Carving a niche out of barn wood

| 04 Nov 2014 | 02:43

As a college bound honor student, Peter von Uchtrup took a weekend job driving around upstate New York, looking for old barns to dismantle. He never guessed it would become his career.

By a stroke of luck, one of the first barns he reassembled was for a builder with clients in the Hamptons. The builder was so impressed by his attention to detail that work has flowed steadily ever since. Von Uchtrub, owner of 18th Century Builders, has no formal architectural training, but as he says, “I’ve learned more about building by taking down old barns and seeing what worked and what didn’t.” One of the things he loves is seeing the individual skill of each pre-industrial craftsman in the hand-hewn surface of the beams.

Once the lumber arrives at his workshop in Sugar Loaf, von Uchtrup sorts it into piles of beams, wall and ceiling planks, and floorboards. Then the painstaking process of removing the nails, washing, and sanding the wood begins.

Nothing is wasted. Odd boards are stacked in his workshop to be made into country style furniture for 18th Century Furniture, the store he runs with his wife, Manon. She hand stencils signs, and paints wooden ornaments and picture frames that compliment the furniture.

Manon shows off the many hearts made of wood or fabric spread around the store. They hold a special meaning for the couple. Several years ago a minor operation left Peter with a virus that attacked his heart. Manon needed something to calm her nerves during his months of waiting for a transplant. She took up sewing and discovered her own passion. In addition to the hearts, she makes finely crafted cloth dolls, baby clothes, and soft toys.

Peter never knows what he’ll find when he dismantles an old barn—love letters, booze bottles stashed away, a diamond ring that fell through the floor boards. But one thing he does know is that the stout timbers he salvages will find a good home.

Melissa Shaw-Smith