How a Passion for Old Barns Led to Sangamon Reclaimed (VIDEO)
When Brian Frieze learned that a farmer planned to bulldoze his historic barn, he made an offer that changed his life.
“The farmer was so excited about tearing down the barn to build a new machine shed, and all I could think about was all of the old barns I spent summers playing in during my childhood,” he recalls. “So, I said, ‘I’d be happy to dismantle it if I can have the wood,’ and he agreed.”
Frieze had no plans for the wood but thought its history made it worth saving. In 2013, he assembled a crew of friends and set to work dismantling the barn and transporting it from Covington, Indiana, back to his home in Springfield, Illinois.
The wood had such a beautiful patina that Frieze used it to build a dining room table – but there was enough wood to build much more than a few pieces of furniture. So the Air Force veteran and firefighter partnered with a distributor that sold barn wood nationwide and started selling the old barn, one piece at a time.
The distributor eagerly requested more barn wood. Frieze approached farmers in communities throughout the Sangamon River Valley and tore down 38 barns between 2013 and 2016. In addition to selling the wood, Frieze also opened a shop, Sangamon Reclaimed, and began turning historic wood into heirloom-quality handcrafted furniture.
“Reclaimed wood is such a huge design trend (because) people appreciate that rustic feel and want to buy quality pieces that are going to last,” he says. “I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we make everything by hand. The five (military veterans) working in the woodshop put their time and sweat into every piece.”
Sangamon Reclaimed builds pieces ranging from fireplace mantels and barn doors to tables and bars to the popular American flags handmade from reclaimed wood. Frieze donates a portion of the proceeds from each sale to organizations that support veterans.
“I wanted to do something to stay involved with the military and to say thank you to those guys that are still serving,” he says.
Frieze has also shown his gratitude to the farmers who allowed Sangamon Reclaimed to dismantle their barns.
“Some of the nicest barns I ever took down were free, and the wood meant a lot to the farmers,” he says. “We got started building furniture because we were building pieces for farmers as a thank you. It was special to make things for them out of their own wood.”
In addition to taking great care to preserve the wood, Frieze has also carefully documented the histories of the barns. The structures, often built between 1850 and 1920, have great stories associated with them – and Frieze wants to pass those along to Sangamon Reclaimed customers.
As demand for custom furniture exploded, Frieze decided to focus on the design/build aspect of the business. He now partners with other local companies that dismantle old barns – and hardware stores, churches and historic warehouses – and sell him the wood.
“There is a lot of time and labor that goes into tearing down old barns and preserving the wood (and) using it to make pieces that will last a lifetime,” he says. “Things being made by hand seem to be a thing of the past and that’s the reason I think it’s really cool that we get to use it to make quality pieces that are going to last a lifetime.”