Thoughtful Sophistication—Interview with Allisen Larsen

We’ve been talking about Thoughtful Sophistication™ a lot in our studios; what it means to us and what we hope it means to others. Of course, there’s our Thoughtful Sophistication collection—but it’s more than just the products and finishes you see.  It’s a way to move Beyond the Barn™  to see the other side of reclaimed wood, options that are sleek and modern with a soul. 

However, nothing good comes from just talking in your own bubble, so we reached out to some of our design friends to get their take on what Thoughtful Sophistication means to them, what they see as the next wave in interiors, and what’s rockin’ their Pandora playlist.


I had the fantastic opportunity to chat with Allisen Larsen, Owner + Principal Interior Designer of Introspecs in Portland, OR. Their work serves clients throughout the Pacific NW; providing holistic, intelligent design in both residential and boutique commercial environments.

D: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me Allisen. It’s a real pleasure getting to talk with other creatives in different industries but I’m particularly drawn to your continuing conversation of Scandinavian Modern on instagram and the like.

A: Thanks for thinking of me. Yeah, there’s a lot of warmth in Scandinavian design even with a focus on greys, whites, and black with small pops of color. There’s always a natural element, beautiful wood flooring in particular. It’s a huge passion of ours concentrating on the interiors, focusing on cozy. Scandinavian style incorporates smartly designed products of quality + timelessness in form.

What do you think is the next wave of interior design trends?

Ergonomics (for healthy blood flow and concentration) in all environments, living lighter with necessities that are of higher quality, and a focus on surroundings that truly feed you. I get the sense that I’m stating the obvious because it’s already on-trend, but more and more there’s a practice of letting go of stuff.

Introspec Team

How do you see social and environmental responsibility continuing to evolve in design?

The anti is definitely being upped in commercial design, with regulations involving creation of natural light, healthy products (no use of formaldehyde for example), even requiring a pure water source within so many feet of a work space. The overall consciousness is evolving.

For us, we interpret this by pushing a healthy balance between items that will be with clients forever, quality pieces that will stand the test of time, and those that are less so. A quality over quantity approach so there is less waste.

What draws you to use reclaimed wood in your projects?

We love the character, the soul, and the story it brings to a space. Our main focus is custom residential interior design—reclaimed wood offers a richness and great contextual backdrop for many types of interiors. Homeowners who are passionate about it also love telling the story of its origins.

What does Thoughtful Sophistication mean to you? 

I think there is a quietness to sophisticated spaces, and thoughtful, intentional combinations of materials bring about a warm, calm environment for people to enjoy. Letting one or two items within a space do the talking allows a breathiness (for lack of a better term) and lightness while still providing grounding.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 3.40.41 PM

Do you have a favorite reclaimed species?

All of them bring something unique to the table, and I’d probably have to go with the wide plank Hickory (with an oil finish) for its richness, brightness, and compatibility with other species. It feels appropriate for Pacific North West interiors and in the wide plank format, feels a bit more modern as well.

Being creative for a living can be taxing, and I often talk about “filling your creative bucket” when staying inspired. How do you fill yours?

Definitely international travel, exploring other cultures, languages, international product design.

We love a good spontaneous dance party here at Pioneer Millworks, what’s currently on your playlist we should add to ours?

Oh, you have to have some LTD Soundsystem and Caribou on there.

Thanks so much to Allisen for taking the time to chat with us. If you’d like to share your ideas of Thoughtful Sophistication, we’d love to hear from you in the comments, or you can email us at

Everything You Wanted to Know (but didn’t dare ask) about Shou Sugi Ban

flaming wood

Intentionally charring wood? Though it may seem a bit unorthodox, the benefits and history of this technique show it to be a very useful surface treatment. We’ve taken the time-honored practice and modified it, wire brushing away layers, adding color tones, experimenting with species.

shou sugi ban pioneer millworks

The history: The term “Shou-Sugi-Ban” is Japanese (焼杉板) and translates to “burnt cedar board”. While the exact origins of Shou Sugi Ban are unknown, it is estimated to have been in use in Japan since the 1700’s. Driftwood weathered, salted, and sun dried served as the original wood source. Charring the outermost layer left blackened lignin which is insect, rot, and fire resistant (if you’ve ever tried to reignite a piece of firewood that has already been exposed to flame, you can imagine the same difficulty with trying to burn Shou Sugi Ban wood).

Below are common questions, and a few we’ve asked ourselves as we’ve developed our Shou Sugi Ban options.

Why would I use this technique?
Today most folks use it for decorative purposes. Our Shou Sugi Ban finish is a dynamic surface treatment, which depending on the length of the burn, can either gently highlight the natural grain pattern in the wood to toasted tones, or carbonize the entire wood face to an even jet black hue. This potential for a range of effects suits contemporary design trends towards natural materials with rich and vivid surfaces. While traditional Japanese Shou Sugi Ban was a primarily a preservative treatment, we consider any gained insect or rot resistance just an added bonus.

sweetgreen shou sugi ban

If I touch it will my hands/clothing turn black? Our standard oil top coat will encapsulate most of the char, but some residue may still transfer upon contact. For applications which require complete encapsulation, we can treat the finish with a custom top coat so that the product will pass the “white sweater test”.

