HomeLink Magazine Summer 2017: Reclaimed Wood
Wood that lives three lives
Reclaimed wood companies turn American barns into Colorado style
By Suzie Romig
Reclaimed wood may be hip in decorating and construction today, but its richness from yesteryear drives wood suppliers.
“Dealing in it and using it, it’s my passion now. I would much rather work with reclaimed wood,” said carpenter and reclaimed wood dealer Brad Wheeler, who owns Egeria Patinas in Yampa.
Weathered wood enthusiast Wheeler believes the uses are endless for the seasoned, hard woods salvaged from barns across America’s farming-rich states.
“You can’t duplicate what old barn wood looks like with new wood. Some people try, but it’s not really comparable,” said Wheeler, noting the beauty and distinctive look of the wood “took years to acquire.”
The reserved carpenter who grew up in rural northeast Missouri has sold wood that he and workers deconstructed from more than 24 barns dating to the 1890s in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. Through the last 10 years, Wheeler provided barn wood for dozens of homes in the Yampa Valley for uses such as cabinets, ceilings, mantles, decorative timbers, interior walls and sometimes full exterior siding.
Wheeler repurposed wood on the walls of his own woodshop, crafted inside the back of an old service station building in downtown Yampa. Found farm equipment treasures from saws to scythes to pulleys line the shop walls. In the outside supply yard, two 40-foot hand-hewn black walnut timbers sit awaiting a treasured reuse. He estimates the timbers from a failing two-story barn in Illinois were harvested approximately 125 years ago.
Wood dealers and husband and wife Jack and Megan Norton of Crosscut Reclaimed own a growing repurposed construction materials company that was located in Summit County for eight years and moved to Kremmling last year.
“Emotionally the connection with reclaimed materials and seeing beautiful old wood reused goes very deep,” said Jack Norton, who grew up learning from his antiques dealer father in Maine. Norton said his dad specialized in industrial décor and salvaged buildings and instilled in him “that love of old good things.”
“I do truly believe that reusing things is always better than recycling things no matter what it is. It’s the best use of materials. When using barn wood, I always try to think about where the materials came from and think forward about that story that’s being created,” Norton said. For example, old roof underlayment is reused for ceiling treatment. Old subfloor from a brewery building may become tabletops for a restaurant.
“It’s important to note, a lot of these materials used in proper manner are superior to new or virgin woods because they are denser, stronger and look better,” said Norton, who buys wood from deconstruction companies in New England, the Pacific Northwest and the southeast United States. “When you find wood that is correctly reclaimed, it already has been through the annual cycle of wood expanding and contracting, so it becomes very stable.”
The Nortons also deal in reclaimed corrugated metal from roofs of old barns or industrial buildings and old textile mills in the South. They stock wood from a former Pabst beer building in Wisconsin that was dismantled to create hundreds of thousands of board feet of wood as well as metal that is popular in urban rustic décor.
When he is not busy milling or planing barn wood for residential and commercial customers in Summit, Grand, Eagle and Routt counties for uses ranging from bar fronts to wine cellars, Norton makes durable furniture from reclaimed wood, everything from coat racks to hutches, coffee tables to rolling bars.
Homebuilder Chris Rhodes of Soda Mountain Construction in Steamboat Springs is a fan of reclaimed wood and a repeat customer of Egeria Patinas.
“Beyond the reclaimed timeless look that these materials bring to the project, I believe the story of how they were originated and how they became part of the home is intriguing,” Rhodes said. “The authentic look of the product is timeless and does not require any maintenance. The materials bring life to areas that can feel stale or boring. The craftsmanship of installing these materials can be very technical, so it is always interesting to see how the final product turns out.”
Artists Brian Leach and Cactus Nemec, partners in Ruuk, a company in Steamboat Springs, are fans of working with reclaimed wood as old as they can find to build custom art furniture.
“For us to be able to put our hands on a piece of wood that another craftsman once worked on helps connect us with the past,” Nemec said. “We are always looking for character in the wood, and the designs play off that character.”
Nemec said 100 percent of their furniture wood is reclaimed, including supplies from Egeria Patinas, and 90 percent of their steel, often found at Axis Steel in Craig, is either reclaimed or post-consumer recycled.
The deconstruction of aging barns can benefit farming families or landowners who have the unsafe buildings removed and might even save on their liability insurance, the wood dealers say. An estimated 75 percent of a barn can be reclaimed, and the other 25 percent that is too rotten or damaged may be buried or burned, Wheeler said.
The two regional dealers pull from different areas of the country to make a variety of woods and colors available to customers. The deconstructed barns may provide red oak, white oak, yellow pine, Douglas fir, sycamore, walnut, cherry, mahogany, maple and even some American chestnut, which was pushed close to extinction due to chestnut blight fungus in the early 1900s. Wood harvested from different sides of the barn provide different colors ranging from reds to grays due to sun exposure and weathering, Jack Norton explained.
The Nortons lease space from fellow Kremmling wood business Hester’s Log & Lumber, a circle saw mill that specializes in beetle-kill trees cut in Colorado. Hester’s provides house logs, character logs, furniture materials, and tongue and groove products. This summer, husband and wife team Forrest and Lindsey Hester plan to open a new 6,000-square-foot building space to share with Crosscut Reclaimed.
Megan Norton, also an artist and designer, said Crosscut Reclaimed helped with décor for Sauce on the Blue, a family-style Italian restaurant in Silverthorne that uses mixed barn wood for attention-grabbing walls. Other Colorado customers like the mix of colors for cabins or hunting and ski lodges.
“Our business grew out of our appreciation for the historical significance of reclaimed materials and our commitment to sustainable building practices. The wood that was used in old barns was old timbers that grew through various seasons and is more dense and durable. It’s truly better to reuse the barn that may go to waste,” said Megan, pointing out the lower carbon footprint of a tree that has lasted three lives.
That tall, American-grown tree produced oxygen during its lifetime, served the farmer well on a barn for decades and now has a new life in Colorado homes and businesses.
“The wood has a story that continues,” she said. “It has a story before we used it, and the story continues now.”
Regional resources for repurposed materials:
Egeria Patinas, in Yampa, www.EgeriaPatinas.com
Crosscut Reclaimed, in Kremmling, www.crosscutreclaimed.com
Hester’s Log & Lumber, in Kremmling, www.hesterslogandlumber.com
Queen City Architectural Salvage, in northeast Denver, www.localarchitecturalsalvage.com
Repurposed Materials, in Henderson, www.repurposedmaterialsinc.com
Bud’s Warehouse, in Aurora, nonprofit home improvement outlet, www.budswarehouse.org
Milner Mall, at Milner Landfill, www.twinenviro.com/services/materialsrecycling
Habitat for Humanity ReStore, various locations including Eagle, Silverthorne, large store in south Glenwood Springs, www.habitat.org/restores
Axis Steel, in Craig, 970-824-3256
American Antique Lumber, in Montrose, www.americanantiquelumber.com