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.
There tend to be four reasons why barns are torn down.
They are damaged or have not been properly maintained, leaving them structurally unsound.
The owner is no longer able or willing to pay the upkeep costs (repair, taxes, insurance, etc.).
To make way for future land development.
The owner is looking to “cash in” on an asset.
We do our best to discourage those who fall into the last category. Pioneer Millworks was born eons ago as an offshoot of our sister company New Energy Works Timberframers (a leader in the timber frame industry). Working in close proximity with these talented craftsmen, engineers, and architects for all these years has given us a unique appreciation for timber frame construction and its historical roots in the architecture of American barns.
New Energy Works built barn.
Interior of New Energy Works barn.
While salvaging barn wood is integral to our business, we consider it an ethical obligation to discourage unnecessary barn demolition and encourage the preserve these historic structures.
Situations that fall into the third category cause us a bit more ethical grief because perfectly good barns are often torn down to make way for land development. Unfortunately, the fate of these barns is usually sealed by the time we get involved and whether or not we purchase the wood is unlikely to motivate the developer to change their plans.
In the summer of 2015 I was asked to visit a barn in Voorheesville, NY which was going to be torn down to make room for a country club’s expansion. The local community’s efforts to secure public funding to preserve the structure had met a dead end. At the time I was heading home with my family from a vacation in New Hampshire so I made a quick detour to assess the structure.
The barn far exceeded my expectations. It was huge; far larger than anything I had ever seen in New York. The structure was entirely built out of circle sawn Eastern White Pine timbers and joists. My two-year-old son and I spent an hour or so taking measurements and snapping photographs.
Our preference was to see the barn preserved, but since this was unlikely to happen we could at least honor the barn’s legacy by giving the wood new life and sharing its story. This is what Pioneer Millworks does best.
We later sent the owner a proposal to purchase the material, which totaled nearly 40,000 board feet – an exceptional amount of material for a single barn, but we never heard back. Our assumption was that someone else had outbid us for the material. Then, recently, purely by chance, I stumbled upon this Facebook page.
Turns out the barn had been saved! A generous donation of land, coupled with an epic community fundraising effort and secured government grants allowed the barn to be relocated to a newly created park located across the street from the barn’s original location.
These stories of successful barn preservation efforts are a real inspiration to us as they are often initiated by just a handful of individuals, but end up involving the dedicated efforts of a whole community and more! We at Pioneer Millworks are thrilled that the Hilton barn, whose impressive size left a lasting impression on me, is still standing and now public property. Kudos to all involved!
If you’d like to get involved with barn preservation, here are a few groups we’re fans of:
Cruising into a new space with views of the Sound and reclaimed wood! We couldn’t think of a better fit for a major cruise line’s new headquarters than our Reclaimed Smooth Teak flooring.
Designed by SkB Architects, the new corporate office will allow the Holland America Group to consolidate their 900+ employees in a modernized work environment. Located on Pudget Sound in Seattle, the headquarters interior pays homage to traditional boat decking with Reclaimed Teak, a classic boat-building material, throughout the offices and common areas.
The layout for ‘work’ levels has cubicles flowing around the perimeter of each floor with offices, conference rooms, and flex space occupying the center. On the second level, an emergency response center, training & conference rooms, and eatery are all shod with Reclaimed Teak. The Teak also flows from floor to stairs and benches in several areas.
Over 14,000 square feet of the salvaged Teak, with an all natural oil/wax finish, found new life throughout all six levels of Holland America’s new building. The wood unifies each level, offering incredible durability and warm tones to the various work areas.
Our Teak is reclaimed from retired structures — office buildings, homes, boats, and factories in Indonesia. Teak maintains the authentic beauty of 18th and 19th-century planks. With an extremely hardwearing surface, it’s the ultimate specification for lasting value. It is milled from certified FSC® Recycled 100% Teak to exacting industry standards for nail down installation and finishing.
One percent of all of our Reclaimed Teak sales are donated to conservation causes in Indonesia and Malaysia. Currently, we’re supporting the Borneo Project in their fight to end the loss of habitat for the indigenous peoples of Indonesia.
