Reclaimed wood provides perfectly imperfect warmth and style
eugenia uhl photograph courtesy of tyson construction
One of the great rules of living with antiques is: rules are made to be broken. Antiques have had many lives and, thus, are not perfect. Often, even the finest antique will have a ding here or there, a crack or some chipped paint. Antiques are like life in that they teach us to embrace imperfection and accept differences.
So it stands to reason that one popular trend in antiques is the use of reclaimed wood, that is, wood that is salvaged from an old home, barn or warehouse that is being torn down or renovated. Those old, weathered boards can be planed and buffed to reveal gorgeous grains, colors and yes, imperfections.
Reclaimed wood is now an architectural feature in many homes across America. Applied to a wall, it becomes an inviting focal point. Large reclaimed beams serve as a support for a vaulted ceiling. Strips of reclaimed wood can punctuate a kitchen island. Its uses are limitless.
Interior decorator Meg Bradley incorporates reclaimed wood frequently in homes she decorates.
“A wall of reclaimed wood is an invitation to come in and make yourself comfortable,” says Bradley. “It adds warmth, texture and interest to a setting.“
Bradley often covers a feature wall in a room with salvaged boards and furnishes the room with edgy, midcentury modern pieces. The juxtaposition of the rustic and the sleek sophisticated pieces makes the room come alive.
Reclaimed wood isn’t limited to wall covering. Bradley recommends using it on vaulted ceilings, as open shelving and as fashionable sliding barn doors for homes. She often uses it for flooring, kitchen cabinets and entertainment units. She has also used reclaimed boards to make coffee and end tables and frames for artwork and photos.
New Orleanians are fortunate to have a lot of sources where reclaimed boards can be found, at least for now. If you know where an old home is being renovated or worse, demolished, contact the owner about buying some of the wood. Visit salvage places like The Bank, Ricca’s, the Green Project, Habitat’s Re-Store, Strip Ease and Wildewoods in Ponchatoula.
One caveat: it’s hard for a novice to know what is good wood and what isn’t.
“If the wood is crumbling, you don’t want that,” says Terry Wilde of Wildewoods. “Wood needs integrity, which can be lost over the years, if it is to last.”
A master craftsman with 40 years of experience, Wilde recommends that the consumer take a few pieces of wood to a craftsman to plane and condition to determine if it is good.
Locally, antique heart-of-pine, Tidewater and sinker cypress (the rarest) are available. Wilde says old-growth cypress is the best product for exterior use as it is moisture and termite resistant. New cypress is not as good because it lacks cyprosene, the property that makes it durable.
When purchasing reclaimed wood for a project, count the growth rings in the pattern to determine its age. The more rings per inch, the older and denser the tree. Look at the beauty and pattern of the grain and look for square nail marks that will validate the age. If it meets these criteria, have an experienced craftsman plane and condition a few pieces to reveal the final look.
“Reclaimed wood is a non-renewable resource,” Wilde says. “It should be used wisely and respected.”
Bradley thinks using reclaimed wood is more than a trend, it is a style that will stand the test of time.
“People today crave reality,” Bradley says. “Reclaimed wood is reality, in some ways a reaction to the glitz and glam we see in magazines and on television. Reclaimed wood had a life for hundreds of years as a tree, then as foundations and walls of an old home. It is now living as a decorative feature or piece of furniture in a 21st century home. Oh, if these boards could talk.”
Get a plan for your room before you decide how and where to use reclaimed wood.
Buy from a reliable source.
Make sure the craftsman knows your plan and how to apply this wood.
Embrace the imperfections.
Allow for surprises.
You never know what you will find.