News

Bingham Lumber rebuilds Brookline showroom after fire, reassembles antique barn inside

Friday, March 7, 2014

BY IRENE LABOMBARDE

Staff Writer

BROOKLINE – When an electrical fire broke out in a warehouse at Bingham Lumber on Nov. 1, 2012, the results were devastating.

More than 100 firefighters from 15 towns fought the six-alarm fire, which destroyed the showroom, offices, woodworking shop, warehouse and samples shop. Fire Chief Charles Corey told The Telegraph it was one of the worst fires he had seen during his 35-year tenure.

The company was open for business the very next day even while the ashes were still smoldering. By mid-December, they had renovated space in a retail barn to use as offices, set up a temporary showroom and converted the old planner barn into a state-of-the-art woodshop. Cement was poured for a new foundation on New Year’s Eve, and within a few short months, the new showroom was built.

Unless you have visited the new showroom, however, it would be easy to drive right past and not know what treasure lies within. The facility looks rather ordinary on the outside, but inside is an antique barn that was taken apart in Virginia, transported to New Hampshire, and reassembled. It is fascinating and beautiful to see this more than 150-year-old structure inside a modern structure.

“Recycled wood and reclaimed wood is definitely a big part of our business,” said Thomas Bingham, president of Bingham Lumber. “When we were forced to rebuild, we thought it would be a great idea to erect a reclaimed barn inside our showroom.”

Reclaimed wood appeals to many customers because it has color variations, cracks and chips, and is often superior to newer wood in terms of density and stability.

“People ask all the time about where we get reclaimed wood,” Bingham said. “What you find in the forest today is pine, hemlock, red oak and chestnut. One of the most sought after woods is white oak, which is found from Western Pennsylvania to Ohio.”

Bingham works with a company that helps find quality structures to take down so he can reuse the wood. He had been searching for quite some time for the right barn to bring back to his showroom, and finally found it in Greenville, Va., on a 600-acre farm in the western part of the state. The barn, built in the 1860s, was no longer used, but the owners had emotional ties to it and didn’t want to lose it. It has been given another life here in Brookline.

“I was able to get out of town for eight or nine days and took part in dismantling it,” Bingham said. “The timbers on the first floor came out of a log home that was dismantled in 1860, and had been up for some time before that. It was a great experience learning the history and information on the property and building and then bringing it back here.”

A good old fashioned barn raising was held, and many local builders helped, particularly Razzaboni Home Builders, of Brookline.

“Razzaboni helped us get the timber frame up,” Bingham said. “We were really excited about the process.”

A vendor even came up from the South to help keep the process as authentic as possible. The barn was originally 90 feet long and 48 feet wide, but Bingham said he reduced the length to 38 feet to fit better inside the showroom while keeping the same cross-section. The rafters are open, with no roof, making it feel airy rather than heavy.

The barn gives the impression of being in the process of being disassembled, thus giving the viewer a sense of where the product came from, which is part of Bingham’s goal. The barn essentially serves as a visual aid to teach about old methods of construction, the reclaiming process, and which parts of old barns are reused for various purposes.

Although the fire was devastating, having to rebuild provided the chance to focus on reorganizing the layout to make it more customer-friendly, efficient and educational. On the floors and walls of the showroom are panels of different types of wood, and samples that show how different milling and finishing techniques can be used to create different looks. Administrative offices on the second floor are also decorated with different types of wood sold at the business.

A long wall of windows, salvaged from a factory in Virginia, separates the showroom from the warehouse where reclaimed wood is sold. Having the showroom and warehouse connected in this fashion allows customers to work with designers to select their materials and then drive around back to actually pick their order up. Other improvements include an extensive fire suppression and a new alarm system.

Photographs of the antique barn and its history line the walls of the showroom. An antique wagon, acquired during the trip to Virginia, stands inside the entrance to the showroom and holds small free samples of wood for customers to take home.

The showroom was completed last spring, just in time to host a silent auction fundraiser for the Brookline PTO on May 11. Bingham said the event generated a lot of foot traffic and interest in the new quarters. Although he hasn’t officially held an open house, plans are under way to do something this spring.

Bingham is grateful that no one – customers, employees, firefighters and even his dog, Hadley, who sleeps in a crate in the office – was injured in the fire and that the business was able to continue relatively seamlessly throughout the ordeal and rebuilding process.

“We couldn’t have done this without the support of our employees,” Bingham said. “Everyone showed up the next day (after the fire), ready to go. Customers and the local community, especially the Fire Department. The Fire Department didn’t stop when the fire was out. They are truly remarkable. You can drive by and watch from a distance and think you understand, but then you get a new appreciation for their professionalism. When you get great people working together, you can accomplish a lot in a short time.”

For more information, including photos of the antique barn and the showroom, time lapse videos of the construction of the new facility, and information about reclaimed wood and other products carried by Bingham Lumber, visit the Facebook page by visiting www.facebook.com and searching for Bingham Lumber.

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