Television shows such as “This Old House,” “Rehab Addict” and “Barnwood Builders” have fueled a growing demand for reclaimed barn wood for use in projects such as flooring, doors and other home décor.
That demand sparked the creation and evolution of a few area businesses, including Emmaus’ RustiK Rehab Design, LLC. RustiK Rehab designs and crafts custom furniture such as tables, bars and desks from reclaimed materials.
“You can make everything look very different with barn wood,” said Matt Kriner, the firm’s owner. He exchanged a five-year degree in architecture and experience working with remodeling companies for a business where he could pursue his passion and appreciation for historic preservation.
“I saw there was such a demand for custom uses of furniture, and then the opportunity,” he said. “We are in such a rich, historical area between Bethlehem and all the farms where the materials are just in our back yard. You have to preserve it.”
In addition to the preservation aspect, Kriner shares the history and character of his creations with his clients.
“When I make a table for someone, I can say it was a material right down the road that was a horse stall that is now their kitchen table,” he said. “The fact I can deliver a piece to someone that’s one of a kind, that has local history and character and repurpose and save it from the landfill, to me that’s a win-win all around. You have to do the proper things in order to use it the right way but all good things take time and a little sweat equity.”
A NEW PURPOSE
That sweat equity begins with the process of reclaiming the barn wood from its original source.
Mike Harland, owner of Harleysville’s Hartland Demolition & Restoration, turned his passion for building preservation into a business to fill growing demand to preserve and reuse barn wood and other building components. He has worked on barns locally in the Greater Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Chester counties, as well as from Connecticut to Virginia.
“We are a demolition company, yes, but historic preservation, historic houses, barns and buildings got me into doing demolition,” Hartland said. “Preservation comes first. When I have to tear something down and I have to do it in a hurry, I’m stripping out stuff like crazy, cut them down to the bone, whether it be the barn wood, windows or hardware, you name it. I charge just enough to cover my costs and make a little bit of money and save the building. That’s my biggest priority.”
The intensive time and labor required to cherry-pick and move the salvageable products and other business overhead makes Hartland’s projects more of a passionate undertaking than a business moneymaker.
For barns or other old but sturdy buildings scheduled for demolition, Hartland will take time to dismantle, document and tag each piece of the building for resale as a kit to be rebuilt at another location. When the integrity of the building requires its demolition, Hartland salvages whatever can be reused and partners with another company to sell to others interested in repurposing those pieces, including restaurants, microbreweries and local artisans.
“I love the architecture,” Hartland said. “I love the preservation. That’s why I do what I do.”
AN ENDANGERED SPECIES
Hartland’s reputation and three-plus decades in business generate at least one barn demolition call every week on top of his regular demolition work.
“The buildings find themselves to me,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t even always have time enough to go look at them all. They are pretty endangered. That’s why we try to take it seriously about saving them. They are coming down at a very alarming rate. I fear the next generation will not get to see or experience them except for pictures. There will always be some but it’s just a neat thing to drive around the countryside and see farmhouses and barns in that natural setting all over the place.”
When a barn cannot be preserved or moved, Hartland partners with Tracy Housley and her mother, Janet Milburn, to find buyers for the wood and other parts of the structures. They sell products from a Harleysville showroom and nearby warehouse.
“If you look at any of the decorative magazines, the farmhouse look is very in right now,” said Housley, a partner with Hartland Salvage. “It’s a huge style; I would say one of the biggest ones out there right now. It just so happens it fits with our business.”
The average person doesn’t have access to remnants of a demolished barn, so Hartland Salvage fills that void.
“If a barn is in shambles, they will salvage what they can and crush the rest,” she said. “If it’s in great shape, it won’t be salvaged. The whole thing will be sold and dismantled as a kit and put it back up just as it was. Typically barns, they get run down, they are very old and weathered. So we will come in and we will let them know whatever materials we think we can find a buyer for, whether beams or doors or windows, flooring, siding and our job is to start looking for buyers.”
Housley uses Facebook and Instagram for the initial marketing effort. With 3,000 followers, the company’s clientele return regularly to see what new offerings are available.
“It’s in really high demand,” she said. “Everything goes in spurts. Right now it’s an era where people like to reclaim. They like to see things repurposed. We take our time to make sure stuff is not going into the landfill. People like that aspect.”