Preserving the Architectural Past in the Internet Age
The distressed look is a wonderful way for a new piece of custom furniture to gain the appearance and character of an old heirloom piece, but when the item is actually made from salvaged antique elements, the furniture doesn’t just look the part; it is a part of the past. Take this rustic table with white distressed legs by CustomMade furniture maker Tom Joyal of Old House Parts Co.:
This rustic table was created with two reclaimed antique barn boards, sanded until smooth, and finished in a deep brown still allowing the woods natural knots and markings to make their statement. The four legs are created from the knee braces of a turn of the century barn, painted white, distressed and worn giving this piece of furniture old world French farmhouse charm.
Interested in this table or in commissioning a similar piece? Contact the artisan.
Working with reclaimed wood and other elements isn’t just about adding historical and aesthetic dimensions to a project, however. For Tom, preserving the architectural past is also a green approach to building and a departure from the destructive manufactured obsolescence model of much of our economy, a realization he came to when he found himself demolishing houses by day while building new furniture by night:
“One evening I was distressing a new piece of wood to give it an older look for a project only to realize that earlier that day I had thrown away a perfectly good piece of older wood which would have been much better than anything I could possibly create,” he recalled.
Tom’s green odyssey and the creation of his architectural salvage and custom furniture business were featured in a Seacoast Online article, “Old House Parts Gives Old Things New Life,” by Angus Macaulay. Today, Tom’s business is located, appropriately enough, in a huge remodeled 1872 freight warehouse in Kennebunk, ME, where visitors can find:
Vintage American architectural and design craftsmanship dating back hundreds of years but ready to be restored or reused in new homes or in remodeling jobs. The inventory includes stained glass windows, hand carved mantle pieces, stairs, banisters, doors of all shapes and sizes, lighting and bathroom fixtures, and home hardware of every description – all carefully cataloged and displayed.
40 percent of Tom’s customers, however, never set foot in this location. Tom says that these customers, mostly homeowners but also designers, builders, and decorators, find Old House Parts Co. “through word of mouth followed by a visit to our website,” and it usually takes four web visits or phone calls before these clients can settle on what they need. Most of Tom’s customers come from southern New England, but the Internet has made his business “an international player,” shipping items to Sweden, Hong Kong, and a very strong Japanese market.
Preserving the architectural past though vintage elements in new custom furniture requires connecting with customers who want these pieces. Makers, how many web visits, emails, or phone calls does it take for clients who have never set foot in your shop to settle on what they want from you? What’s the greatest distance you’ve ever handled via the Internet between you and a customer you’ve never met face-to-face? Do you have a social media presence that can complement your word-of-mouth exposure? Please leave your comments below.