Small Business Spotlight + Giveaway: Salt Wood Co.

Saltwood Co - Charleston Cabinets - 3 Fairway Village - PhotosByPatrickBrickman-2
Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

Based out of Charleston, South Carolina, Salt Wood Co. specializes in giving reclaimed barn wood a second life with beautifully handcrafted furniture and sliding doors.

Keep reading to take a trip behind the scenes and into the workshop with founder Vann Cochran, PLUS enter for a chance to win a piece of Salt Wood Co. furniture for your home!

Salt Wood Co - Fall17 Crafted In Charleston - Photography by Patrick Brickman-34Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

South Carolina Lowcountry native Vann Cochran knows a thing or two about reinvention. After working as a home-builder for twenty-five years in Columbia, Cochran found himself facing a dwindling housing market in 2003, just a few years ahead of the crash. “Things weren’t quite as booming as they are now,” he recalls. “I was ready for something different, ready to reinvent myself.”

The pursuit of reinvention brought Cochran back to Charleston, where he would eventually find new business prospects (and a new business partner) in a small-scale bed swing operation. “The bed swing was my partner’s idea, his hobby,” Cochran says. “I suggested that we become partners and turn his hobby into a business.”

As far as reinventions go, the bed swing business proved to be a success: in their second years of business, the new company had built and shipped over 250 bed swings across the country. “Ultimately, partnerships are tough,” Cochran admits. “I invited him to buy me out after two and a half years.”

Cochran didn’t miss a beat, and in 2013 he formed Salt Wood Co. Specializing in one-of-a-kind handcrafted furniture made from reclaimed barn wood, the company is an easy parallel to Cochran’s own life and business experience: a story of reinvention.

Much like Cochran’s career has been reinvented — from home builder to furniture designer — each piece of reclaimed wood that passes through his workshop gets a similar new lease on life; from barn wood to future family heirloom.

“The beauty of these barns and tearing them down and re-purposing them is that if you don’t tear it down and re-purpose it, it’s just going to rot and all go to waste,” Cochran explains. “The right thing to do is give it another life, and that’s what we do.”

Saltwood Co - Charleston Cabinets - 3 Fairway Village - PhotosByPatrickBrickman-2
Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

After the bed swing partnership ended, how did you start Salt Wood Co?

I took all of that energy and used it in starting Salt Wood. I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life, self-employed all my life and really just took everything that I had learned from the bed swing business and changed the product and started a new company. I took the money from the porch swing business and went out and bought a shop full of tools, then I had to figure out how to use them. I was the first employee.

What was the first piece of furniture that you built for Salt Wood?

I started out making wooden boxes of all shapes and sizes. The first thing I made was a coffee table. In that first four weeks when I opened, I lived downtown Charleston. They were remodeling part of the Vendue Inn on East Bay Street and I noticed they were throwing some old pine in their construction dumpster. I went by and introduced myself to the superintendent and we became fast friends.

He called me one day and said, ‘I got a bunch of beams I gotta get out of my way,’ so I went down there and I was blessed with a hundred heart pine wood beams. Heart pine comes from old growth pre-historic pine trees that covered the southeast — they’re all gone now, they were harvested for lumber and cleared out in the late 1800s, but heart pine is indicative of a grain pattern — it grows slow — and it’s unique.

Salt Wood Co - Fall17 Crafted In Charleston - Photography by Patrick Brickman-17
Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

Speaking of pine, one of the things that makes your pieces so unique is that you source wood that already has history. What’s the process of sourcing wood from old buildings or barns?

I got a guy who lives in Rock Hill, and he has been traveling around the southeast as a long-haul truck driver for years, and in the midst of that he has been collecting contacts. They’re the ones that actually go take down the barn and process the wood — that means they take the nails out, sort by species of wood — and he’s the one who goes and finds the wood in Western Virginia and brings it to his depot in Rock Hill. I go once a month and buy wood from him. He’s always finding rare things. I’ve got a hand hewn beam that came out of an Amish barn built in the 1800s.

What are some of your most interesting sources for wood?

I have been known to dive into dumpsters in downtown Charleston. It’s a great source of mostly pine and cypress. We’ve stripped and used pallet wood — it has some unique character, it’s oak, it’s strong. And none of its perfect. If I wanted perfect, I’d go to Lowe’s and buy something. Perfect doesn’t have a story, and it’s not much fun to work with.

Salt Wood Co - Fall17 Crafted In Charleston - Photography by Patrick Brickman-21
Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

From a design or production standpoint, how do you add your own character or influence to a project, while still maintaining the natural character of the wood?

