Prairie Business Magazine Feature: Making The Old New Again

ARCHITECTURE: Making the Old New Again Reclaimed wood proves to be design trend with staying power

By: KRIS BEVILL, Prairie Business Magazine

Seth Carlson didn’t set out to be a design trendsetter for the region. The Casselton, N.D., native had simply started a small reclaimed wood furniture company while he was still attending college in Duluth, Minn., which grew well beyond his expectations. He operated the business for a couple of years after school, but burned out and left it all behind to indulge in a second passion - cycling - thinking he had left his reclaimed wood experience in the past. 

After traveling the country for two years, he returned to Fargo, where he learned that the company he had purchased wood from for his furniture business had closed, and he had the opportunity to buy the remaining reclaimed wood product from the bank. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He soon found himself back in the reclaimed wood business, though he intended for the return to a be a temporary one. 

“I was just going to sell that [stock] and be done,” he says. 

The Fargo market had other ideas, however. Carlson says the reclaimed wood sold so quickly that he realized the potential demand might support a long-term supplier and in late 2013 he officially launched ICSS (Ingvald’s Conservation & Sustainable Sourcing) Supply Co., focusing on buying and selling reclaimed wood to homeowners, designers, architects and builders throughout the country. Since then he’s made some notable salvages, including bleachers, the gym floor and a recently uncovered modular basketball court floor from Fargo’s Bison Sports Arena, and has reclaimed wood from historical grain elevators, barns and schools throughout the region. Since launching his company, demand for reclaimed wood has steadily increased in the area - enough so that ICSS recently expanded to a larger space in Moorhead, Minn., and added a sawmill and kiln drying system to offer full service to its customers - thanks in no small part to Carlson’s passion for helping designers and builders embrace the possibilities of reclaimed wood. 

“[O]nce we got that spark going with the help of the community, it’s definitely been a really consistent demand,” he says. “I think it’s really cool that a lot of the home builders are coming to us and utilizing our material. It’s showing a lot of innovation and progressive thinking from North Dakota builders that we haven’t really seen before.”

Mike Dawson, project manager at Fargo-based Chris Hawley Architect & Co., says reclaimed wood is definitely trending among the firm’s clients, residential and commercial. “With our rural context, there are a lot of situations where barns or grain bins become obsolete and instead of just tearing them down and becoming waste, it’s been attractive for people to find a way to use that,” he says. “We’ve been lucky enough to have somebody like Seth [Carlson] bring a significant supply in order for us to use.”

Chris Hawley replatted the entire eastern face of its building with reclaimed wood about two years ago. Residential client uses have ranged from accent walls to great rooms and vaulted ceilings. In Minot, N.D., the firm recently designed a space for the Starving Rooster restaurant and nearly all of the materials used were salvaged from the building, which was originally built for the Aultman & Taylor Tractor Co. Reclaimed timber became tables in the bar, old flooring was used to make booths and overhead garage doors were repurposed as ceiling treatments, among other elements.

Dawson says clients ranging from millenials to baby boomers are showing interest in incorporating salvaged products into their design, for a combination of reasons. “It’s a little bit of trying to help the environment and also to do something that looks cool,” he says.

For commercial clients, reclaimed products can sometimes provide the double-benefit of showing environmental awareness and connecting with customers. When United Savings Credit Union worked with R.L. Engebretson to design its new Fargo location, the credit union expressed a desire for the building’s interior features to relay back to its mostly blue-collar member owners, says Kim Manuel, principal and director of interiors at R.L. Engebretson. The firm incorporated metal beams, stone reclaimed wood, including redwood ICSS had salvaged from Minnesota State University Moorhead’s quad, into the design. 

Manuel says reclaimed products are definitely growing in popularity and she believes it is a trend with lasting power. “I would say everybody would like to use reclaimed products and be environmentally friendly,” she says. “I think people want to be greener.”

Cost can be a prohibiting factor in incorporating sustainable products into design, but Manuel says some sustainable materials have become more affordable in recent years and, as with any product, many price points are available. She readily admits that having a resource such as ICSS is a significant benefit to designers in the Fargo area and helps them in the search for interesting wood products. “I think [Seth] has done a great job in the community in continuing to seek out products that can be used,” she says.

Brad Ciaveralla, founder and principal at Mitchell, S.D.-based Ciavarella Design Architects, says there is definite interest in sustainable design but it can be a challenge to reclaim and condition those types of products. “The sustainable design effort is really in full swing ... the challenge is finding someone to reclaim it, the condition [and] the cost. And those types of products are just rare.”

Ciaveralla says the best use of sustainable design is giving new life to buildings that have been underutilized or are set to be demolished, a process which also often seems to include reclaiming and repurposing materials. In 2011, he and a partner purchased a former school in Mitchell, S.D., and his firm has transformed the space into 19 apartments and space for the firm’s office. Many of the building’s materials were re-used, including slate chalkboards, which became countertops and doors. Some of the slate was also used for flooring at a two-room schoolhouse in Alfred, N.D., which Ciaveralla redesigned as a lodge and part-time residence. 

Although there isn’t a reclaimed specialist like ICSS in the Mitchell area, Ciaveralla has tapped other local resources to obtain salvaged materials including an antique shop in Mitchell and a lighting store in Aberdeen, but he also does a fair amount of salvaging himself. He and his wife once tore down a stone wall themselves - with the owner’s permission of course - and the firm has also reclaimed wood, including a floor from the Mitchell high school which they refinished and repurposed as the flooring for a tenant recreation space in the newly imagined building. 

Ciaveralla’s firm designs many custom homes, and the affluent owners of those homes can more easily afford to include rare, reclaimed products as design elements, but Ciaveralla firmly believes that everyone is interested in those types of products and would apply them to their projects if they could. “There are companies out there but you have to know where they’re at,” he says. “We need more of them because a lot of these old structures are getting torn down and what do you do with the material? ... If someone is building a standard house and they have access to barn wood they’re going to use it where they can. I think it’s just opportunity and access to the material that limits the use.” PB