Photos by Ann Coen
From hipster coffee shops of Williamsburg to millennial studio apartments of Silicon Valley, the trendy incorporation of vintage reclaimed barn wood has been arguably the most coveted accent to any home design project for the past few years. Revered for both its charm and versatility, the allure of these solid, weathered, one-of-a-kind beams is not only desirable from a structural perspective (think about it: the wood has had decades of elemental exposure to do all the warping, splitting and fading that it’s ever going to do), but as a conversation piece it offers a sense of pride in ownership when discussing the history and intrigue behind where a certain lot of wood came from and what its first purpose in life was before being salvaged and reconstructed into something new and eye-catching for your home.
There was a time when a barn or silo had its purpose, but in a modern era when farming practices aren’t the same as they once were, most of these old structures are no longer necessary and considered more of a novelty item. This is when the craftsmen from Rustik Beach, an LBI-based company that specializes in custom-built repurposed furniture and home décor, salvage the wood from these old buildings and give them a chance at new life. “It was really rather serendipitous, the way we got together,” begins David Voris, local contractor and co-founder of Rustik Beach. He and his wife would attend the Elk Mountain Fall Festival in Pennsylvania every year, and in 2015, a new exhibitor caught his eye. It was Roger Whitaker, a lifelong builder by trade that was transitioning into reclaimed wood artistry, who had a few eye-catching creations on display: a coffee table, an outdoor bar, a sitting chair as well as a handful of decorative lath art pieces created by his daughter, and third-generation talented woodworking artist (Whitaker’s 86-year-old father being the current first-generation wood artisan), Kelsey. When Dave approached Roger and the two men immediately bonded over having mutual clientele on Long Beach Island, the rest, as they say, was history.
The duo collaborated together for their first major project when owners of Ship Bottom’s The Local Market & Kitchen commissioned them to design and construct the inside of their latest retail undertaking. Since then, the team has been the innovative craftsmen behind such establishments as How You Brewin, Sink R Swim, Blue Water Café, California Grill & Pizza and Breakers Kitchen & Tap. The two artists create everything under the sun, both commercially and residentially, from accent walls to large dining room tables, simple wine racks to custom-made kitchen cabinets, bedroom headboards, fireplace mantles, pallet walls, built-ins, étages, outdoor bars, sliding barn doors, flooring and everything in between.
A major source of inspiration for Roger Whitaker’s artistic passion is a sense of admiration for the wood itself. “There is a distinct beauty in this material. The character of each piece, the tight growth rings from locally harvested wood, the natural weathering, the beautiful grain and knots—it’s something that can’t be manufactured or artificially replicated in a factory,” Whitaker notes. He chronicles all of the occasions that he found himself connecting with a barn that he was disassembling, taking it down piece by piece, and noticing details like pitch fork marks on the wood or how the stored grain stained the patina on the inside of the boards. He shares that ideally the best finds can be well over 100 years old, and he can estimate the build dates by noticing details such as the way beams were sawn and nails were hand-forged. His favorite are hand hewn beams, which means there was absolutely no power tool used in their making. The wood generally came from trees that were cut right where the barn was to be built, and then shaped using little more than a broad axe and simple hand tools, perfectly and precisely, piece by piece, until the structure was complete. Whitaker notes the time and patience this process took, making clear why each piece is so valuable, unique and timeless—a testament to the hard work it took to survive in the Pennsylvania frontier of yonder years.
David Voris reveals that a large part of the charm of this business is the small-scale focus on the craft itself. “We are not interested in growing too quickly and needing to hire a crew of workers to build dozens of custom pieces at once,” he goes on, “it’s really about the detail-oriented and specialized artistry that goes into creating each of these projects. That is why as woodworkers, we only do one job at a time… quality over quantity.” Priding themselves in products of outstanding merit that are competitively priced, highly requested items such as accent pieces, wine racks, sliding barn doors, custom cabinetry or flooring can range in price anywhere from the hundreds to the thousands—depending on the variety of wood and scope of work.
The benefits of reclaimed wood also have a positive impact on the environment – less trees are cut, it reduces the carbon footprint to process new timber, and of course the act of recycling is eco-friendly in itself.
It is often difficult to visualize how something so old can create something new. Trends in Scandinavian design and the hygge lifestyle are influencing a pro-wood tendency by homeowners, but so is the simple desire to connect with nature when inside of one’s home. By inviting the outdoors in through such customized lost-art ingenuity, the rustic aura of upcycled timber connects even the most modern and industrial of living spaces to the natural world with its everlasting warmth and cozy character.
For more information about Rustik Beach, visit them on Instagram @rustik_beach and Facebook, or call 609-709-1982.