There is a wall in the center hallway of the barn at Heritage Beam & Board that displays a collage of photos featuring the various barns that have provided the raw materials that our feature subjects have used to build their business. The photograph on the top left displays an early 20th century barn from Zenda that is now used as an upscale cocktail cart in a Chicago kitchen. Another photo shows a barn that previously stood just outside of Elkhorn and has now been turned into a marvelous kitchen table that is now the centerpiece for family meals, dinner parties, and holiday gatherings. This collage was created several years ago to remind its owners that every piece of wood they reuse has a history that is just as important as its future.
Heritage Beam & Board is a boutique furniture company located just east of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, in a barn on Seth Hanson’s hobby farm. Started by Hanson and his longtime friend, Adam Krauklis, Heritage’s day-to-day operations are run by Hanson and Adam’s wife Emily Krauklis, along with other family and friends. Seth and Adam, both professionals in the fields of construction and project management, had already known each other for over two decades when a small side project brought them together, resulting in this unique endeavor. The two worked at separate businesses until the day when a small side project brought them together in a unique endeavor.
“We were driving down the road when I saw an old barn and mentioned to my husband that I wish I had been able to use the wood on a recent project,” says Emily. “In an odd turn of events, Adam knew the owner of the barn, gave him a call and was told that if we dismantled the wood ourselves we could use what we wanted.” That was in 2011, the day after their annual New Year’s Eve barn get-together. Days later, Adam and Seth were harnessed on the side of the barn taking it down piece by piece, and a business was born.
Starting with barn sales and furniture shows, Heritage built a client base and a reputation around town as skilled craftspeople. It took a few years to catch on, but through a combination of perseverance and a commitment to quality, the business finally started to pick up steam last summer. “Since what we do is truly our passion we all decided we needed to push through it and that’s when we saw that people were starting to catch on.” says Seth. “It was completely worth it to keep at it,“ says Adam with a contagiously upbeat smile. “You never quite know what is around the next corner unless you’re brave enough to move forward. And lucky for us, we were all brave enough to take that step together.”
While the vision of giving a new life to the scenic barns of the Midwest might sound romantic, the process is much more arduous, and less glamorous, than it might seem. After removing the wood from the barn, frequently in challenging weather, the wood must be prepped. They must first clean off the cobwebs and years of dust and age. Then, all the nails must be removed from the wood before it is taken back to the barn where it is dried, milled, sanded, sculpted, and evened out. Only then, after hours of prep, are they able to get to work on their clients’ custom orders.
“There is always a process where you start to think: is it worth all the labor just to get one single piece of wood?” says Emily, “But once you push through the toughness of what it used to be, you are able to make it what you want it to be.” Heritage creates tables, floors, fireplace mantles, countertops, frames, and almost any custom finishing you might want to add to your next renovation or home construction project. Heritage is also happy to weigh in on design considerations and give suggestions in order to keep things moving forward.
When asked, why they decided to use the word heritage in the name of the business, Seth told us that, “The history of something is always an interesting part of any story. Carpentry has been in my family for generations and while it was exciting for me to learn it, what made it important to me was knowing the history of it within my family; that it was something my father taught me, and his father taught him and something I’m going to teach my sons.”
And as the business continues to expand, and the families grow closer together, they never forget the day when it all started. In the company of their closest friends and loved ones, they take the opportunity every New Year’s Eve to gather in their once vacant barn to look back for a moment and recharge for another year of reclaiming their own piece of history.