Does it smell like burnt wood? Slightly, but the oil top coat minimizes this.

A mixture of Shou Sugi Ban Shallow Char and Color Char clad the exterior of NY State's First Complete CLT Building at New Energy Works Timberframers.

A mixture of Shou Sugi Ban Shallow Char and Shou Sugi Ban Color Char clad the exterior of NY State’s First Complete CLT Building at New Energy Works Timberframers.

Is it a harmful finish to me or the environment?
The burnt wood itself is perfectly harmless. We apply a Zero VOC oil as a top coat so that the finished product is as eco-friendly as all of our other product lines.

burned bleachers w Carl

Does it work on all types/species of wood? Any wood can be burned but some char better than others. Harder woods like hickory take longer to burn than softer species like Douglas fir. We’ve chosen Larch as an ideal species because it is a native North American Softwood tree which has relatively good rot-resistance, clear grain, and is not being aggressively harvested—in fact, it is often an unused by-product of wood harvesting.

A shallower char applied to Douglas fir Bleacher Boards.

A shallower char applied to Douglas fir Bleacher Boards.

How do you char the wood?
We’ve explored many methods, from the traditional to more modern and mechanized. What we’ve found works best is to torch it in a custom built chamber which focuses the heat onto the wood and maximizes the burn. This allows us to efficiently burn more wood in less time.

charring wood

Justin demonstrates the charring process in our McMinnville, Oregon shop.

What about the edges? Do they stay uncharred?
 Where edges may be visible, with a shiplap profile, for example, we will char edges or even apply a dark tint as the milling dictates to ensure a consistent look.

edge char

Does charring weaken the wood? The charring only affects the outer surface of the wood, penetrating no more than 1/16” into the material. Our Shou Sugi Ban products are structurally sound.

Will the surface last/how does it wear over time? Shou Sugi Ban is a dynamic finish which means that it is guaranteed to change over time. Even on traditional Japanese Shou Sugi Ban siding the black char will eventually erode away depending on its exposure to the elements. The evolving look suggests the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi – a reminder of the transience and imperfection of all things.

shallow and colorchar pioneer planter

Color Char combined with Shallow Char highlight the exterior of a planter at our Portland, OR studio.

Can I apply this technique myself?
 Though you could, great caution should be taken when working with fire and we don’t recommend doing this at home or without the help of a professional.

Our Shou Sugi Ban Shallow Char takes a practiced touch with flame and brush.

Achieving our Shou Sugi Ban Shallow Char takes a practiced touch with flame and brush.

What maintenance is required?
Traditional Shou Sugi Ban was left to age naturally, which means the black hues faded over time to the wood’s natural patina or turned grey (just as cedar or other woods do when left in the elements). We recommend re-oiling the surface regularly per the finish manufacturer’s recommendation. If the intent is to maintain a stable opaque black color, we recommend combining Shou Sugi Ban with a black tinted oil. This will also require regular maintenance.

Does the non-charred side need to be maintained/protected? Typically no, but it is dependent on usage. For example, if the non-charred side will be exposed to the elements, we would recommend protecting it with a finish.

I’ve heard it helps against fire. Is that true? This may have been the case with traditional Japanese Shou Sugi Ban which burned deeper into the wood, but our Shou Sugi Ban does not add any guaranteed fire resistance to the wood. We can add a fire retardant to the top coat upon request.

Will bugs eat it? Our Shou Sugi Ban product is not treated with any insecticide so there is no guarantee that it will be free of future insect damage. Larch is naturally unappetizing to most insects, but there is no evidence that the burn makes it more or less likely to attract wood damaging bugs like termites, ants, and carpenter bees.

Can it be used as flooring? Would the installation be any different from standard products? While our Shou Sugi Ban product was designed to be primarily a siding or paneling product, it certainly can be applied in some variation as flooring. Because foot traffic is likely to wear off any deep char, we recommend a light char on a harder species like oak. If a deep char look is preferred, we can always provide a close simulation and proven durability with our Custom Black finish.

For high traffic a 'black' look, as seen in this bake shop sign, can be achieved with other eco-friendly finishes.

For high traffic areas, a simulated Shou Sugi Ban Deep Char look, as seen in this bake shop sign, can be achieved with our eco-friendly oil/wax finish.


Have more questions on Shou Sugi Ban or want to talk specifics on any of our wood products? Send us a note or give us a call at 800.951.9663. If you’re in the Portland, OR or Rochester, NY area—stop by our studios to check out samples in person.

