Reclaimed Wood Adds Design Style and Impact

A client recently asked us to design a modest but very stylish home along the coast of New Jersey. When we initially met with him, we asked what types of things he liked, and he responded by saying, “I like things that are old, things that are new and things that are industrial.” As the design of the home began to unfold, the floor plan evolved into a modern open space with a loft-like feel. The only real physical separation between the living area and the dining/kitchen space on the main level was the introduction of a see-through fireplace. Exploring various material and finish options to satisfy our client’s eclectic taste, we ultimately decided to use reclaimed oak planking on the fireplace, which picked up on the idea of using something old while simultaneously playing a role in sustainable design by repurposing and reusing.

Although sustainable forestry practices are becoming more widespread, the idea of reusing wood is another great way to go green. The reclaimed oak we used added a casual yet sophisticated appeal and was reminiscent of the color and texture of driftwood. The wood we chose was a 1- by 6- by 3/4-inch plank that we then applied in a horizontal pattern with a simple lap joint at the corners. We decided to do this in lieu of a mitered joint because it expressed the beautiful end grain of the wood. The white oak planking then was stained with a white-wash and clear finished with a durable catalyzed varnish. Once this element became the focal point of the space, we decided to carry the theme throughout the design by using the same material for the custom cabinetry in the kitchen. We incorporated the same idea in the guest bedrooms and master bath, but instead of oak we used a reclaimed horizontal pine that added a rustic yet modern touch.

In this particular project, we chose to use the reclaimed wood primarily as a cladding over a fireplace, a wall finish in the bedrooms and as a material for the finished cabinetry; however, the possibilities of reclaimed wood are quite extensive. With designers, homeowners, builders and remodelers desiring to be eco-sensitive, reclaimed wood can be used just about anywhere in new and remodeling projects for interiors and exteriors. Reclaimed wood comes in a variety of species and forms and is available from various sources. The oak we chose actually came from an old dismantled barn in western Pennsylvania while the reclaimed pine was from a recently demolished beach house not far from our project site.

Through our work, I came across a company from Maine called Dead Head Lumber Co. They are in the business of reclaiming sunken logs from Maine’s lakes and rivers that have been submerged from the late 1600s and early 1700s from Maine’s logging industry.

One advantage to reclaiming sunken logs is the practice is extremely eco-friendly by providing high-quality old growth lumber without the cutting of a single tree. The other advantage of this type of salvage is these logs have rested undisturbed for hundreds of years, preserved in cold water and protected from direct sunlight, pests and oxygen. Most of the water-reclaiming consists of beech, birch, cypress, maple, red oak and white oak. These woods can then be used for veneers, countertops, flooring, lumber and finished products, such as furniture, yacht interiors and even musical instruments.

Often overlooked as a green alternative, the idea of reusing and repurposing wood can be a very sustainable practice. Reusing wood from old buildings may have little or no impact on the environment except for transportation and milling. It is important to note that even though certain practices of reclaiming wood for new applications are considered environmentally sound, woods that need to be harvested from submerged logs are still considered a finite resource and should be treated as such. Reclaimed wood and lumber products will probably not be something that will be found in big-box stores or lumberyards anytime soon, and therefore should be regarded as a specialty product that can be used to enhance the design, aesthetic appeal, performance and sustainability of your new or remodeling project.