Sustainable Material Spotlight: Reclaimed Wood

From salvaged barn doors to tree bark, reclaimed wood makes a statement in building and design projects.
Photo of a modern living room with a mounted flat screen on a rock facade wall and a lot of light-colored furniture

Photo courtesy of Claudia Martin Design, LLC Photographer: Tressa O’Brien

Take a walk down the aisles of any big-box retailer’s home goods section and you’ll come across decor made from what looks like distressed wood. The rustic look has been all the rage for years, but many of these products are made from new lumber that’s been dented, sanded or chemically “weathered” until the piece looks time-worn.

Clients interested in more sustainable aesthetic appeal should consider salvaged wood for upcoming builds, renovations or interior design projects. Though not as infinitely reusable as recycled glass, reclaimed wood is one of the greenest building materials. Homeowners love the charm and personality of well-worn wood, so what might not be strong enough for exterior building purposes can still be used in furniture and decor. The reclaimed lumber market is projected to grow by an average of 4.6% per year through 2028, according to a market research report by Grand View Research.

Reclaimed Wood 101

“Reclaimed wood is wood that was previously used for another purpose—for example, barns, gymnasiums or bleachers, or industrial buildings,” says Chicago-based interior designer Claudia Martin.

Salvaged wood is low-cost and low-energy. According to research published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the energy used to produce new framing lumber and wood flooring is 11 to 13 times greater than the energy used to make the same products from reclaimed wood.

Another type of reclaimed wood is bark harvested from forest industry waste. These days, a handful of innovative manufacturers are perfecting the process of reclaiming bark from sustainable forestry initiatives so that the entire process is eco-friendly.

Reclaimed Wood Trends in Home Design

Reclaimed wood, like cork or concrete, is a versatile material for builders and designers. As a natural material, it adds authentic warmth and texture to a space while staying friendly to the earth it came from.

Here are five ways reclaimed wood is used in new homes, renovations and interior design projects.

Reclaimed Wood and Tree Bark Siding

Bark has been used as a protective covering on homes since the 1600s, according to Reliance Timber in North Carolina. Back then, bark siding naturally had a rustic look and feel. These days, bark siding producers carefully peel the bark from forest waste, then kiln-dry, flatten and cut it into symmetrical shingles or sheets. The result? One-of-a-kind siding that is sustainable and naturally resistant to the elements.

Reclaimed Wood Paneling

No, this isn’t your ’70s-era basement wood paneling. Reclaimed barn wood planks elevate old designs when used to create a shiplap accent wall or paneled ceiling.

Even better: Martin suggests using reclaimed wood paneling vertically on a wall and the ceiling to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. This combination works particularly well in cabin- or lodge-style homes, though the natural texture of wood can also soften an industrial-style space.

Reclaimed Wood Custom Shelving and Furniture

Today’s homeowners often appreciate the opportunity to stand out with one-of-a-kind pieces like reclaimed wood consoles and headboards. From salvaged live-edge wood to historic wooden floor planks, reclaimed wood offers designers the chance to create a custom piece based on the shape and grain of the available material.

“A great way designers can incorporate reclaimed wood is by using it as shelves,” says Martin. “A floating fireplace mantel using reclaimed wood [also] becomes a focal point.”

Photo of a dining room, zoomed in on the dining table, which is a light-colored wood and has 3 bottles of water on top

Photo courtesy of Claudia Martin Design, LLC Photographer: Tressa O’Brien

Reclaimed Wood Doors and Window Frames

“Architecture can come to life by using reclaimed wood to build door and window frames and trim. Custom barn doors using wood from actual barns are authentic and environmentally friendly,” Martin says.

Homeowners might also appreciate salvaged barn doors because the product is already made. Unlike traditional swinging doors, barn doors can be installed on a visible track to move along the wall. Since the door doesn’t have to fit flush inside the door frame, sliding barn doors give designers and contractors a bit of leeway in size.

Reclaimed Wood Built-Ins

Kitchens and bathrooms are still the most popular rooms to renovate, according to Fixr. And while spaces exposed to moisture might not be the first choice for reclaimed wood built-ins, Martin suggests reclaimed wood kitchen islands or bathroom vanities can absolutely work. That could be because old-growth reclaimed wood is solid, precured and rot-resistant compared with the wood veneer over particleboard you might find at some big-box retailers.

Wood countertops not your clients’ style? Reclaimed wood can also be incorporated into built-in cabinets, shelves, and cozy alcoves.

Finding Reclaimed Wood Resources and Retailers

“The best way to source reclaimed wood is to start in your own community,” Martin says. “There are online dealers as well, but beware of big-box–type stores where you might be getting something that is new material, just made to look old.”

For DIY reclaimed wood projects, custom furniture, or shelving, Martin suggests checking Craigslist, Nextdoor, or Facebook Marketplace for someone in your area who sells locally sourced reclaimed wood or items made from local reclaimed wood. If you have a specific item in mind, you can widen your geographic reach by looking for reclaimed wood products on eBay or Etsy.

Clients interested in using bark siding for new builds or exterior renovations should check out BarkClad, Hardin Creek or Bark House. Bark House, a Cradle to Cradle–certified supplier, also offers interior bark wall finishes.