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Fine finish for recycled wood

A thick, laminated, cutting board-type dining table drew a lot of attention at the Bluegrass Green Expo last month in Lexington's Convention Center.

One of the pieces in Many Moons Design's "mixed species" collection, it features a colorful lineup of 1-inch-wide stripes of many kinds of wood, including white oak, red gum, cherry, wormy chestnut, beech, maple, elm, sycamore, poplar and walnut.

Benches, consoles and butcher blocks are made using the same technique. Because much of the wood used is left over from other projects, the composition varies, but the beauty of the natural beiges, browns and greens shines in all.

Laura and Tommy Whittaker, owners of Many Moons Design, make the products from salvage wood.

During the past seven years, they have produced furniture and flooring from found and reclaimed wood. They're also in the business of relocating log cabins and old barns, transforming them from unwanted eyesores to sought-after treasures.

How did the Whittakers get started with this green business?

Laura Whittaker has always been what she calls a "junker," going to yard sales in Mount Sterling as a child, with her grandmother Faye Young, and l ooking for old silver to bring home and shine up.

Where other people saw a pile of junk, she says, she saw "diamonds in the rough in a magical box, brimming with possibilities."

Years later, after earning a degree in design from Eastern Kentucky University, she was still polishing and fixing up her antiquing finds, this time reselling them along with creations such as picture frames and curio cabinets she had assembled from pieces of wood she had salvaged.

Perhaps a turning point was when she made a cabinet from trim wood found outside a remodeled Kenwick neighborhood bungalow, or the barn that she and Tommy Whittaker took apart by hand after seeing that it was about to be bulldozed. Then there was a Jim Beam distillery, with quarter-sawn oak just right for an Arts and Crafts-style bookcase. Little by little, the woodworking business grew. Tommy quit his job as a certified public accountant, and the couple worked full-time on wood reclamation.

They found diverse opportunities to reuse collected wood. They milled horse fencing into tongue-and-groove oak flooring, made custom tables for upper-end retail designers, and trucked hand-hewn beams, salvaged from falling-down barns in Kentucky, to Napa Valley, Calif., for a custom-designed open-ceilinged home.

Some sawdust from the milling, now done in a cooperative mill in southern Indiana, is donated to the Kentucky Horse Park for bedding; some is formed into pellets and used as fuel for heating and kiln-drying at the mill.

Overhead is low because they operate mainly through the Internet (www.manymoonsdesign.com), from a home office and in the field at salvage sites.

"That allows me to do what is important to me: save the wood," Laura Whittaker says.

One of the Whittakers' local projects was the woodwork for the conveyor belt sushi bar at School restaurant's on Old Todds Road. Another was flooring for Millard Blakey, owner of WreckCREATIONS, a remodeling company. It was used when he renovated his Lexington home, a project that earned a Green Build Kentucky certificate.

When Keith Clark was restoring a more than century-old building on Jefferson Street in Lexington's historical Western Suburb, he asked the Whittakers for help. Once the old Ballard market, it reopened last month as Grey Goose Bar, a neighborhood pub.

Floor joists made of poplar heartwood were milled into flooring for an upstairs apartment and for trim on the building's front. Many Moons Design also brought in flooring recycled from 40-year old white, red and black oak fence planks from horse farms.

Clark says he loves the colors and grain, which mingle with and match a rich-looking 150-year-old bar backing that he found in Philadelphia.

"Wood makes people feel comfortable," Whittaker says, "and no new trees were cut to make this flooring."

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