It started with one salvaged floor joist—a weathered but perfectly sturdy slab of wood that Erin True found while casting about on Craigslist in 2010. The unemployed art teacher needed a project to keep her mind off the lousy job market, so she built a bench out of that slab in her Vernon Hills garage. She was pleasantly surprised when it immediately sold online. “I loved everything about the wood—loved that it was old growth, that it was from a pre-1920s barn that had been torn down, loved the original patina,” Erin says. She made more benches for her 2011 wedding; after the ceremony, they sold in a flash, too.
Since then, she and her husband, Jason, a former IT salesman, have been building something bigger: a furniture design business called Urban Wood Goods that recycles oak and Douglas fir from old Midwestern barns and other local teardowns. “It’s a beautiful combination of a lot of events,” says Jason, standing among dining tables, bar tables, desks, chairs, and stools in his company’s showroom, tucked away on Randolph Street (by appointment only; for info, visit urbanwoodgoods.com). “I call it ‘barnwood fever.’ There’s this love of reclaiming and this budding deconstruction industry of guys who take down old barns and buildings, and there is customer demand for a one-of-a-kind product that has a certain value.”
The Trues estimate that 65 percent of their business is residential. (They say it was profitable in its first year and has sold $1.5 million worth of furniture since 2011.) They keep prices affordable (about $135 for a barstool; $600 and up for dining tables) and their assembly line sustainable by meticulously sourcing salvaged wood from the Midwest and recycling industrial steel legs and vintage baskets to use as table legs and storage accessories.
“The wood may have nail holes or knots, but the one rule is the older, the better,” says Erin. “We take away very little of the original patina. The wood is what shines in our business.”