Living in the Past

Filed in Construction by on June 15, 2014

the lodge exteriorThere are precious few things in this life that grow character as they age – a beloved grandfather’s face, an expensive wine, a broken down old hay barn.

Now, you may be thinking “What’s that, you say? A broken down old hay barn? I’ve seen hundreds of them along dusty country roads. Heaps! Eyesores! Where is the character?”

As with a weathered face, character in an old barn comes from hard work and impressions left by everyday living. So often these go into disrepair because farming practices change and the barn becomes obsolete.

A foundation crumbles, the roof begins to leak, and the building begins to disintegrate. Held together seemingly by providence and prayer, they appear to be waiting for a good stiff breeze to finish what neglect has begun. Many of these gems are unceremoniously torn down and buried in landfills or burned to ash because they appear to have no more life within them.

But take a closer look. A keener eye can see their potential, and a select few of these barns find resurrection, a second life, as components of a new home.

Dave LePage has been creating custom-made timber homes from reclaimed wood, wood recovered from rural farms and big city warehouses, since 1989. His company, Big Wood Timber Frames, is the largest antique reclaimed lumber facility in the Midwest. He calls Minnesota home, with offices in St. Paul and a shop in Brainerd.

the lodge great roomLePage finds prospects all over the country. Once he chooses a barn, the delicate work of recovery begins. Great care is taken to disassemble a building in the way it was built, deconstructing it essentially in reverse – pull siding, exposing the frame, de-nailing. He estimates that ideally 40-50 percent of a good building can be re-used. The unusable elements are taken to landfills.

Reclaimed wood is a finite resource, according to LePage. “In the next 15-20 years, the barns that are candidates for renewal will be gone. The opportunity to live in a home that is a functioning museum of days gone by goes with them.”

One of his projects is “The Lodge,” a home located just south of Walker and pictured in these pages. It is made virtually entirely of reclaimed wood, right down to its cabinetry and doors. The exceptions are its new window (for economic reasons), mechanical, and lighting and plumbing fixtures.

Some of the reclaimed wood in The Lodge can be traced back to the mid 1800s and still bears the evidence of how it was shaped. Imagine tracing your finger along a wall or railing in your home and feelings the axe marks left by craftsmen who shaped the wood as far back as the pre-Civil War era.

Among The Lodge’s standout features is the flooring upstairs, a white pine barn floor, hand-sanded, with widths up to 22 inches. Reclaimed timbers are available in sizes that are often unattainable today.

LePage gathered timbers from many states and time periods to create this unique home. Its slate roof came from a barn in Pennsylvania dating back to the early 1900s. The porch roof, soffit material and gray weathered siding came from that same barn. The floors on the main level and the doors and cabinetry are from re-sawn cores of log barns and cabins. Timbers were hand-hewn (pre-Industrial Revolution) with oak and walnut from Missouri and Iowa, circa 1860. Siding exterior and interior 2-inch thick hand-hewn log skins (original surface) originated from stacked log barns and cabins dating from 1800-1850. Railings, porch rafters and pole rafters (hewn on one side) are tamarack and can be traced back to he mid to late 1800s and are from barns all over the Midwest.

the lodge porchThe appeal of reclaimed wood goes beyond its historical significance. It is beautiful, and a great variety of woods are available – Douglas fir, Georgia heart pine, red pine, white pine, southern yellow pine, white oak, hickory and wormy chestnut. Reclaimed vintage material has unparalleled architectural quality and character, making it perfect for applications in timber frames, exposed trusses, open beam ceilings, exposed headers, rustic mantels, reclaimed wood flooring, millwork and furniture.

“The aesthetics of reclaimed wood appeal to architects, home builders and homeowners alike. The texture and surface features from 150 years of use can’t be duplicated by any means. Weather checking, nail holes, natural imperfections, even demo damage add interest,” LePage says.

From a practical standpoint, the dry seasoned wood doesn’t have the concerns for shrinkage that comes with green timber. While seemingly dry on the surface, the core of green timber is wet. As it dries, the wood changes shape an can crack and twist. Old reclaimed lumber is prized by builders for its low moisture content, which leads to stability in exposed applications.

Additionally, most old growth beams and timbers are extremely dense with a high ring count, and will grade with high structural values. It is more expensive, due to the care taken to procure it, but its historical significance, along with its beauty and curability, make it a worthy investment. And it’s a “feel good” alternative: The use of reclaimed wood helps to reduce the harvesting of old growth trees, a valuable resource. Recycled wood is a popular choice for consumers concerned with take care of the environment.

For more photos of The Lodge, scroll down for the slideshow or click here for Big Wood Timber Frames’ full Photo Gallery. 

by Sheri Davich | photography provided by Big Wood Timber Frames, Inc. 

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