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Ancient barns reborn in home

Old wood makes fine furniture

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Wyton shows a dining room set his Morden company has made from wood from former barns.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Wyton shows a dining room set his Morden company has made from wood from former barns. Photo Store

MORDEN -- Cracks and nail holes? They add character.

Weathered, with scraped or peeling paint? All the better.

A five-year-old company that builds furniture out of reclaimed barn wood is finding things old and worn are refreshingly new in the public's eyes.

"Because it's something that we grew up with," said Shirley Schroffel, who lived in the country but now resides in Winnipeg, describing the appeal of the barn-wood furniture. Schroffel was interviewed while buying a coffee table and end table from Prairie Barnwood.

"It's something old and rough and well-built, and it's made of hard-to-find wood (century-old Douglas fir) and it's not mass-produced," added Ed, her husband.

'It's a hundred years of the sun rising and setting on this wood. It's wind storms and the farmer getting up every day to feed the cows'

The company is the brainchild of Blayne Wyton, 34, a cabinet maker and antique refinisher in Morden.

He opened his first business at age 20 restoring antique furniture. It was on a drive through Ontario in 2008 that a thought popped into his head. " 'Rip down a barn' is what I heard in my head," he said.

So he did, and built dining room furniture and a hall table from it. The response he got told him he was on to something.

Prairie Barnwood now employs six people and has sold furniture as far away as Norway. In Canada, it sells product from Toronto to Vancouver Island. Its website is prairiebarnwood.com.

The company has ripped down 25 barns in the Pembina Valley so far, and most of them were the huge, old-style kind. "The barns we take down were built in the 1900 to 1930 (era)," Wyton said.

The supply of old barns is not an issue, Wyton said. Each has a story. One barn was built in the late 1800s on a stone foundation. Wyton believes many of the old barns in the area are from Eaton's catalogue kits. The lumber was Douglas fir from British Columbia.

Wyton can salvage 10,000 to 15,000 board feet of wood from a barn (a board foot is one foot square by an inch thick). They've also torn down an old farmhouse built of oak, and an old wooden elevator. But Wyton has found the wood from houses wanting.

"You can't get the same patina as with barns," he said. "Lumber from barns has the wood grain, the texture and the wind and dust embedded in the grain. The sand and dirt beating at it for so many years really gives it a nice look."

Another thing you can't replace is the black marks around the old nail holes. They're like beauty marks. People love them.

The wood is kiln-dried and heated for a week to kill smell or bugs. Prairie Barnwood uses a water-based, non-toxic stain ("It's almost like tinted water") and then a water-based hardwood floor finish. "This wood seems to strike a memory in every single person," said Wyton, whether it's from growing up in the country or visiting your grandparents' farm as a child.

People also love the old imported Douglas fir. "It's definitely heavier and more dense. It's the hardest of the softwoods and will hold its shape the best over time," Wyton said.

Barnwood's furniture is actually built the way things were a century ago because of Wyton's background with antique furniture. The furniture is Morris or Stickley styles. "I actually don't know modern construction. All I know is how things were built 100 years ago."

The joinery is either mortise and tenon or interlocking-timber style using wooden dowels to pin pieces together. It's solid and heavy, which you can't say about a lot of modern furniture.

Prairie Barnwood furniture is made to order from its online catalogue or custom-made. It makes beds, buffet tables, cabinets, entertainment units, vanities, trunks, tables, pedestal tables, end tables, chairs, benches and stools. "We don't inventory pieces," Wyton said.

The colours are limited to what was used, either red, black or white, all of them roughed by time. One of the colours is called "Manitoba winter." It's scraped, whitewashed lumber with the aged, grainy wood showing through.

"It's 100 years of the sun rising and setting on this wood. It's wind storms and the farmer getting up every day to feed the cows," Wyton said.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2014 0

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