Old barns, fence posts reappear as stunning furniture and floors

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Real Estate

By Susan Wittman

Special to The Washington Examiner

When Robin Heyner remodeled her historic Round Hill, Va., home, she wanted a "wow factor" in her country kitchen that would evoke the 1851 property's historic character. In addition to local fieldstone for the faux chimney, Heyner turned to reclaimed oak fence boards for the cabinets, and for the counters, a slab of 100-year old walnut that Shenandoah Furniture Gallery in Purcellville had been saving "for just the right project."

"We loved the idea of using local reclaimed wood, both from both a historical and an environmental perspective," Heyner said.

RESOURCES
Shenandoah Furniture Gallery shenandoahfarmtables.com
Noble-West Design noblewestdesign.com
Furniture from the Barn furniturefromthebarn.com

The Shenandoah Valley's long-unused farm buildings ordinarily are destined for the landfill or burning, said gallery owner Vickie Kelley. There is more wood available from old board fencing because horse farms avoid barbed wire to help protect the animals, she said.

Designer Nancy West of Noble-West Design in Middleburg said using old wood is a "plus for environmental sustainability as long as the wood is properly refinished and sealed and natural finishes, such as milk paint, are used for the new finish."

Furniture such as tables and headboards need a water-based polyurethane sealer to protect against previous exposure to volatile organic compounds or pathogens from pollen, hay or seeds, she said. Old fence boards may have been sprayed with creosote paint to preserve them, and people may not know if pressure-treated wood has been incorporated.

"I am an absolute believer in using reclaimed wood, but you need to be careful," West said.

Reclaimed farm wood furniture is not just for country homes, says Rhonda Coolidge. She placed a chestnut dining table, bench and media unit with milk-painted, navy-pine accents in the eclectic decor of her Wardman-style rowhouse in Northwest Washington. She custom-ordered the pieces from Furniture From the Barn in Nottingham, Pa.

"Everyone who comes to our house makes a beeline to the table to run their hands over the wood. The chestnut has a beautiful, warm glow that's hard to resist," she said.

Custom farm tables from Shenandoah Furniture Gallery take six weeks and cost $1,483 to $2,300, depending on the thickness of the top and the type of wood. Wormy chestnut is the most costly. Shenandoah also offers antique oak, poplar, pine and walnut.

At Furniture From the Barn, a 72-by-40-inch farm table takes six to 10 weeks and costs $1,200 to $2,000, depending on options and whether the wood is pine, fir, chestnut or oak.

"Old-growth pine was harvested in the 1800s, when it was already 150 to 200 years old," said owner/artisan Kelly Kelly. "It's much harder than today's pine. The boards are wider, and no pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used in those days."

She makes most of her hutches, buffets and cabinetry with white pine because it's easy to work with. "The wood is a diamond in the rough. You take it from the old barn and it's gray and yucky," she said. "It's stacked and air-dried in covered buildings for months. Then it's cleaned by brushing or with an air gun. Tabletops are kiln-dried. Cleaning chips away all the weathering, but because of the weathering, the wood is beautiful."

Kelly uses nontoxic milk paint, originally made from all-organic raw materials -- curdled milk, lime and pigment. It is more labor-intensive than staining. "The beauty of milk paint is that it allows me to distress the pieces to bring the wood grain and character of the wood through the paint," she said.

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