By JAN NORMAN / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Ben Bonin and Collin Gibellino search rural America for centuries-old barns that are on the verge of falling down.
For property owners the old structures are attractive nuisances for young kids, property tax burdens and eyesores. Bonin and Gibellino see them differently.
True American Grain in Laguna Niguel buys barns originally built in the 1800s, such as this one in Michigan. The company tears the barns down and sells the reclaimed lumber, doors and hardware for residential remodeling and commercial interiors. The hand hewn wood has a unique look and a historial story to tell, the owners say.
One man’s hazard is another man’s business opportunity.
Bonin and Gibellino are partners in True American Grain, a Laguna Niguel supplier of what is called reclaimed or vintage wood that is used for residential and commercial interiors.
In a little more than a year, they have torn down five barns in Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan and resold the wood for interiors in several homes, a shopping mall in Las Vegas, a couple of restaurants and a cheese shop.
The company’s slogan is “giving new life to old America.”
Strolling through one of three local warehouses, Bonin pointed out beams that still bear the hatchet marks of 19th century farmers who built the barns to house dairy cows in northern Michigan. Boards from Tennessee tobacco barns are destined for a home being remodeled in Pelican Hills. A barn door in the corner will soon go to a wine bar in Las Vegas.
“Each piece of wood has a back story, where it came from, what it was used for,” said Gibellino, who keeps a jar filled with handmade nails that have been removed as barns were torn down. “It’s a conversation piece, unique.”
The partners, who tear the barns down themselves with the help of locals they hire, salvage everything they can from brick-sized blocks of wood to metal pulleys that they convert into track lighting.
“Every piece has a home,” Gibellino said.
Reclaimed wood “is very trendy; it’s popular to do repurposed furnishings,” said designer Sherrie Jordan, owner of Incorporate Orange in San Juan Capistrano who has used True American Grain products in wine bars and shops. “Environmentally friendly interiors are popular in California. You can tell right away that it’s authentic.”