Reclaimed Wood is Chic and Big Business

BY Cheryl Truman

Everything at Lexington’s newest mega shopping/retail complex The Summit at Fritz Farm, on Nicholasville Road at Man o’ War, is brand new except for the parts that aren’t which makes the whole place even more fashionable.

That would be the reclaimed wood, both inside and out.

Outside, Kentucky Reclaimed Wood is providing the Bluegrass-woodsy feel for The Barn, and also for Summit businesses such as Steel City Pops and Sugarboo. A 25-year veteran of the reclaimed-wood business, Longwood Antique Woods provided tables and the bar for Honeywood restaurant.

Reclaimed wood is simply wood that has been used before, be it for barns or, at the Versailles Road complex housing Old World Timber, big discs of olive wood and giant wooden screws that had been used for grape presses.

As green building and remodeling practices have taken over from flat-pack pressed-wood decor and its short shelf life, reclaimed lumber has scaled the heights of popularity.

If it’s handled correctly — tested for foreign items and chemicals — recycled wood provides both a chic look and the ability to use lots of wood, even rare or exotic varieties, without guilt. You can even get peel-and-stick recycled wood kits from brands such as Stikwood.

Reclaimed wood is providing business for companies new and old in Kentucky.

Gatewood grew up in Montgomery County, so he was already used to looking out for old barns that weren’t coming back: “I knew where all kinds of tornado-damaged barns or falling-down barns were.”

But he found that customers needed more than simply flooring: “We had all these people building new homes and trying to make them look old.”

So instead of buying a table from a big-box store, customers wanted tables made of reclaimed wood, as well as reclaimed wood exposed beams, “and what about a big, beefy, planky bar over in the corner?”

“They like the quality, they like the fact they were being green, they have the romance of where the building came from,” Gatewood said.

Gatewood reels off the list of horse farms — such as Gainesway, Three Chimneys and Claiborne — where his company has done work, as well as restaurants where his company has worked, including Limestone Blue, Crank & Boom in the distillery district and Honeywood at The Summit.

Ryan Mollenkopf of Kentucky Reclaimed Wood got into the reclaimed wood business a little over a year ago, with much of his wood coming from Kentucky barns. Mollenkopf and his wife, Tiffany Mollenkopf, also operate Julep Candle Co., which puts hand-poured wax into re-useable julep cups.

“A lot of our wood will come in when local guys go out and find barns and tear them down and have us buy the wood from them,” Mollenkopf said.

Sometimes a horse farm will call and offer wood it’s discarding in order to upgrade, Mollenkopf said.

Nathan Brown of Old World Timber got into the business after finding a house he was building was near an old barn. Brown incorporated barn wood into the house and liked the look, so he repeated it in other houses. Apparently buyers liked the reclaimed wood look, too.

At Old World Timber’s warehouses off Versailles Road, Brown and his sister Liz Brown, a senior sales executive, point out distinctive reclaimed wood pieces: a set of huge screws that had belonged to a grape press, rare olive wood discs and boards from the Coney Island boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Of interest to horse aficionados are Old World Timber’s paddock boards from enclosures for American Pharoah and California Chrome, which will be used at the new University of Kentucky Student Center.

But, with popularity comes potential overexposure.

The housing blog Curbed headlined “Is It Time to Take a Break from Reclaimed Wood?” on Oct. 30, 2015. By Dec. 15, 2015, Curbed was wondering whether the “cozy, communal feel” reclaimed wood provides might be as overdone as the use of antlers and “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, “doomed to overexposure and mediocrity.”

The Independent in Great Britain in January 2017 also proclaimed that reclaimed wood was on its way out. (Also on the way out, according to the Independent: beards.) Also out: open concept, to be replaced by separate and distinct kitchens, and millennial pink (supplanted by forest green). The hot new surface is terrazzo.

But the naysayers aren’t impacting local businesses’ sales or their growth in numbers of employees, some of whom come from the most unlikely places.

Many of Old World Timber’s workers are provided through two locations of Kentucky Correctional Industries, run by former Versailles mayor Fred Siegelman.

Charlie Harris, 49, served 26 years in prison on burglary, robbery and persistent felony offender charges before being hired by Old World Timber. He blames much of his record on his alcohol addiction. He said he started drinking when he was 12, but he hasn’t had a drink since February 1989.

Charlie Harris, left, and David Hopkins, right, stacked planks at Old World Timber. Harris was hired after spending more than two decades in prison. He credits the Browns with helping him by putting trust in his ability to learn new skills.
Charles Bertram
Now Harris is becoming a skilled reclaimed wood worker in the Old World warehouse. Nathan Brown has helped Harris reacclimate to life outside prison. Brown took him to Walmart and to McDonald’s for Harris’ first Big Mac in 30 years.

He’s learning to drive a manual transmission 1997 Honda Accord and applying to live in an apartment close to Old World. Nathan Brown is acting as co-signer on his lease.

“Every day I get up and I want to come to work,” Harris said.

“It’s a beautiful mix of our mission in giving wood and people a second chance,” Nathan Brown said.