Sparkling Sawdust—HiLo Hotel in Portland

InviteBlog post by Deborah Roe

Thursday night (7/13) was the opening for HiLo in downtown Portland, Oregon. A few of us from Pioneer Millworks attended the event where we ate, were painted gold, and silently discoed the night away. The 120-room boutique style hotel resides in the Oregon Pioneer Building (a National Register of Historic Places). We have a few ties—turns out back in 2008-10 our own Elise Payne worked in the building.


The party started as soon as we walked in the door. There were specialty drinks and intricate food of various varieties scattered throughout the hotel.

Piano PlayerThe lobby designed by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, speaks to the Oregon mood—greens and greys with contemporary and natural finishes throughout.  HiLo created an “Exchange Box” where guests could donate to Piano Push Play and pick a bag with prizes worth $20 – $500. The organization rescues pianos and puts them on the street for everyone to enjoy. There was a line-up of skilled piano players tickling the keys in the lobby throughout the event.

Exhange Box

After the lobby, the tour prompted us to visit the sixth floor—where we were excited to see one many installs of our American Gothic Mixed Oak.


The wood was finished with a custom stain and a Vermont natural coating water based poly, giving it a rich dark look and feel. One guest we spoke too said, “the rooms feel so high end and the wood creates a feeling of warmth.”

LogoThat was nice to hear, and the wood was great to see in its final form. We especially loved finding our logo, which is etched onto a piece of wood in every room.

Opera SingerOkay…back to the party. In the suite, HiLo featured an opera singer in the bathroom to show off the acoustics. We were floored with the surprise and performance. (As you can see even Jonathan couldn’t help but take a video.)

Elevator Area

After experiencing the rooms (with locally based Maak Lab‘s special plant-based fragrance of Port Orford cedar being pumped through the vents) we got on the elevator and went to the lower-level to experience more of the opener.

Face Painting

Make-up and hair artists were on location to put gold accents on guests. Once we received our sparkle it was off to the silent disco.


After a bit of boogieing, we headed up to the main level for a nosh. It was there we had a moment to speak with the General Manager, Eric Paul, who shared that our reclaimed wood has become a conversation piece that everyone loves. We couldn’t have been more flattered and proud to be part of such a great project with great people. Our thanks for the invite, HiLo team—cheers.

Meet the Team Featuring Tim

A native of California, Tim joined our team of Reclaimed Wood Design Experts servicing our current, and new, CA and NV customers. An avid gardener with a penchant for cookies, our interest was piqued and we put Tim through a range of questions. If you’d like to chat with him about any of our products you can shoot him an email or call him at (415) 961-2854.

tim dino web

Where are you from?
I was born in Southern California when there were still open spaces and orange trees in Orange County. I’m excited to serve my home state, to bring reclaimed and sustainable wood to projects there.

What’s your background with wood?
I have worked for several companies that crafted products out of wood. One company made custom wood garage doors with clear grade Douglas fir frames and Western Cedar fronts. Most recently I worked for a company that made custom playground equipment from free-of-heart Douglas fir post and beams. I love working with and selling wood products but always had mixed feelings about having to cut down trees. This one of the reasons I am so excited to be a part of Pioneer Millworks.

tim of pioneer millworks california nevada
What is your role on our team?
California and Nevada Reclaimed Wood Design Expert. I’m looking forward to getting to know Nevada better and having the opportunity to spend more time with my brother who lives in Minden.

Road trip selfie from Tim.

Road trip selfie from Tim.

What are you most looking forward to with your job?

Helping to create very personal, custom spaces with reclaimed wood that celebrates inspires, teaches, and heals the human experience. 

What about wood or reclaimed wood appeals to you?
How it is better for the planetless material going into landfills, and less demand to remove live trees. 

Tim with reclaimed wood kept from landfills!

Tim with reclaimed wood kept from landfills!

Which product is your favorite? Why?

Reclaimed timbersbecause each one is unique and has its own story.

Reclaimed timbers, agricultural of industrial salvage are Tim's favorite.

Reclaimed timbers, agricultural or industrial salvage are Tim’s favorite.

What are your hobbies outside of work?
My goal is to visit every National Park before I die, so…whitewater rafting, biking, hiking, and backpacking. I also like to garden and grow my own food. My dream is to own a small organic urban farm where I can supply organic food to local artisans and the community – as well as my family.

What’s your favorite book?
The Soul of a Tree: A Master Woodworkers Reflections, by George Nakashima

The soul of a tree book cover
Share something quirky about yourself…

I commute by bike most days and eat at least one cookie a day.

What is your favorite quote?
“A tree is our most intimate contact with nature.” 


In a world where manual skills are shunned, we believe in them, not only in the act of producing a better product but in the sheer joy of doing or becoming. We feel that pride in craftsmanship, of doing as perfect a job as possible, of producing something of beauty even out of nature’s discards, are all homely attributes that can be reconsidered.” Both by George Nakashima.

If you’d like to chat with Tim about any of our products you can shoot him an email or call him at (415) 961-2854.