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.
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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

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Welcome Sean Comerford!

Sean Comerford started in our mill with the Moulder Crew in January and moved into the office to join our sales team in May. We dug deeper to learn more about him:Sean explores to feed his love of old wood and history.

Sean explores to feed his love of old wood and history.

Where did you grow up?

I’m originally from Buffalo, NY born and raised. After an extensive European hiatus where I learned that enjoying life is a priority, I returned home to Buffalo wanting to pursue a craft – which in turn took me to Rochester, NY where I apprenticed with a Dry-Stone Waller and learned to build with stone – the old way.

When the snow came with that bitter winter wind, I was unable to build so I turned to yet another medium – wood. I found Pioneer Millworks, and was so excited to start working here that I just came in and most likely pestered Rick enough that he hired me to work the Moulder Line.

You spent some time working in our mill. What did you learn?

Mid-January, I started work on the Moulder Line with Dave C and the guys. With fervor, I started studying the product specs, learning the species, and defecting to grade. Working in the mill nurtured some great relationships and gave me a better understanding of the inner-workings and nuances of our company and products. That knowledge helps me out immensely as a salesman.

What is your role on our sales team?

Learning Reclaimed Wood Sales is a rocky road full of pitfalls, but with this team mistakes are minimal and they transform into good experience. I have come a long way since my first days here, interacting with customers who walk through the front door looking for flooring, paneling, mantle timbers and everything in-between. Apart from Inside Sales, I provide support mainly to Jered S and Roblyn P, who in turn help me grow. My role will eventually evolve into local/regional sales. I’ll help spread the reclaimed word around Rochester, NY and beyond!

What about wood or reclaimed wood appeals to you?
Our 9 acre yard in Farmington, NY.

Reclaimed wood has soul, and as I walk through the yard I am often struck at how old some of these timbers are. Their species are nearly indeterminable but the texture and patina speak volumes about their character. The sustainability of this particular product coupled with the unique beauty makes it irresistible for a tree-hugger/wood-fanatic like myself.

Which of our products are your favorites? Why?

I like my reclaimed wood to have some character, a gnarly and interesting personality while also refined. So, I have to admit, there is a solid tie between Black & Tan-Tan and Antique Heart Pine (Character Select). reclaimed heart pine CS pioneer millworksThe latter, not only has some juicy history but the color and texture is mesmerizing, especially in those deep and wide resin canals where the divide between sap and wood becomes nearly indeterminable. The Black & Tan-Tan has a great story, and though smooth-planed, still has a good amount of that paint-ingrained patina that catches the eye.

sean bug netWhat are your hobbies outside of work?

You can usually find me at Rochester Arts Center throwing pottery, on a hike at Corbett’s Glen, or at the myriad local breweries in the area sipping on an IPA and engaged in good conversation.

What is your educational background?

I graduated with a B.A. in History – not exactly the most sought after certification for this line of work. That said, I do use my history degree to a greater extent now than I ever had in previous jobs – there is history in reclaimed wood and now it’s my job to share that history.

Share something quirky about yourself.

sean travels pano

Two years ago, I paid off my student loans and flew off to Europe with my extra cash, an overstuffed backpack and heady inspiration. I started a European odyssey that would bring me to an antediluvian Norwegian farm where I learned the old ways of raising crops, drank from glacier fed rivers, and chased cattle through the clouds. I took to the coast in Croatia, then on to rural Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary, the Carpathians in Romania, and Slovenia. I hitchhiked the breadth of Italy in less than twenty-four hours and ended up staying on at a Pressoir (Juice Farm) in France that had a wine vat older than the 13 Colonies – the inscription read 1472. I walked, ran, biked, swam, thumbed it, bummed it, and laughed my way through Europe for five months and twenty-two days.

What’s your favorite book?

This is the hardest question by far, but I figured it would be easier to name my favorite authors and genres instead. Without becoming too long winded, I love historical fiction, especially the works of Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follet. The cantankerous Ernest Hemingway is a must and in an opposing fashion, the works of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching.

