I Love Chicago

Over the past few years, Chicago has become one of my favorite cities to travel to for Pioneer Millworks. Architecturally magnificent and with a vibrant mid-town area, Conde Naste Travler just ranked Chicago as the #2 city favorite for tourists.

South Michigan Ave Selfie

We do a lot of work with architects, designers, and builders based in the windy city on projects all across the country. But if there’s one thing I’ve found that’s nearly as awesome as the midwestern charm of Chicagoans, it has got to be the food. Fortunately for me (and my stomach) our reclaimed wood adorns plenty of the best new restaurants around town.

One Fifty One Kitchen & Bar opened just within the past couple of weeks out in Elmhurst, clad with our Patina Vat Stock on the front and trimmed with our American Prairie Gray. After a look at the menu, I can’t wait to get back there for dinner.

Reclaimed wood, inside and out – Its what we do.

Nando’s is a name familiar to those from the Mid-Atlantic, Chicago, and South Africa where the chain began back in the late 1980’s. I have to admit, I had lunch at a Nando’s twice last week. The chicken is just that good. And depending on the location you might see any number of our reclaimed wood materials in use. This location on Wabash uses our Black & Tan Oak in multiple areas, even some with painted planks for a vibrant accent.

A little paint on our reclaimed wood unifies it with other bright colors throughout the restaurant

River Roast has arguably the most awesome location, right on the Chicago River, with outdoor dining right next to the LaSalle St. bridge.

Outdoor heaters keep the patio warm at River Roast

We provided two different batches of our Foundry Maple for the logo walls in the restaurant. One is a unique sandblasted floor with a light yet warm tone, and the other is a replica of our first foundry maple batch, crafted by our finishing experts. You guess, I won’t tell you which one is which.

Foundry Maple in the main dining room

Foundry Maple behind the hostess stand

Before heading out of town, I swung by the new Starbucks up on Broadway, which was recently outfitted with Heart Pine salvaged from the Pullman Couch Factory right there in Chicago. This building became infamous in 2013 when the Chicago Fire Department battled a large fire there in sub-zero temps, earning the name “Fire & Ice Building” and documented in a previous post on our blog.

Three different depths of Antique Heart Pine which in its past life was charred and encased in ice

After 3 very full days it was time for the rails to lead me home. Passing through Union Station to board my train, a pair of Metra trains waited to shuttle commuters home to the suburbs just as they’ve done for decades. Chicago’s mass transit is unique in that there’s so much of it above ground, it becomes a great way to see the sights, and to make your way to a spectacular meal, hopefully surrounded by some of our beautiful reclaimed wood.

If you get a chance to ride the commuter rail in Chicago, go upstairs and sit in the “upper deck” for a better view.

The ‘Random’ Trend: Firewood Panels

A trend in design for the past few years has been “random”.  Random colors, textures, shapes, thicknesses, widths, and character have become the norm in many projects both residential and commercial. Playing off this random concept, a national retailer asked us to create a random firewood wall panel for their stores.

firewood-panel-pioneer-millworks-macroSome people think the roots of this look is in Scandinavian design, while others get more of an Adirondack or Rocky Mountain lodge feel. The simplicity and organic nature of stacked firewood is beautiful – I’ve always marveled at how every piece is unique in shape, size, and texture. Translating this beauty to a prefabricated panel would prove to take considerable work, but our team of craftspeople are always up for a challenge.

First, we had to figure out what we would be using for the wood itself. The firewood we generate in our shop comes in the form of off-cuts from the timbers we salvage. Usually its the “bad part” of the beam on the ends, perhaps with some rot or damage from the deconstruction process. We don’t waste this, and in fact it is burned in our high-performance boilers which heat our kilns and our shop in the colder months here in NY. So we had to find something that wasn’t cut from old timbers – and we didn’t need to look any further than the trees growing around our yard. Nothing too big, just some Poplars and softwoods which, coincidentally, were being trimmed around the same time as they were encroaching on our yard space. They were the perfect size to form a nice arrangement on the panels for our client.

fire-wood-panel-whole-pioneerFor the retailer’s project we split the logs to give them a genuine wedge-profile, cut them to the requested depth, carefully dried them, and then mounted them to a specially prepared plywood backer and frame.

