How 19th-century Wood Inspired Me to Look Beyond Big Box Stores

Blogger: Amy LaMar, Communications Specialist | Omaha, Nebraska, USA
September 18, 2015

What do a former recycling center, two office buildings, a restaurant, Manter Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus—and my Omaha home—have in common? Douglas Fir chopped and milled over a century ago.

That’s right. Really old wood that most of us would probably discard. But Mike Hamilton, a design principal at our Omaha office, is passionate about the history and the legacy of the wood and how it can give a project an inherent story. And after hearing him talk about the wood for a recent Omaha World-Herald interview, I can appreciate the story, too.

It began in the northwestern United States when carpenters hand-wrote the dates “July 1890” and “December 1900” on pieces of Douglas Fir. The wood made its way to south Omaha, where it was used to construct a 5,000-square-foot building.

The building became a can recycling center, and then most recently was used for storage. When the foundation began to buckle this past spring, the building was demolished and the land was converted into a parking lot—after Reclaimed Enterprises salvaged 95 percent of its construction materials. 

The wood has since been used to make everything from tables to a hostess stand to earrings, of all things. Mike is currently making benches out of the wood for a circulation space in UNL’s School of Biological Sciences building as part of an HDR renovation project. And with the leftover scraps? I asked Mike to make these beautiful floating shelves for my home.

Mike appreciates the wood’s imperfections and growth rings—some pieces have more than 30 growth rings per inch—and how they help tell the story of climatic changes during the life of the tree.

Not surprisingly, Mike has been reclaiming, recycling and upcycling for almost 20 years as a hobby. He even repurposed the iconic former Ranch Bowl’s bowling lanes as flooring in his home.

Like the pictures of my family that sit on these shelves, the wood helps tell a story that, thankfully, didn’t start at a big box store.

As Mike says, “It shows how what we use in architecture can be more meaningful.”

Check out photos of Mike's process of restoring this 19th-century Douglas Fir on our Facebook page.

Images by TJ Kloster, Mike Hamilton and Amy LaMar.

Reader Comments (3)

Great story!  It's nice to see someone who appreciates the qualities of reclaimed wood.  Some of the old, nasty-looking wood you find used to build barns and and houses "back in the day" has such beautiful woodgrain.  You just have to look past the surface grime to see the beauty underneath.

We just installed a full wall of bookshelves made from beautiful reclaimed barn wood in our home. I love how they turned out and the fact that they just ooze history is such a bonus.

Such a creative and thoughtful way to give new life to old beautiful wood and save it from going into a dumpster!

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