Homes That History Built

Take a step back in time with reclaimed materials.

In our instant messaging, express-delivery culture that prizes speed and efficiency above all else, it is easy to forget that life did not always move at this breakneck pace and that there was a time when simplicity and graciousness reigned supreme.

Homeowners are giving a nod to eras past by incorporating reclaimed materials into their current homes, achieving historic craftsmanship and modern convenience in one fell swoop.

Divine Intervention

Cindy O’Connell, a long-time antique enthusiast, is incorporating some type of reclaimed material into nearly every room of her new home being built within Apple Hill Farms, a 1,000-acre exclusive residential community in northeast Appleton.

This is the third home O’Connell and her husband, Kurt, have built and this time around sustainability and artistry were at the top of their list.

O’Connell went on an international search that spanned three continents for the perfect stained glass window to be installed in a circular frame above the mantel in the first floor’s main living space.

She found her ‘piece de resistance’ at DC Riggott Inc., a Minnesota-based reclamation company specializing in church salvage.

A phone call to the company confirmed the window would be available as soon as it was shipped to the store from its original location in—wait for it—Wisconsin. O’Connell couldn’t believe her good fortune. “After all that, it was right here all along,” she says.

Cindy and her construction team, headed by John Jacob of Jacob Construction & Development Inc., made a beeline to St. Charles Parish church in Charlesburg, just south of Chilton, where the window was being salvaged.

“We walked into the church and my heart just gasped,” O’Connell recalls. “It took my breath away.”

The window is one you’d expect to see in a monument built to honor The Almighty. Its tracery frame is rare due to the difficulty of producing the frame-within-a-frame style. The expertly assembled glass consists of various shades of red, gold and amber, which must have felt right at home within the ornate Gothic-style walls of the church.

According to the parish’s 125th anniversary history, most of the stained glass windows were imported from Germany over several years following the church’s construction in 1905.

Linda Muldoon, owner of Coventry Glassworks in Appleton (pictured below), where the piece was restored was able to provide some insight into the window’s symbolism. Pictured at the center of the window are two keys, crossed like swords.

“They are St. Peter’s keys to the kingdom,” Muldoon says. “It is a stylized rose window which served as a Christian ‘mandala’ for some mystics.”

In the O’Connell’s new 6,550-square-foot home, the stained glass will be placed in front of a new ENERGY STAR window to ensure its efficiency and will be backlit so it can shine at night.

“To have a big, spacious house like this and not have it feel cold, integrating these antique materials really softens it and makes it more comfortable,” John Jacob explains.

Historic Foundations

David Flom has lived with his wife, Karen, and their third-grade son Colin, in a Tudor-style home in Appleton for the past 11 years. About two years into their occupancy, however, something had to go.

“The existing kitchen floor was linoleum,” David says. “I wasn’t a big fan.”

He debated installing a tile floor to replace the underwhelming linoleum but quickly decided that the home, originally built in 1936, called for a warmer touch with hardwood floors.

David discovered the beams of his dreams at Urban Evolutions in Menasha, a reclamation company that supplies salvaged materials for home renovations and new constructions, with help from co-owner Jeff Janson.

Janson had recently salvaged flooring and timbers from the Gilbert Paper Company, also in Menasha. The company had been sold and many of the original buildings on the 14-acre property where torn down throughout the late 1990s.

One of these structures was a barn that once housed horses––an integral part of the Gilbert Paper Company team. In addition to sheltering the animals and wagons, which served in lieu of tractors, it also functioned as a blacksmith station and was later used as warehouse storage.

“There are more barns in Wisconsin than anywhere. We are in the heart of where this material is coming from,” Jacob says.

Luckily for the Floms, the barn’s demolition meant an abundance of beautiful maple flooring planks just ripe for the picking. At first it was the price that attracted David, who purchased the salvaged wood for considerably less than what he had priced at larger retail stores, but the reclaimed flooring provided other advantages as well.

“It was a wood that you couldn’t get easily at any of the big stores,” he adds. “I liked that it was something different.”

Because the original barn wood floor was top-nailed, small, circular lesions the size of a nail head is visible in each plank. These blemishes that some may see as flaws were in fact a selling point for David.

“Those imperfections are what call out the story in the future,” says Robin Janson, co-owner of Urban Evolutions. “The unevenness of the boards, that’s what people feel under their feet and show that it had a life before it got to your home.”

The Flom residence on River Drive overlooks the Fox River—the very reason Gilbert Paper Company was able to prosper in the first place.

The water power harnessed by the Fox Valley’s early paper mills possessed 47,000 potential horsepower or six percent of the entire available water power in the United States at the time. It was with the help of this immense, natural power that Gilbert Paper Company quickly climbed the ranks of the area paper mills. By 1892, at only five years old, it was the second largest paper mill operating in Neenah-Menasha.

The Fox Valley’s legacy of quality paper production and prosperity is played out in more ways than one at the Flom residence, whether by gazing out the bay window onto the churning water that fueled the mills themselves or by walking on the wood that supported their weight. Either way, the history bursting forth has a way of wrapping its arms around you and making you feel quite at home indeed.

Tomorrow’s Past

What does the future hold for reclaimed material? So much of the novelty with salvaged goods is that they are no longer produced in the way they once were. What was once hand-forged is now machine-made. What then was one-of-a-kind is now mass-produced.

Will future generations have the same opportunities to reclaim the goods of our modern era?

Jacob, who has seen an increased interest in utilizing reclaimed materials, believes so.

“We’re still using solid two-by-fours,” Jacob says. “In 100 years, they won’t be solid anymore. The future is composite wood that’s cast into a shape. In these solid two-by-fours you can see the real wood grain. In the future, that’s what people will go nuts for.”

—By Amelia Compton

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