Stepping back and looking at it, our shop thought it was a really cool project that we probably wouldn’t be asked to make again. Fast-forward a few months though, and a longtime client of ours in New York City called up asking about a similar effect, this time for the exterior of a restaurant.  Working with an outdoor application presented its own set of challenges but once again our team developed a solution again sourcing small, fast-growing species overtaking the edges of our yard in NY.

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Just this last week, we shipped another set of panels, this time for the lobby of an apartment building outside Philadelphia. This project combined both of our prior efforts, using small diameter logs of similar species and color with the bark intact, but for interior use next to a fireplace.firewood-panels-apt-lobby-paWe’ve done other random projects with a more refined look using reclaimed timbers including a curved end-block wall crafted from Poplar and Basswood, and a really cool custom stained Red Pine wall at a coffee shop in Michigan. What’s your random design desire? stained-red-pine-random-wall-pioneer-product

Reclaimed Wood – Old and new in New York City

I had the rare opportunity to visit a project in its very infancy last week in New York City, one that will become a retail space, wine tasting room, and several floors of condos.  To most material suppliers, the demolition stage of a project isn’t much to see, but to those of us with a passion for wood and an eye to the past, it can tell us a lot about the building, and give some direction to what materials would be a good fit for the project.

Sometimes a building will tell you where it came from if you look close enough.

Sometimes a building will tell you where it came from if you look close enough.

The photo above is rotated 180 degrees, and it caught my eye while coming upstairs from the basement level.  The CW Wilson Lumber Company was located in Brooklyn and was in its prime around the turn of the century.  The original structure here was built in 1852, but it seems as though at least the first floor was renovated at some point, considering the varied sizes and species of the joists and the types of sawing used.  Paying homage to the original materials, we’ll be working with reclaimed Heart Pine  from some amazing timbers in our yard.  What’s more amazing though, is the transformation this space will undergo.

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One of two basement levels, this will become a wine tasting room, making use of our reclaimed wine vats to compliment the original structure of the building.

From the beginning of a project here, to completion of a restaurant north of the city:

Racanelli’s New York Italian was recently opened after renovations to the original 40-year old space.  I worked with the architects and the owners to select weathered barn siding for the walls, and chunky original floor joists for the ceilings and shelves.  While the original intent of the barn siding was the inside brown face, the original weathered reds were used occasionally to pick up on the rich tones of the brick walls.

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“The Bridge” helps to define the bar area separately from the dining space without using a full wall. Ingenious.

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Above the bread station, a cylinder of reclaimed barn siding emphasizes the center of the restaurant, with a curved wine shelf along the front.

Racanelli’s is located in Scarsdale, NY, a short train ride on the Harlem line from Penn Station.  Order the Pappardelle Bolognese.  Trust me.

The old saying about New York is that it is “the city that never sleeps”.  When you’re wearing the soles off your shoes every day though, you have to have some down time.  The Pod Hotel on 39th St just opened their lounge on the first floor, complete with a full bar, plenty of seating, and…..ping pong tables!

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What better way to relax than by playing a little table tennis with a backdrop of reclaimed wood and Mexican-inspired artwork?

Maybe you’ve spotted some of our work in other locations around New York?  Chances are, if you’ve been in a new restaurant or retail store in the city, you’ve seen wood from us here at Pioneer Millworks.  Keep in touch, there’s sure to be more.

Bowling in the house?

I recently completed installation of some new counter tops in my kitchen renovation at home.  After seeing some of our bowling alleys being cut down for tables in a restaurant, I knew they would be perfect.

The angled holes from the old lag bolts are visible at the edges, along with a shimmering steel cleat that became exposed during sanding. Did you know bowling alleys are nailed together one strip at a time?

The colors play well from the nearly-black dark brown cabinets, the tile, and the rich leathery tones of the flooring.  Talk about durable – 2 1/4″ of solid hard Maple finished with a butcher block oil – these will hold up for generations, and only get better with age.

The light tone of the Maple helps to brighten the space and balance out the darker colors.

The foul line markings were positioned at the end of the slab over the bookshelves where they are easily noticed, along with the collection of Alton Brown books.

We’ve got a lot more of these here at Pioneer Millworks, in both Maple and Heart Pine.  Want a counter top with a story to tell?  Give us a call – we’ll make sure your project scores a perfect 300.