Old lumber finds second life in new homes

Customers like both the look of products and stories they tell

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TRACING TIMBER’S ROOTS

A century or two ago, factories and other buildings mostly were built with materials close at hand. That means, for instance, that recycled planks and timbers from New England are likely to be different from those salvaged in the Deep South. “What you find around the country correlates with what’s growing there,” said Paul Atkinson, owner of Southend Reclaimed.

• In the Southeast, heart pine was available and was a tough, durable choice for textile mill floors.

• In Ohio and Pennsylvania, white oak was common. Chestnut came from the Appalachians — before those trees disappeared — and Douglas fir was abundant out West.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Reclaimed lumber is among the most environmentally friendly building materials because, as any 12-year-old can explain, recycling is good for us and the planet.

The wood is beautiful. A floor of salvaged antique heart pine glows with the patina of decades, even centuries. Every piece of barn siding is uniquely weathered, which gives a one-of-a-kind appeal to walls and furniture.

And, say Paul Atkinson of Southend Reclaimed and Jonathan Kauffman of Kauffman and Co., buyers appreciate the tales behind reclaimed and salvaged lumber, too.

“Every piece of wood comes with a story,” Atkinson said. “Buyers want to know: Did it come from a factory in Alabama, or a warehouse in Kentucky? It’s bringing history alive and bringing it home.”

The two North Carolina companies, like such national retailers as Pottery Barn and Four Hands, are responding to consumers’ appreciation for reclaimed wood.

Atkinson’s company specializes in salvaged heart pine floors and antique, hand-hewn beams. It has begun selling old barn siding. It’s no longer in South End, though. It has grown and moved over the years. It’s headquartered in Cornelius, N.C., and operates a sawmill in the Eastern North Carolina town of Scotland Neck.

Kauffman and Co. is in Charlotte’s South End, though, on Worthington Avenue. It sells custom furniture, most crafted of wood salvaged from barns in Pennsylvania.

The national companies use lots of reclaimed wood from Asia and South America, where teak and tropical hardwoods are native.

Southend Reclaimed was born a decade ago as the regional textile industry shrank. Mills were sitting empty. The company’s founders thought to ask, “Hey, what are you doing with the wood and brick?” Now, the company relies on a huge and organized network to find entire buildings to salvage. It sells antique brick as well as flooring, timbers and barn siding.

“The company has grown as awareness of the beauty of these woods has continued to increase,” Atkinson said.

Kauffman launched Kauffman and Co. seven years ago, he said, because he appreciates the look of the salvaged lumber. His company offers everything from farm tables and kitchen islands to entire bedrooms. They’re built by a craftsman in Lancaster, Pa.

“A lot of our customers bring us a picture, and we start there,” he said. “We work with local designers. Lots of our pieces are in vacation homes at the mountains and the beach. (The wood) is aged naturally, so we don’t have to do any distressing.”

Ninety percent of Southend Reclaimed’s business used to consist of flooring, especially heart pine. Now, hand-hewn beams — so stunning in kitchens and great rooms — account for half of wood sales.

Kauffman’s customers increasingly are choosing sophisticated instead of rustic country looks. They want the patina and natural distressing, but with more contemporary lines.

Reclaimed items blend with other furniture of all sorts, for a collected look. Fans of reclaimed woods like to mix, rather than match. There are pieces for every room of the house.

Wood prices vary by grade — whether there are lots of knots and color variations — and by the length and width of planks. Longer and wider is more expensive. Reclaimed pine costs more than new oak, Atkinson said, perhaps twice as much. But antique pine flooring boards are typically longer and wider than new oak.

Four Hands offers furniture made of reclaimed hardwood from South America. Some items have finishes of weathered paint — others are bare weathered wood. Four Hands, based in Austin, Texas, also makes items for Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and West Elm. Visit fourhands.com.

Atkinson and Kauffman — and the top furniture makers who visit the High Point Market twice a year — understand that there’s a finite supply of reclaimed wood. There are lots of old mills and barns, and lots of ancient cypress logs at the bottom of rivers, but not an endless number.

What happens when the supply runs out?

Well, that will be a chapter in the story, too.