mushroom wood is finding its way into mainstream commercial and homeowner use, Chittick said, with a number of area restaurants using it for paneling. “Mushroom wood is popular because it looks like an unfinished board that has been aging in Appalachia for 60 years,” he said.

Who are the customers? According to Chittick, they run the gamut of builders, architects, interior designers and homeowners getting creative. Both Excelsior and Hudson get their timbers from middlemen who find barns that have been deemed unsafe to farmers and other sources. Beams are priced by linear foot, starting at $18 per lineal foot. A larger beam can cost up to $50 per foot for something really special, like a huge hand-hewn beam with axe marks.

All these damp, moldy barn woods can pose a health hazard unless they are properly treated. They are dried and stabilized in kilns after being brushed and cleaned so as to be free of odor. A temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit kills just about any fungi or bacteria in the wood, explained Chittick, who is thinking of expanding into stone. He probably won’t have to roast his rocks.

Artfully updated

Furniture maker Emerson DuBois of Kingston-based Enterprise Americana tastefully refurbishes and artfully updates found antiquated and outdated furniture into one-of-a-kind “contempotique” (a term minted by his partner Jordan Costa to describe using antique lumber to build contemporary furniture) pieces for sale in his online Etsy store. “We don’t buy, we find,” DuBois said, “sometimes off rehab sites of houses being renovated and gutted. They come upon us. They just show up. And I have had a fair amount of wood gifted to me, and plus I have cannibalized it off my own job sites.”

DuBois fondly described one of his finds: “The pine top was recycled from a door out of an 18th-century stone farmhouse. The oak legs are from a lintel of the same house. The shelf, rails and drawer come from the basement kitchen of an 1860s farmhouse now located in the middle of the City of Kingston, elements of which were recycled from a much earlier, possibly Colonial structure. The brass pull was bought from another one of our fellow Etsy members.” DuBois said that his pieces “fall together” from different sources.

Want to finish an old home or breathe a little history into an old one? Consider treated recycled old wood.

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