Keith Whittier ’04 moved to Colorado five years ago to “do something creative,” although he wasn’t sure what that would be. A few years later, when he and his fiancee, Lauren, couldn’t find the rustic farm tables they envisioned for their wedding celebration, they decided to make them. The pair share a love of woodworking and carpentry, so the project was fun. After the wedding, it was suggested to them that a demand exists for such tables. Thus, Old Wood Soul, which rents and sells handcrafted furniture, was founded.
Today the couple produces tables in many styles, such as trestle, farm, Parsons, and bistro, as well as other pieces, including stools and bookcases, all custom-made from reclaimed and repurposed wood. “The hardest part is finding good wood,” says Whittier, who has traveled around rural Colorado to find stock. “It’s exciting,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to find in a barn until you break it down. The large rafters and trusses in some old barns were made from trees that sprouted around 500 years ago.”
The couple also has worked with tobacco-barn siding from rural Tennessee. Whittier says, “That wood, in all thicknesses and colors, from brown to silver, had taken on the aroma of tobacco. And we have found shotgun pellets in the wood.” Recently, Whittier’s favorite wood is cypress planks collected in Missouri, typically from barns and chicken coops. “This wood can have up to 100 to 150 years of use and paint,” he says. “You see hoof marks from horses, initials and dates scratched by kids, and worm holes.”
To craft each piece, the couple uses old-world techniques, such as mortise and tenon joints. Surfaces are cleaned with a wire brush and sanded, but not too much. “We may stain it,” says Whittier, “but the character remains.” To seal the wood and make the surface cleanable, pieces often are covered with a durable mix of oil and urethane. “Our tables are modern-day heirlooms,” says Whittier. “They’re made to be lived on and used; they’re built to withstand a hurricane.”
One of Whittier’s favorite projects was an emerald-green stained, 8-foot long by 3.5-foot wide dining table. “It was shocking and different,” he says, “but it looks terrific in the house. That’s the beauty of custom work. Truly anything is possible.” To learn more about Whittier’s creations, visit oldwoodsoul.com.