Once Abarn a Time

local couple produces functional art from reclaimed wood

Kelsey Swanson, photos by Andrea Paulseth

LITTLE BITS OF BARN. Mike and Jill Chandler recycle old barns into functional art pieces.

    There is something nostalgic about reused materials. As if the recyclables themselves carry the memories of what they had once been, or who they had once served. It’s almost like the life of its original occupation is transferred to its new home, serving as a reminder of times we don’t always remember, but our emotions can recall. At Once Abarn a Time, Mike and Jill Chandler have mastered this transfer, recycling pieces from run-down barns to create new and lively furniture that brings a little bit of the farm into homes.

“Sometimes you just look at a scrap and think, ‘Wow, that would make a great table.’ So you build one. We just try and work with what we’ve got,” Jill says.

The Chandlers have been using recycled barn wood since 1996, when they got the idea to make functional art in Texas after attending several craft fairs. They moved to Menomonie in 1997, and Jill continued experimenting while Mike started his own construction company. But custom orders quickly piled up and Mike eventually gave up his construction business to spend more time on the barn projects with Jill.

At first, the Chandlers were driving around looking for old barns that were falling apart, hoping for scraps they could use. Now, they often have to turn down offers from people. The Chandlers are not in the business of taking down barns, nor do they buy wood, but they recycle what they can – wood, nails, leather, wire, you name it. They often build custom orders for barn donors.

The process of building a single piece is time consuming, requiring the Chandlers to find the wood, take it down, load it on the trailer, unload it, take the nails out, stack it, clean it, make a design or pattern and cut it up to size before they can actually begin the building process.

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