Going with the grain: Duo recycles barn wood
Jake and Susan Schloesser have a lot of balls in the air.
They’ve just completed a rough-hewn barn, and are at work on their house, set back in a grove of aspens hard up against a mountainside in Marble.
Jake travels around the country finding reclaimed wood, from barns or other historic buildings, which is in great demand by builders of luxury homes in mountain resorts.
The Schloessers have a couple of reasons for building their home and barn. They want to move out of their small construction trailer and into their own home, with running water. And the barn and house will be showcases for their business.
Jake is a timber framer and furniture maker who specializes in reclaimed wood. The Schloessers opened their business, Schloesser Co., Inc., about two years ago.
The business isn’t just a matter of pulling down an old barns and slapping the planks up on a new house.
Schloesser joins the wood without use of metal fasteners. He follows the old way, shaping mortise and tenon joints and securing them with wooden dowels.
“You have to calculate where every joint comes together,” Susan said.
Jake has turned this skill into a thriving business, attested to by the large stacks of barn siding and timbers arranged around the 60-by-40-foot barn.
The Schloessers provide the hand-hewn and weathered wood primarily to architects and builders for luxury homes in Aspen, Vail and Telluride.
“We have a kind of niche in the higher end (housing) market. People want the look of an old building. They like it because it has a lot of character,” Susan said. “All the wood tells a story.”
This day, construction crews are hard at work on their house, slogging through mud, trying to hook up the downstairs bathroom.
The interior is constructed around a massive rectangular timber frame that extends 30 feet to the peak of the roof. It’s held together with equally massive dowels. The walls and stairs are built of reclaimed hard woods such as chestnut and elm, as well as softer pine.
Door frames and room dividers are great hand-hewn timbers from old barns that show the marks of hand work with an adze. All the wood is rich and full of character.
Most of the wood in the home, Susan explained, came out of old barns in Wisconsin, where Jake grew up. One group of planks that holds up the roof over the front porch came out of a sausage factory, she said.
The wood still bears the marks of the smoking process in the factory, as well as nail holes and other scars.
In the downstairs office, which is almost completed, the Schloessers have installed weathered barn wood siding as wainscoting. Corrugated metal roofing lines the walls above it. A central free-standing fireplace is framed by two wooden ladders set into massive barn timbers that came out of an old barn in Eau Claire, Wis., Susan said.
It’s just what people are looking for, Susan said.
Jake spends a good part of the winter traveling around the country looking for good barn wood. He arranges to have the wood transported to a 50-acre storage yard in Denver.
Susan holds down the fort in Marble and does the bookkeeping and marketing.
“He does a lot of bulk buying, but it never seems to last long,” Susan said of the inventory.
Jake works chiefly with architects who design luxury homes. For these projects he often must have at least 10,000 board feet of timber available, she said.
Demand is about equal for flooring, siding and timbers, she said.
While there are a few reclaimed wood companies in the valley, the Schloessers have the advantage of having access to large volumes of wood.
“We can supply 10,000 board feet at a time,” she said.
For the time being, the Schloessers’ home and barn will also double as their workplace. But that’s not their plan for the future.
“Our goal is not to run the business here. Our goal this first year is filling orders,” Susan said. For the long term, they would like to have their own milling facility in Denver to cut wood to specification.
But they are cautious about their growth, she added.
“Right now we’re really happy with it being just us,” as well as one full-time and one part-time employee, she said. “It’s a lot of work, but we enjoy it.”
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