Determined to make the most of our enforced closure, I spent this morning on my hands and knees scrubbing the floors in The Old Granary. We installed reclaimed Douglas fir throughout the upstairs living area a couple of years ago and, as I worked my scrubbing brush into the old bolt and nail holes, I started to think about the history of the wood.
We sourced the planks from a reclamation yard in Devon which salvages most of its wood from old industrial buildings. The timber is then sawn into planks to be re-used as flooring, cladding or furniture. Reclaimed planks can be over 100 years old and are high quality and full of character, not just in terms of the knots and grain of the wood itself but the scars from their past life.
We’ve used a lot of reclaimed materials and vintage furniture in both our own house and the cottages over the years and there are several reasons it appeals to me: it can be cost effective and it’s better for the environment. First and foremost, however, reclaimed materials have a history and patina that make them unique. A prime example is the wood used for the kitchen cabinetry in The Old Granary.
We live in an 18th century farmhouse and the cottages have been created from its various outbuildings. When we were renovating own home I was very keen to retain as many of the period features as possible. The floorboards downstairs had been torn up by previous owners many years ago but there was still some of the original flooring in place upstairs. Unfortunately parts of it had been replaced and what remained was in poor condition. Reluctantly, we decided that we would have to replace it but rather than condemn the timber to a bonfire or a skip we found new uses for it. The boards were sanded and treated with Danish oil. Some found a new home as cupboards in our scullery. The rest were made into doors for the kitchen units in The Old Granary. The wood is pitted with nail holes and marked with old woodworm trails but it has its own imperfect beauty and, more importantly, it’s unique to Middle Colenso Farm.
Reclaimed timber is perhaps one the easiest materials to source but it’s becoming increasingly expensive. Sometimes, though, you can be lucky and reclaiming can be cheaper than buying new. We’ve just picked up some beautiful lengths of iroko which started life as school laboratory benches and is now destined for shelves when we give The Old Granary bathroom a makeover in the new year. I’d been looking at similar pieces online and they were prohibitively expensive. It was sheer luck that I found these ones on Gumtree, left over from a kitchen project in a house in Truro.
Perhaps our best find was the scaffolding boards we used for shelving in Carter’s Croft. When we carried out the renovation on the cottage (Click here for more details) these were the boards actually being used by the scaffolders. They were old and due to be condemned, and the scaffolders were happy to leave them with us when the job was completed.
If you’re looking to save money, it’s not always necessary to rush out and buy something. The old adage about one person’s trash being another’s treasure is true. Websites like Freecycle of Facebook Marketplace can be veritable treasure troves if you have the patience to look. You may even already have something lying around that you can repurpose. The headboard in the double room of Carter’s Croft is an old door we found in the garden.
Reclaimed or salvaged doesn’t necessarily mean old or vintage either. When we replaced the floor in our house with solid wood, we had to take up the engineered oak boards that ran throughout the downstairs. It was the perfect replacement for the tired old carpet in the living room of Smugglers Lane.
By and large, we live in a throwaway society. Careless of our natural resources, we’re quick to discard the old or broken; in fact many modern products aren’t built to last, but attitudes are slowly changing. IKEA, for example, has recently introduced a buy back scheme for furniture, aimed at minimising the contribution to landfill. Using reclaimed materials or buying vintage pieces is also an excellent way to do this.
Skinflint Design, based in nearby Penryn, was one of the first UK companies to specialise in reclaimed industrial lighting and three of their pendants hang over the kitchen in The Old Granary. I sourced other vintage lights in the cottages from our local reclamation yard and ebay.
Mid-century furniture is a particular passion of mine and the cottages are furnished with pieces by some of my favourite Scandinavian designers. There’s also a lot of vintage Ercol. It fell out of fashion a few years ago (my builder cringed when he told me how he burned an unwanted dining set for a client in the 90s) but I think it’s timeless. As other people have started to appreciate its qualities, it’s become both harder to find and more expensive but in my opinion it’s far better made than similar pieces being manufactured by the company today.
Using salvaged materials is no longer viewed as a mere interior design quirk. Maria Speake of the London-based reclamation yard and design studio Retrouvius was voted House & Garden Interior Designer of the Year for 2019, proving that re-used materials can form the basis of a sophisticated and sustainable interior scheme. Do head over to the their website if you're looking for inspiration and if you're visiting us here at Middle Colenso you must include a visit to the Aladdin's cave that is our local reclamation yard Shiver Me Timbers.