As the nation’s agrarian and industrial landscapes have been transformed over the past 100 years, so too has the wood that shaped their structures.
It’s not unusual today to find century-old hickory, maple and oak – from barns, distilleries and cotton mills – used as flooring, siding and fireplace mantels.
It’s a booming business.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Plantation Reclaimed has been working overtime for the past two and a half years to locate buildings no longer in use, and repurpose their lumber.
“The barns are basically in East Tennessee down through Georgia,” says spokesman Brett Thees. “In any rural area you’ll see barns 100 years old, but getting families to allow us to take them down is a different matter. They feel ties to the barn even if it’s falling down.”
Once they’ve gotten permission, a Plantation Reclaimed crew will take a barn apart, top to bottom. Timbers are saved for fireplace pieces or beams, and the rest is milled down for flooring or siding. Huge heart pine and oak pillars from distilleries and cotton mills are cut down to three-quarter-inch flooring.
About 40 percent of the firm’s projects are residential; the rest is commercial, with restaurants leading the charge. The price – from $7 to $9 per square foot – is a little higher than the average engineered wood flooring, but then again, it’s got character.
“Nothing compares to the look of reclaimed wood, with its chinks, bug holes and worm holes that can’t be produced in any other manner,” he says. “It costs more but this is a green prod that’s being recycled, and it takes a lot of labor – de-nailing it can make you want to dig your own grave.”
But to many, a floor or mantel from old-growth wood is worth it.