...claudine ko

Blast From the Past
Manhattan, September 2010

Discover why designers are being seduced by the unexpectedly chic wear and tear of reclaimed wood.

The next time you're at the Ace Hotel's Breslin bar, dazzle your date with this fun fact: The floors came from a weather horse corral in Eastern Oregon. At Pulino's, peek under that pizza and take note of your table. It's constructed out of old police barricades. Farther downtown, you might have an opportunity to notice the scars on the floor planks at the Lower East Side club the Box -- they date back to 1860, when the maple, oak, cherry and pine came together in the form of a mill in Georgia.

Whether you're hip to it or not, New York has become a showcase for the hottest commodity on the design market: reclaimed wood.

"To reuse is always my first intention," says John Kole, co-founder of Hecho, Inc., a Brooklyn-based firm that specializes in building restaurants and bars, like Spitzer's Corner and Boqueria, using salvaged materials. "Older wood tells a tale. The sournce alone provides countless stories about how far it's traveled." These journeys sometimes originate in abandoned churches in Asia or buildings in Times Square and defunct insane asylums in New Jersey. Not surprisingly, a product imbued with its own aesthetic and historical character comes at a premium. "Reclaimed wood costs substantially more than new lumber," says Andy Kjellgren of the California-based salvage company TerraMai. The most coveted lumber comes from "old-growth" trees, as opposed to "second growth" trees, which mature quickly with the aid of fertilizer. “That’s why the old growth material is so precious,” says Kjellgren. “It’s got energy and strength.”

Homeowners are also discovering how the old can help reimagine their property. The artist Julian Schnabel's palatial penthouse terrace Palazzo Chupi is accented with custom planters from the Brooklyn-based firm Alive Structures. They're made out of sun-bleached wood planks resurrected from a dilapidated section of the Coney Island boardwalk. The amusement park also served as muse to the luxury design group Uhuru, which used the same salvaged Brazilian Ipe for their Cyclone-inspired $7,000 chaise lounge.

Opera singer Heather Buck and her husband, Peter McGough, enlisted Hecho, Inc. when they began renovations on their late 19th-century brownstone in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn last fall. They had one requirement: nothing  sleek or modern. “Our place is older than my grandmother," says Buck. "It should have nicks and wear.” Kole outfitted the house with antique oak lockers, and wainscotting reclaimed from old schools. The piece de resistance is the floor of their 500-square-foot kitchen and dining area. It's constructed of maple boards that had served as a Tampa, Florida high school's basketball court since the '30s. Kole reconfigured the planks so the various painted lines (free-throw, half-court, sidelines) were mixed and matched, evoking result abstract art from the '60s.

“One of our neighbors came around and said, ‘It’s the best floor we’ve ever seen,’” says Buck. And that's before she told her the rest of the stor