By Shelby Deering | Photography by Holly Leitner
On a quiet piece of land 10 minutes outside of downtown Elkhorn, there’s a place that absorbs inspiration from the neighboring farms that surround it. Follow a gravel driveway to a well-weathered barn, then head toward the sounds of saws hard at work and the smell of sawdust. That’s where you’ll find Heritage Beam and Board, a living, breathing tribute to buildings and farms of bygone eras that were constructed using old-growth, tried-and-true materials.
Seth Hanson and Emily Krauklis are the proud owners of this company that’s equal parts salvage and craftsmanship. Their team painstakingly takes down storied barns and buildings piece by piece, foreseeing futures for them that lie beyond the scrap pile. The materials are transformed into beams, doors, flooring, mantels, countertops, walls and furniture, each waiting to add history and originality to homes and businesses.
Krauklis puts it well, saying, “It is an awesome thing to be able to take something old and otherwise discarded, not given the ability to get to its full potential, and we pull as much as we can out of these materials that are nonrenewable. We get as much as we can out of them, bringing joy and fun things to our customers.”
Hanson echoes the sentiment. “You see this old barn and you think, ‘Oh shoot, that’s an old, dilapidated barn.’ But you just have to spend a little time with [the materials] and you’ve got to treat them right. And then they’ll end up treating you right because of how unique and special they are. There’s heritage in those boards and structures.”
And that’s how their company started.
CONTINUING THE STORY
With a tagline of “We Continue the Story,” it’s not surprising that Heritage Beam and Board has an interesting story of their own, one that started when Hanson and his best friend Adam Krauklis met as kids. They’ve been inseparable ever since, sharing a passion for building and restoring.
The turning point for them was in 2009 when the two approached a farmer about taking down his barn to salvage wood for their own home projects. Hanson was working as a general contractor, while Krauklis owned a drywall business. As the two began discovering more and more barns, they launched a full-fledged business in 2011. As the pace picked up, Hanson says that “we more or less needed to focus on the business and give it the respect due,” so Hanson made the decision to go full-time. That’s when Krauklis’ wife Emily stepped in, taking over for Adam.
The real turning point for Emily was when the company started building furniture from salvaged materials, that’s when she lightheartedly said, “I wanna play.” She had been working as freelance graphic designer, creating visuals for educational publishing companies and a ministry. She also designed Heritage Beam and Board’s logo.
Now as a co-owner, Krauklis calls upon her creativity and design background to consult with customers and guide the process of constructing one-of-a-kind fixtures and pieces. The showroom, a fascinating assemblage of found treasures—cavalcades of pulleys, vintage signs and examples of their work—is open by appointment only. To craft a custom piece, customers take part in a consultation that consists of viewing materials, sketching and brainstorming.
Once a piece is approved, it goes to production—also known as where the magic happens.
PIECES WITH A PAST
In a workroom where sawdust flies, furniture and installations are handcrafted from old-growth materials. Hanson clarifies this term, saying, “Old growth means trees that were left to grow naturally in their place. They grew to be nice, big trees that weren’t farmed to grow as fast as possible.”
Midwestern farmers and building owners call Heritage Beam and Board to demolish structures that have lived out their lives but still brim with high-quality, usable materials. Wood from a barn once used as a hideout by gangster Meyer Lansky was turned into a bar and purchased by Terry Bradshaw, former NFL quarterback and longtime TV sports analyst. Waals Department Store was gleaned of its floor joists, which now reside in booths at Harpoon Willies in Williams Bay. The materials of old barns have found their way into wine cellars, great rooms and businesses from Lake Geneva to Chicago.
Hanson says, “Instead of growing a new tree and cutting it down as fast as possible to grow another, we’re utilizing beams and boards and all kinds of fun things that represent old-growth forests from up north. We’re talking 300-yearold trees that were cut and made into beams and stood for 150 years as a barn.”
He also loves that each piece of material has a story to tell. “The material has markings on it from hoof marks or whatever it went through. Each board has a story. Utilizing new materials is fine, too, but boy, what a unique thing it is that each board has the story that it has. You can bang up new wood [to make it look old], but it’s just banged-up wood.”
A FAMILY FOUNDATION
While Heritage Beam and Board decidedly has its roots in the past and historic materials, it’s equally rooted in the importance of family.
With a business model focused on a simple phrase—“Every day, do your best”— Krauklis and Hanson lead a team of six employees, a few of whom are connected by family ties. Two carpenters are brothers. Hanson’s brother Ben does the company’s photography. Emily’s brother-in-law Chris has been with them since the beginning. The headquarters are situated on the Hanson family’s land.
Hanson says that if you were to ask the team, they would say that “it’s a Heritage family.” Even if they’re not related by blood, the carpenters, bookkeeper, business coach, accountant and freelance finishers and carpenters feel as though they’re part of the lineage, too.
“It’s just a great team of people that are all looking to do something cool together,” Hanson says.
And cool it certainly is. Krauklis says, “It’s pretty masterful carpentry. It takes a certain temperament to do this. It takes persistence, and it’s a little bit cowboyish because these materials will make you angry and you have to wrestle them a little bit. You have to be able to power through and get to the level that we require. They’re tough guys is what they are.”
It’s a dedication that translates into every piece that leaves Heritage Beam and Board’s workroom.
Krauklis says, “We aim to do a really great job in everything. It’s what we do every day. We just want to do our best every day in whatever arena we’re in.”
HISTORY MEETS THE FUTURE
As Krauklis and Hanson look at the future of their business, they see growth, even to the point of moving into a new location, located less than a mile from their current facility.
They see a heightened commitment to making pieces that will last for decades, especially as consumers continue to buy items with a short shelf life. And they’ll remain faithful to the customers who Krauklis describes as “excited about the story.”
“It seems like everybody’s quick to grab something new and move along from it,” Hanson says. “We want to build things that will stand the test of time. We encourage people to look underneath the table and not just look at the top, because underneath, it’s not pressboard. It’s the real-deal, solid stuff.”