The Evolution of Reclaimed Wood

by Alicia Underlee Nelson

Reclaimed wood adds warmth, interest and a sense of history to a home. Better yet, experts in the region praise this popular, sustainable and environmentally-friendly material as being more affordable and more versatile than ever before.

Homeowners often gravitate toward reclaimed materials for both emotional and aesthetic reasons. “When you’re building a large house, historical materials add a warmth and character that you just can’t get otherwise. They give the home a historical perspective,” said Joseph Amann of Urban Evolutions, Inc., a reclaimed materials company that serves a diverse list of corporate clients including L.L. Bean, Urban Outfitters and Nike.

Urban Evolutions also does brisk business with Midwestern homeowners, many of whom are drawn in by the company’s 8,000 square-foot showroom featuring reclaimed materials, furniture, accessories and fixtures in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“I think the biggest fear when you’re building and remodeling is that what you do will be dated in ten years,” Amann continued.
“I think that reclaimed materials really add a sense of timelessness – especially in new construction.”

The situation is similar further west, said Seth Carlson, owner of Dakota Timber Co. in Fargo, a production sawmill company and North Dakota’s largest supplier of reclaimed wood. Carlson says his customers want a classic look that will stand the test of time, but they’re also looking for a way to differentiate themselves from other houses on their street. “There’s a lot of new homes that are very similar to each other, design wise,” he said. “Reclaimed wood is kind of a talking point that really sets you apart.”

Carlson adds the history behind the wood makes it more than just a product. “Customers today want to buy an experience, they don’t just want to buy a product or service,” he said. “They definitely get that with our product. People love to have a story to tell in their home. And it makes their home a little cozier.”

The gorgeous character of reclaimed wood makes it a favorite (and eye-catching) flooring choice. Since the material’s beauty is found in the richness and patina of the wood, it feels a lot less fussy than brand new, pristine flooring. This nonchalant beauty is a good match for the laid-back midwestern lifestyle.

Reclaimed wood flooring can unify different zones of a contemporary, open floor plan, honor the historical legacy of a vintage house or add a fresh look to a midcentury modern dwelling. Extending the flooring to include stairs is a time-tested, traditional look that can help pull an entire home together.

Reclaimed beams function as both an architectural element and an accent. They give a room that timeless feeling. “When you add reclaimed beams into a ceiling that look like they’ve been there for a hundred years, it’s going to be something that people appreciate longer than the current trends in kitchens and baths that change so quickly,” said Amann. A reclaimed wood ceiling throughout a home adds a sense of drama to a space that’s sometimes overlooked.

Customers with a more modest budget might be surprised to learn that reclaimed wood is within their reach. “Prices are becoming more and more affordable,” explained Carlson. “We really try to make a really cool product and make it accessible to everyone, not just multi-millionaires. About 50% of my clients are just average income customers.”

If the price is still too high, there are ways to get the look of reclaimed wood on a budget. A solid wood door can add a feeling of gravity to a room while introducing the soothing colors and textures of reclaimed materials.

Amann recommends adding a reclaimed wood accent wall. Even just one reclaimed wood wall can add drama to a master bedroom, make a dining room or kitchen feel inviting and add warmth and provide texture and interest to basement living spaces.

An accent wall can also be used to highlight a feature like a fireplace or to stand in for art as a focal point. “It’s a way for people to experiment with reclaimed wood without a huge commitment – breaking down those socio-economic barriers to using reclaimed wood in an entire house,” Amann explained.

As reclaimed products come down in price and homeowners experiment with more affordable ways of using reclaimed wood, the market doesn’t just open up to those with a variety of budgets. It opens up to those with a variety of design aesthetics as well. And as the customer base expands, the variety of reclaimed wood finishes – and the effects they can provide – expands too.

“When people think of reclaimed wood, they think of barn wood and western themes,” said Carlson. “But that’s all changing.”

“It evolves every year,” Carlson continued. He modifies his own finishes to suit trends and customer tastes at least twice annually. “Right now, I think people are kind of moving into a little more modern stuff, so we’ve been revisiting our finishes to do brighter whites and cleaner, smoother finishes, versus the rustic barn wood look. We can do modern and contemporary style.”

Amann adds that he’s seen an increase in clients adding reclaimed wood to mid-century modern houses and clean, contemporary spaces. “They want to add something warm,” he explained. “They don’t want it all to be steel and girding.”

There are more reclaimed wood options than ever before. And the variety of finishes and installation methods make this sustainable building material timeless yet modern, soothingly steady yet exciting and suitable for a variety of projects and aesthetics. “You have infinite possibilities,” said Carlson. ~L&H

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