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Dave Olson, Published October 11 2013

Old is new again: Builders anything but bored with reclaimed wood

FARGO - The latest thing in interior and exterior design is decades old.

It’s reclaimed wood and it comes from dilapidated barns and long-defunct grain elevators.

But don’t let its humble origins fool you.

“The only people who can afford it, it seems, are upscale clients, which is unfortunate,” said Seth Carlson, owner of a new Fargo-based company – ICSS Design & Supply – that buys old wood and sells it to builders and architects, who in turn integrate the antique lumber into designs for homes and businesses.

While reclaimed wood often carries a hefty price tag, Carlson said he’s working on shaving that down.

“That’s kind of why I wanted to open up here,” he said. “My goal is to get reclaimed wood products at an affordable price for anyone who wants to integrate it.”

Carlson has been in the used-wood trade since 2008, when he worked for a time in Duluth, Minn., making and marketing furniture with repurposed wood.

Around the same time, Carlson began selling used wood for a company that was mining it from the old Globe grain elevator in Duluth, a sprawling complex that was the largest grain elevator in the world when it was built in the late 1800s.

Now, Carlson said, the company that was mining wood from the elevator has run into financial trouble and the supply of vintage lumber from the elevator has dried up.

New environmental regulations may make it difficult for anyone to resume harvesting wood from the complex, which still holds millions of board feet of lumber, much of which is in the form of grain-eroded slabs, he said.

Grain eroded because the elevator’s walls were built with a soft wood that was easily sanded down as grains flowed over their surface.

Aesthetically interesting bumps and other features emerged wherever grains encountered something hard, such as a knot or a square nail.

Carlson said he recently purchased the remaining inventory of lumber harvested from the elevator and said it may be one of the last sources of Globe elevator lumber available in the world.

“It (the wood) is unique to that building, because it was built with all Eastern white pine,” he said.

“It’s softer than most other pines, which allowed it to get sculpted and carved as dramatic as it did,” Carlson said. The slabs command a retail price of $50 to $75 a square foot.

Examples of the slabs will soon be visible in a number of spots around downtown Fargo, including the Vinyl Taco and the Wurst Bier Hall, two businesses poised to open in the near future.

Reclaimed lumber is also gaining visibility on other fronts.

The exterior façade of Chris Hawley Architects and Radiant Homes is comprised of barn lumber. Reclaimed wood also adorns interior space in the business located on the west side of Island Park in Fargo.

The firm also uses vintage lumber in many of the projects it does for clients, owner Chris Hawley said.

“We use it a ton. The best part is, it always tells a story,” Hawley said. His projects include high-end homes, and restaurants and small commercial spaces.

He said that while used lumber can get pricey, clients often create their own discounts.

“When it is affordable it’s usually those who are willing to take care of the sweat equity portion of it,” Hawley said.

He explained the premium on used lumber this way: “Somebody’s got to take it down and clean it up and ship it. It all ends up adding to the cost.”

Alex Belquist, owner of Brew Ales and Eats in Perham, Minn., decided to go with reclaimed wood as part of a major remodeling of the business.

The positive response from customers since the business reopened this past spring justified the price bump that came with using reclaimed wood, Belquist said.

Warren Ackley, one of the owners of the Vinyl Taco, said they decided to use a grain-eroded slab to help define the servers’ station because they wanted every wall of the establishment to tell a story.

“Also,” he said, “with the corn tortillas and the grains in the whiskeys, this grain elevator seemed to work for me.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555.