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The Antique Lumber Company of Montauk

Harvesters of the forgotten.

Recycle.

Reinvent.

Reclaim.

Wide plank flooring... Siding... Accent Walls... Beams... Custom Furniture... Kitchens... Bathrooms... Built-Ins... Frames... 

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

 

Driftwood Is Not a Species

Be careful what you wish for.

Carving out a successful business in Montauk is no easy task.

Not very long ago, Long Island's easternmost hamlet was an afterthought to New York City's migratory herd during the summer months. Either too remote… separated from the chic "Hamptons" by the Napeague Stretch… or simply too rough around the edges. Perhaps the scent of lobster traps drying in the sun was no match for that of fresh cut grass tennis courts.

But somewhere along the way, this funky beach town (which could seamlessly be relocated in Southern California or Eastern Australia under the disguise of moonlight)… this place my family has called home for now four generations… has suddenly appealed to the masses.

The weekend warriors have exchanged their golf clubs for spinning rods, their polo ponies and mallets for stand up paddle boards. And everyone wants to be a surfer. NYC has embraced the grit… and without asking anyone's permission… has made Montauk chic.

As inexplicably as a working class family will, without hesitation, wear Mickey Mouse ears during their Disney vacation, so too do the new summer folk of Montauk have a costume: fedoras and lightweight scarves. It's actually more of a uniform… a compulsory statement declaring with absolute certainty that they are on vacation.

But with that flare for fashion also comes an understanding, appreciation and desire to also have a slice of design, decor and architecture. That is where we come in. It was no mistake that we opened the Antique Lumber Company of Montauk on Main Street three summers ago. The timing was right. The influx of interest to this corner of the world has equated to curious weekenders evolving into summer renters, and for some… second homeowners. A select few have purchased and resurrected old businesses here. This is not a trend. Montauk has been discovered.

Ten years ago, many locals would have fought this realization, myself included. But simply add children of our own, mortgages, and the fact that the majority of real Montaukers own their own businesses, and it becomes evident that to fight is not only a dubious battle, but one that is counterproductive to our own quality of life.

So now I sell reclaimed Chestnut barn board for $16 per square foot and take my family to Mexico in February.

Nonetheless… my newfound harmony is occasionally disrupted.

It is important to understand that The Antique Lumber Co knows the story for all of its material. No matter if it is a 3" thick live-edge slab of Maple that was milled from a 40' tall tree in the Smokey Mountains, or a 20' long hand-hewn beam salvaged from a 19th century barn in Western Pennsylvania… we know what the species is… we know where it came from… and we know what we had to do to get it here.

Which, if you think about it… is the exact opposite of how driftwood gets to Montauk. 

Felled trees from Connecticut rivers are carried across the Block Island Sound and scatter the north shores of Montauk every autumn and winter. And with that delivery also arrives shards of marine construction (the scent of creosote still evident saturated into its grain), garbage, fishing lures, sea lice and any other flotsam and jetsam one could imagine.

And yet the word "driftwood" evokes a sense of exotic beauty to anyone who didn't grow up on the ocean. I suppose historians must feel the same way about how Hollywood has romanticized pirates. The unfortunate truth is that neither driftwood nor pirates are as nice as you think they are.

Last week, a customer patiently waited until I was finished speaking with another local builder. When I addressed him, he nervously stabbed his hands into the pockets of his skinny jeans and said, "I may not be in the right place… but do you make things out of driftwood?"

"No sir," I answered. "All of our material is kiln-dried and custom-milled. We also identify the wood by its species… and… driftwood is not a species."

Visibly not satisfied with my answer, he delved deeper into the exotic abyss, adding, "Well then… do you know of any place here in Montauk that would sell interesting individual pieces of driftwood, so that maybe I can build something myself?"

"Well," I said. "There's the beach… and all the wood you find there is free."

With that he twitched a smile and jerked a half nod before turning for the door. In the afternoon sun he adjusted the brim of his fedora and walked towards the south beaches… where there is no driftwood.

