Barn to armoire
Local carpenter turns dilapidated structures into beautiful furniture
The giant, steel billboard near 11th Avenue on The Esplanade stands silent and cold, displaying its ever-changing message for drivers. Most speed by the sign without more than a glance at the advertisement. Little do they know that at the base of this lifeless sentinel lies a quaint, sun-aged building where wood, some of it older than the steel giant, is given new life.
The Restoration Co. is owned and operated by Royce Peterson, who, with the help of his small staff of about six guys, seeks out wood that has been deemed useless and restores it for custom furniture. Much of the wood comes from abandoned barns from around the county.
“We use this wood because it is usually better then the wood that is made today, even though some of it is over 100 years old,” Peterson said. “It also saves us from making a huge carbon footprint like wood manufacturing plants do around the world.”
Peterson first started his career in wood restoration while he was an undergrad at Chico State in the mid-’70s. He had answered an ad to work for a piano mover who also refinished them, and soon learned the trade. He left school early, and eventually took his skill with him to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. After living on the island for about a decade, he returned to Chico to start his business, which has been open for around 10 years (five in its current location).
A longtime carpenter and wood recycler, Peterson began using barn wood about six years ago. His first project was a wood floor in his home on East Sixth Street. He has since sold the place, but not before it was featured on the cover of a coffee table book by author April Halbertstadt called Bungalow Style. He’s since turned the practice into his specialty.
The carpenter and his crew find aged barns, collapse them, and reclaim the wood, turning it into tables, cabinets, chairs, dressers and other pieces. If farmers don’t call him first, Peterson finds aging barns in search of valuable redwood beams.
Peterson estimates that it takes him and his crew anywhere between two months and two years to tear down a barn, depending on where it is located. The largest barn Peterson has ever taken down is around 6,800 square feet. Though the work is rigorous and he has had a few close calls cutting final support beams, Peterson said it is important to salvage wood that would otherwise go to waste.
“If we didn’t come in to buy this wood, farmers would just destroy the building, and either burry the wood or burn it, both of which are wasteful and potentially leave a carbon footprint,” he said. “Some of the wood is not good, but a lot of it is very valuable, and it’s important to make sure the wood is treated with respect.”
In today’s materialistic society, it may be hard for some to understand Peterson’s deep admiration for the wood he gathers. His soft voice is strangely hypnotic as he talks about his work. His hands, due to years of woodworking, are weathered and worn like the pages of an old leather-bound book, and as he explains the beauty of the grain patterns in each type of wood, he softly slides his fingers over the different pieces as if it was the back of a beautiful woman.
While others may see the old pieces of wood as junk, Peterson knows that with some lacquer, patience and passion, every piece has the potential to be reborn into something breathtaking.
“I’m currently starting on this armoire. I got the pieces from the back of someone’s truck who didn’t want them anymore,” Peterson said. “I bought the pieces for $10 each, and when I’m finished with my work I’ll sell it to a lady for about $1,500.”
Despite this great return on investment, The Restoration Co. has kept its humble establishment under the steel billboard and next to the hum of traffic through the heart of Chico. Spider webs cling to the corners of the window sills, and sawdust coats the surface of the workbenches. The shop is an organized mess—a setting that would make any modest woodshop teacher salivate. The equipment isn’t state of the art, but instead has the look of withstanding the test of many projects.
Amid the cans of wood stain and sanders, an old stereo carries the soft voice of Neil Young. Outside in the back lot a large stockpile of wood of various sizes and shapes is snugly wrapped under blue tarps, all of the pieces waiting to be reborn.
“Some people look out at this lot, see all the piles and say ‘look at all this junk,’ ” Peterson said. “But I know somewhere under these piles is the next big project. I just have to find it.”
Peterson has a wide client base, ranging from individuals looking to refurbish an old piece of furniture to people looking for one-of-kind pieces fashioned from reclaimed wood. He restored barn wood for a table for Chico State’s new Wildcat Recreation Center, for example. More recently, he turned an old barn door into a table that will display food in an upcoming television commercial for Mountain Mike’s Pizza.
Looking ahead, he wants to expand his business to clients in neighboring counties, and would also like to begin selling more furniture in the Bay Area. But for Peterson, the best part of the job isn’t the success of the business, but rather simply making people happy.
“I love seeing how excited and satisfied people are when I finish a project for them,” he said. “Some of the work I do is a lot more meaningful than the stuff you buy at these big-box stores, and will last longer with less environmental impact. Just seeing the smiles is what it’s all about for me.”