Like everything, there’s a balance to turning these dirty or old boards into a piece of furniture. The balance is achieved when you clean it and straighten it up enough that you can turn it into a piece of furniture without removing the character. After we sand and plane it, we call that ‘comfortable with character.’ The client ultimately determines how much character we take out of it to make it comfortable. You wouldn’t believe the stuff we’ve dug out of this wood — iron nails, screws, bullets. We found a bullet in a piece of wood the other day.

Are there any challenges to working with reclaimed wood?

The random challenge is that it’s not perfect. And you want a piece of furniture that’s structurally sound, so some of it just goes to waste because it’s already rotten. The majority is in pretty good shape. That’s the challenge of what we do: take this nasty gnarly wood and turn it into something. Our mission is to fully realize that the wood we work with is appreciably older than we are, and by that it deserves every bit of time and patience to re-purpose it in a way that ensures it last long after we’re gone.

Do you have a favorite project or piece that you’ve created?

That would have to be my dining room table. It’s 3’ wide and we used three 12’ boards and they were all identical boards. It’s got a unique design, the legs and the base of it, and we’ve resold that design to a dozen customers so that’s very gratifying — for them to see a photo and go, ‘Oh I like that table, can you make one for me.’

Salt Wood Co - Fall17 Crafted In Charleston - Photography by Patrick Brickman-54
Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

What would you say is your most popular product or design, or what are you best known for?

That’s a toss up. Right now, barn doors are hot. That’s the name of the game right now. New construction in Mount Pleasant is booming, you can’t get down the street for the trucks. And because of that, people are incorporating reclaimed wood in their houses by way of doors and furniture.

Tell me more about your process of working with customers to create a piece. How customized is every order?

Every order is custom, there’s very few things we do over and over again. It seems people find us through an organic web search, 95% of my customers live within 5 minutes of my shop. It usually starts out with an email or inquiry through the website. I encourage them to send me pictures of what they like or don’t like, and then get them in the shop, and we’ll sketch out what we think they want until we get it right. Then we price it out and give them a proposal and do a working drawing. Once we have the working drawing we put it in line to be made and deliver that to them in 6 – 8 weeks.

Salt Wood Co - Fall17 Crafted In Charleston - Photography by Patrick Brickman-56
Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

What inspires your design process?

I have a guy in the back, Walter, and he has a degree in furniture design and construction from the University of Massachusetts, so it’s a very formal training and he’s the artist in the group. The artist with wood. The stuff he loves to create wouldn’t sell around here, and if it did, it would sell for thousands of dollars, but it’s got a small market.

So we take his designs and nail them to my production perspective and come up with a formula that seems to work, a balance between what we build and sell. We call ourselves a custom wood working shop with a custom attitude. Some of my competitors would be glad to build you a table, but you be prepared to wait 6-8 months. I think people lose interest waiting more than 6-8 weeks.

Salt Wood Co - Fall17 Crafted In Charleston - Photography by Patrick Brickman-44
Photography by Patrick Brickman (@pjbrick7) for Charleston Home + Design Magazine (@chdmag)

Is there any custom job that you would say ‘no’ to?

Cabinets [laughs]. Any perfect woodworking. People ask if we’ll do built-ins… no. The tools we’re forced to use for these gnarly types of wood aren’t the tools you want to use for super fine woodworking.

Have you had many customers that bring in their own wood, that might have a sentimental meaning or history behind it?

Oh yeah. Lots of people have done that — I had the family tree that was the central tree that was in front of the family farm in the family for generations, the big tree out front died and they had it turned into boards, milled and dried, and we made them a house full of furniture for them. We’ve worked with flooring, I’ve got a piece in my foyer that came from the cistern — the water tank — from a house in Charleston.

What’s the environment like at your shop?

It’s really kind of laid back and fun. We don’t get too intense around here, can’t afford to. Laid back and fun would be a good way to describe it. We start at 7 a.m. and knock off at 3 in the afternoon. Once you get used to the hours, it’s not so bad.

What is your vision for the future, and how do you plan to expand your business over the next few years?

The long-term growth of Mount Pleasant has a rosy picture in front of it. We will build what the market asks for and stick to custom wood working. It could be that reclaimed is not always going to remain the most popular thing, but I think a certain element of modern and rustic will always appeal to people.

You can see more of Salt Wood Co.’s beautiful custom designs and timeless reclaimed woodwork at www.saltwoodco.com


Salt Wood Co. has very generously offered to give away this handmade stool from their collection to ONE lucky Accidental Suburbanites reader! Head on over to our Instagram (@accidentalsuburbanites) for details!

CALLING ALL SMALL BUSINESSES: If you’d like to see your small business or company featured in an upcoming Small Business Spotlight profile or discuss other partnership opportunities, start the conversation by reaching out here!

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About Accidental Suburbanites

Just a couple of kids turning a house into a home, one Pinterest fail at a time.
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