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Take a drive through virtually any part of the American West’s farm and ranch country, and you’ll encounter aging farmsteads with weathered barns built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Often, these barns are no longer as useful as they once were, but their chief material – weathered wood, rich in frontier character – is finding new life in contemporary interior designs meant to evoke a rural spirit. Captivated by its history and rustic appearance, homeowners are sourcing old barn wood for interior walls and doors, and for decorative elements that give off a “homestead” vibe. These traits, paired with the environmentally friendly notion of re-using existing materials, have made reclaimed barn wood a hot commodity.
Suitable barn wood is a limited resource, and high demand has erased many of those old farmsteads from the landscape, but the material can still be sourced directly from farmers and ranchers. In best-case scenarios, those landowners might welcome an offer to clear aging, perhaps non-functional, structures from their properties, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll expect to be paid for a product they know is in high demand. Salvaged wood from a sizable barn might easily be worth thousands.
A barn’s original builders generally used materials that were easily accessed. Rare, old-growth timber will be worth more than pine or spruce. Species confirmation might require consulting a timber expert.
Not every board salvaged from an old barn will find its way into an interior-design strategy. Some boards will be rotten, or have insect damage.
In addition to posing a safety hazard during the salvage process, those nails and screws will need to be removed before the wood can be prepped for its second life inside a home.
Boards should be given the once-over with a stiff brush (again, watch for nails), then cleaned; some experts recommend spraying off loose grime and dirt, then scrubbing with a mixture of 1/2 cup dishwashing detergent in 5 gallons of water; a toothbrush might come in handy for getting dirt from the deep grain of old wood. Once boards have been rinsed, they can be leaned against a wall or fence to dry, but shouldn’t stay exposed for more than two to six hours, as longer exposure time can lead to warping and bowing. Cleaned boards should be stored inside, in a dry environment.
High demand has created a category of retailers who deal in reclaimed barn wood, so consumers lacking the time or energy to explore the countryside in search of aging farm buildings, and then transport and clean their acquisitions, can simply seek out dealers in their area. Such retailers range from no-frills warehouse operations dealing in stacks of lumber, to more artisanal offerings, with more selective, higher-end inventories. One caveat: wood available from such retailers isn’t always what it’s represented to be; buyers can prep themselves by researching the traits of reclaimed wood.
Homeowners hiring professionals to work with reclaimed wood should lean toward contractors with experience working with such material. Some reclaimed-wood suppliers can recommend specialist contractors, many of whom fall into the “artisan” category, and might have portfolios of previous work to share with potential clients.
Reclaimed barn wood offers a unique opportunity for a homeowner in any setting – rural, suburban, city – to create an interior that’s not only inspired by farm country, but also constructed from physical materials and textures directly associated with such an environment. The result can be a one-of-a-kind home design with a story to tell.