Various finishes and surfaces, fit for every design style, are available on our Surface Selector.
Bryan Danger started Zenbox Design after a May 2014 article in the New York Times featuring he and his partner Jen’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) garnered a lot of attention. Bryan has a master of Architecture from UofO but moved into Graphic Design and somehow found himself working in a high-tech corporate office for 14 years. After a year driving through Mexico and Central America in their 67 VW Bus, Bryan and Jen moved back to Portland to start on their new path. The problem? They had renters in their home. Solution? They had a 480-square foot garage that wasn’t being used. They designed and built out the garage into a cozy living space. Word got out quickly and readers and neighbors alike were demanding Bryan design their ADU and custom furniture. Hesitant at first, the couple wanted to keep their new found “nomadic balance”. Though they had been working with neighbors for free for some time, zenbox design was officially born and takes on a few clients every year for custom homes and furniture. The rest of the time the couple rents their garage on
The problem? They had renters in their home. Solution? They had a 480-square foot garage that wasn’t being used. They designed and built out the garage into a cozy living space. Word got out quickly and folks started requesting Bryan design their ADU and custom furniture. Hesitant at first, the couple wanted to keep their new found “nomadic balance”. Though they had been working with neighbors for free for some time, Zenbox Design was officially born and takes on a few clients every year for custom homes and furniture. The rest of the time the couple rents their garage on Airbnb and travels with their dog, Karma, around the continent in their custom sprintervan (another Zenbox project).
1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman? Designer/Creative. Our designs range from custom furniture and installations to small custom homes.
2. How did you get started? Ive always designed/built as much of my own furniture/environment as I could. In 2013, my wife and I had downsized and purged all our belongings to take a 2 year road trip. Upon returning we hated the idea of simply buying all our furniture rather than each piece being intentional, and started designing/building them instead.
The garage transformed into an ADU, courtesy of zenboxdesign.com
3. Why wood? Our designs tend to use a combination of wood and steel, but we feel wood is critical because of the softness and warmth it brings to a space. All the better if that wood is also reclaimed and has a story/history to tell.
4. What was the first thing you made from wood? As best I can recall, a 3’ tall model of the Trojan Horse, when I was 6th grade. As Zenbox design, I think our first piece was a steel and reclaimed wood barstoolthat we still use (and offer to clients) today.
5. What does being creative meant to you? It’s simply how my brain works—I have to be designing or creating something to feel active or alive. It’s not a switch I can turn off and I naturally find my brain creatively redesigning every space I walk into and everything I touch.
6. Do you have any rituals? None.
7. What is your favorite piece? Our tiny home has a bar/island that takes up no space on a day to day basis but can roll out to seat 6–8 when we entertain. It’s a 6’ long slab of reclaimed fir we took out of the house in the remodel and it seems to be the perfect combination of creative reuse because the material is serving in its second life and the piece itself serves multiple roles (and is also the centerpiece of our home).
6′ slab of reclaimed fir, courtesy of zenboxdesign.com
8. Who inspires you? Anyone who is thinking and living outside the box, breaking norms and following their dreams!
9. What do you hope to communicate through your work? Clean lines. Elegant simplicity. Functional beauty.
10. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing? We seem to be constantly reinventing ourselves, so “this” is different every day. Luckily we seem to keep finding clients that push our creativity and expertise, so the evolution of Zenbox Design is created by the projects and clients we choose to partner with. If we one day run out of both client and personal projects, I guess I would likely become a tattoo artist, or scuba diving instructor, or both.
11. The ultimate piece you want to create? I feel like each new client presents this opportunity. The goal is always to design that person or families’ perfect custom home. To craft both the environment and pieces within it in a creative and functional way so that their living space literally transforms their lifestyle.
12. What’s your favorite thing about PDX? The people. The creatives. The dreamers. We travel much of the year and have yet to find anyplace with the intense diversity, creativity, and “weirdness” that is Portland. It’s almost impossible to not be charged or pushed creatively here. We live our lives outside the box and Portland seems to the only place where that is not only accepted but fully understood and supported/celebrated!