I watched the southwest winds gently lift the American flag in front of the shop. Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" played from the iPod dock. I walked through the showroom and into my wood shop and took a sip from a gallon of water, now at room temperature, and began sanding a cross-cut Spruce slab with a Walnut butterfly inlay. 

Completely content.

 

 

 

 

Walnut, Orioles and Asphalt

I waited about ten minutes for the beeswax to cloud before wiping it away with a clean, lint free rag… going with the grain, of course.

"How long did you figure this job to take?' asked Donnie. He had packed away all of tools into our respective trucks and now stood, watching me somewhat anxiously.

From its kennel, the homeowner's Westie yipped with the ferocity of a hairy marshmallow. The tiny beast was sequestered to its caged quarters in the kitchen after it bit the heel of my leather boot, and its high-pitched protest reverberated through the corridors of vaulted ceilings and into the den where Donnie and I stood.

"Four hours," I answered. The American Black Walnut mantel glowed with etherial matte finish warmth, as if it naturally grew in the space we'd just installed it by ways of sunlight and time. I folded the cloth and stuffed it into my jeans pocket, stepping down from the hearth… satisfied. It was perfect.

"We're coming up on that now," Donnie said. "If you want to make Maryland tonight, we've got to hit the road, man. "

"Yeah… okay Don."

"It looks beautiful, Jay… Come on, man, we've got to go. The L.I.E. is going to be a bitch."

With that, we pulled out of Lloyd Harbor, NY and headed west into the rain soaked taillights of rush hour. We lost each other in Queens, but neither driver seemed to care. Several quick phone calls and a half bag of sunflower seeds later, we shook hands again in Clinton, New Jersey. The rolling hills of Pennsylvania were silhouetted flat black to the west against the January sky. The clean, crisp air was cut with wisps of diesel fuel.  And we pressed on into the night.

Donnie knew of an old tavern in Fogelsville that served cold beer on tap to wash down the best prime rib within 100 miles. The waitresses were pretty, he said.  I followed his taillights. The rain had stopped and country music came in clear on several radio stations, taking the helm from the classic rock airwaves of Long Island. I wondered if the waitresses had tattoos. I was getting tired. Maryland would have to wait until tomorrow.

We had left the blinds open and I woke with the sun from the hotel room in Hamberg, Pennsylvania. Donnie was fast asleep in his bed, his five-year old female Boxer sprawled out above the covers next to him. She was a good dog. Some Boxers were spoiled and high strung, but she had been rescued by Donnie after he found her malnourished and abandoned in a park in Georgia two years earlier. He called her Parker.

Parker opted to ride with me in my warm pickup truck into Maryland. My coffee had not been long gone before we crossed the state line that morning, and soon after we pulled into the muddy property where our warehouse and mill stands in Clear Springs… just a few minutes from the center of Hagerstown.

American Black Walnut proved to be the species of the moment. I loaded a large tabletop, fabricated by our boys in MD, onto the lumber rack of my pickup, and shook Donnie's hand one last time. It would be 4-6 weeks until I'd see him and Parker again.

At 8 pm, Donnie called me and said he'd just arrived at his home in Franklin, North Carolina. His 11-year-old son, Jack, got on the phone to thank me for a Babe Ruth sign that I had bought him in Cooperstown, New York several weeks earlier. I said goodbye and I pulled into a driveway off Bull Path, in East Hampton, back on the East End of Long Island.

One more job to do.

Three beers and two hours later, one of the most beautiful tables we'd ever built was completed. It was a collaborative piece with Mike, our metal fabricator… who also happens to be an incredible sculptor. Mike, a Long Islander, wore an Orioles cap… I had seen a few of those that morning south of the Mason-Dixon line, and although I thought about asking why he wore one, I opted not to. I finished my beer and headed east to my sleeping wife and children in Montauk.

I needed to get some sleep.

Tomorrow was a big day.