Reincarnating old wood into something chic

The next time you turn up your nose at the sight of a black lacquer dresser from 1984 gleaming in the sun on your neighbor’s lawn, don’t be such a hater. There’s art in them thar drawers. And don’t you dare sneer at that collapsed barn on that overgrown, abandoned plot along your commute. Any day now it may be a focal point of a celebrity’s posh-as-hell kitchen.

Ron Sauer, owner of Excelsior Wood Products on Sawkill Road in Kingston, has been getting splinters for over 10 years from salvaging timbers from buildings, barns, swamps, piers, textile mills and river bottoms to rework, refinish and refine into functional and decorative wood products. Working antique woods means Sauer lays hands on not-oft-seen timbers, such as antique heart pine or redwood oak. It also means that he gets to work on not-oft-experienced projects, like Chef David Bouley’s restaurant, or Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s house.

A multitude of middlemen drop off timbers to Excelsior from demolition sites — one such site being the former Sheffield Dairy at Columbia University which used to distribute milk in glass jars to much of the New York City area in horse-drawn carts. Excelsior puts the timbers through a cleaning, drying and refinishing process in the saw mill that repurposes the aged lumber into everything from wood paneling to counter tops to floor tiles.

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Reclaimed timbers have made such a swift impact that Excelsior has been doing work in famous homes of notables like Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Gere. Sauer’s timbers can even be spotted on the pages of a recent Architectural Digest spread on Brooke Shields’ home as floors, moldings, shutters, stair treads and even a front door, as well as last year’s “Extreme Home Makeover” TV show.

“People are looking for more green products, and are inspired to reuse things,” said Sauer’s sister, Christina Sauer, an administrator at the 21,000-square-foot facility. “[Customers are choosing reclaimed barn timbers and woods because] the look is in, and it’s beautiful. People want to see something historical with a story and something that no one else has.” Christina said customers love the unique and distinct stories behind the timbers, which most typically include rare or no-longer-extant oaks.

Panoply of patinas

The showroom houses tiled samples of every stain configuration from pickled light grey to dark ebony, and samples cut into subway tiles, bricks, checkering and more; some with obvious wood grains and others completely smoothed out. “The woods develop a natural patina that you cannot recreate,” said Christina.

Once the wood has been brushed, kiln-dried and disinfected, cut, planed and sent into the finishing process, Excelsior carries through their business model of “green” by sending out their sawdust to be compressed into “Bio-Bricks” for home-heating.

Mushroom wood is wood taken from the boards used in mushroom factories to grow the fungi. The crude, dark-stained timber is now entering the architectural aesthetics world as paneling that offers an unrefined and textured character to walls of homes or restaurants. “It’s about as rustic a look as you get,” said Christina, who added that her brother was one of the pioneers of removing the rough, untreated Hemlock boards from mushroom factories and reworking them into paneling, flooring and cabinet components.

Featured image: Siblings Ron and Christina Sauer of Excelsior Wood Products stand in front of reclaimed timbers. (Photos by Carrie Jones Ross)

There are 2 comments

  1. The Reeders

    We have a piece in our home built by Emerson that we LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! We explained what we wanted, when we would like to have it and worked out a pre-payment plan (layaway?) so the custom piece could be worked into our financial budget as beautifully as the furniture lives in our home.

  2. gberke

    Yep, Emerson is an excellent wood worker with a lovely eye for reusing wood… wood is amazing stuff, and it deserves to be appreciated, admired, re-used both for the original life it had and the lives it has had under the hands and tools of woodworkers, in homes, yards, basements… to be prized.

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