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Doggy Goodbyes

Charlie hard at work phin lap look

Thank you to all of our followers who have reached out with kind words and warm thoughts about the loss of our canine companions. It isn’t easy to say goodbye. The fact is that we lost two of our office dogs over a month ago, yet each time I tried to write about my boy (Charlie) the tears welled up and my fingers froze over the keys. While I doubt I’ll ever be able to compose something about Charlie without blinking back a flood of emotions, the time that has passed has eased a little of the sorrow and it is only right to keep sharing our boys with everyone in our lives…

charlie and phin

A sunlight nap and a sunlight snack. We always joked that Phin was solar charged. He loved spending time in any patch of sunlight.

With heavy hearts we said goodbye to our two best office dogs. Charlie and Phin were fixtures in our NY headquarters. I’ve always felt fortunate to work in a place that has a dog culture. If ever you stopped in, chances are you were greeted by one – or both – of these special co-workers. Charlie spent the last decade tail wagging and sniffing everyone who came through the door and meandering from desk to desk waiting patiently for pets and treats. While Phin, a more recent addition to our crew, spent his time lap-hopping – a feat that Charlie could never manage with his 90lbs of muscle of golden fluff.

John and I want to thank everyone who spoiled and played with our guys at work and at home. They were loved by not just us, but all who met them. Animals have a way of touching our hearts. They bring out the best in us; they support us; they make us laugh; they offer companionship; and they keep us entertained. I’m humbled by the selflessness they offer and the unconditional love these two dogs shared with us. It was an honor to have such amazing creatures by our sides for all these years.

the lean I could spend hours talking about Charlie and still would leave one wanting as knowing him was an indescribable pleasure. The same can be said of Phin – what big personality in a small package! While I won’t do justice to a life lived to the fullest for 12 years, I will say that Charlie was sweet and kind to every living creature (though he charlie double frisbeedid like to chase the neighbor’s chickens!). He obsessed over every ball and frisbee. There are so many people Charlie knew and loved. We’re doing our best to fill the hole his departure has left with good memories. Many have asked what happened. To put it briefly: cancer. It came without sickness or a whimper. (We learned that cancer of the spleen is the most common cause of death of Golden Retrievers.) One evening, Charlie was excited to play frisbee and watch us do yard work after having “worked” his day at the office. He came to lay near us and I knew from how he looked at me that something was wrong… We’ll forever be grateful for the ways he touched our lives.

phin and johnPhin was popular wherever he ventured. He’s credited with turning several people on to the Boston Terrier breed. The ‘little guy’ even had his own popular Instagram #Phinstagram. As John explains of his little guy: Phin spent countless hours riding with me in the car, on adventures, to and from work, or just going for a drive to clear my head. He was goofy and loved wrestling with toys… and being pretty much Phin. I’m glad I had these little moments with him when the times were pretty tough. It seems sort of fitting that my little guy left this world in his comfy passenger-seat spot. I’m glad I could be there for him in the end. I’m really going to miss this little guy. Sadly there was a neurological problem that came on rather abruptly, and took him years earlier than anyone would have expected for a little breed. Even at his worst points, he still wanted to join in on the adventures or go to work and greet everyone at the office. I was fortunate to have such a great little partner in crime, even if it was far too short.

Charlie and Phin are irreplaceable but there are a few new canines following in their paw prints around the office. Kairo, Reilly, Betty, and Penny in our HQ and Sherlock, Barlow, and  one or two other part-time office pups in Portland, OR.

Kairo

Kairo

Reilly (growing puppy!)

Reilly (growing puppy!)

Barlow and Sherlock.

Barlow and Sherlock

 

 

 

 

 

 

To honor our faithful pups, Pioneer Millworks and New Energy Works have made donations in their names to Lollypop Farm, an organization local to our NY headquarters, that works tirelessly to support the health and well being of animals both in and out of our community.

 

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