In 1950, Tim Nummela’s great-grandfather built a cabin in Stover, Missouri, on a quiet 3-acre lake. To Nummela, a child who moved with his family every seven years to and from Kansas City and St. Louis, the cabin on the lake was his “place.”
“I have always lived in the suburbs, but I feel like a country boy because I learned to drive on those gravel roads and have always had that exposure to the countryside,” Nummela says. “My mom always said growing up [that] I looked like I was ready to run off into the woods, that I was geared up with my cargo pants and always, always had my hiking boots on, ready to tear off some place.”
With such a passion for rural living, it’s no surprise that Nummela found his calling in the countryside.
“Every Midwesterner drives down the highway and sees all these barns falling apart and all this old wood,” Nummela says. “We started taking down these barns and making cool stuff with it.”
Thus, in July 2013, Rustic Grain was born. What started as a collaborative effort resulted in Nummela running the show.
Rustic Grain specializes in designing and creating custom furniture from salvaged barns from across the Midwest. Although the company’s main focus is creating beautiful, impactful dining room tables, Rustic Grain also makes chairs, benches, walls, cabinets, solid-wood casework and chandeliers – all on a custom basis.
“The sky’s the limit in terms of what projects we will do,” Nummela says. What sets Rustic Grain apart from other artisan furniture-makers, though, is its stories.
Each product created by Rustic Grain has a brass tag that contains five pieces of information: the town the barn was in, the age of the barn or approximate “born-on” date, the reborn date, the latitude and longitude, and a unique search code. The search code can be used on the Rustic Grain website to view the history of the client’s one-of-a-kind creation.
“[For] each piece we put out, our clients can see what that piece began as,” Nummela says. “Maybe they can’t see what it looked like 150 years ago, but they can see what it looked like before we took it down.”
From idea to fruition, each piece created by Rustic Grain goes through an extensive process, with an approximate eight-week lead time. Clients must first set up a meeting with Nummela, who will sit down with them to discuss their individual wants and needs for a custom piece.
“We want to be focused on them the whole time,” Nummela says. “That’s the great part about custom furniture: It’s more than just a process between you and the wood. You get to engage with these great people.”
In-house designer Matthew Roeleveld then designs the bespoke piece, which can take up to two weeks.
Before Roeleveld can get to work, though, Rustic Grain’s partner reclaimers dismantle the barn that will be used for a given piece. All surface nails are removed from the wood, and it is delivered to the Rustic Grain workshop near Crestwood, where it is treated for any possible insects. From there, it is scanned with a metal-detector wand for additional nails and other metals, like buckshot, that could have penetrated the wood over time. It is then milled.
“We are very careful,” Nummela says. “We want nice, straight, square, flat pieces to make tabletops that are practical so that you get a chance to celebrate the character of the wood every day without necessarily putting up with the flaws. We want to turn all of those flaws and deformations into something that can be enjoyed.”
Nummela says all employees who join the Rustic Grain team are thoroughly trained on the balance between exposing new wood for a flat surface and leaving the aged saw marks, all while balancing those with the natural woodgrain.
“We are looking at the character of the wood through a window of its past so that [its] story is told on all levels,” Nummela says. “We have the story we have created in the last maybe month or two, then the saw marks that were made on this wood 100 years ago, then you see the grain of the wood, the annual growth rings that the tree made as it grew 70, 80, 100 years before the barn was even built. There are just these layers of the story.”
Nummela says he is consistently asked how to care for Rustic Grain’s tables and assures clients not to be afraid of damaging their piece.
“There is such a rich story over maybe 200, sometimes 250 years, of this wood growing from a seedling to being chopped down to being used and reused,” Nummela says. “Why wouldn’t you want it to be a part of your kids banging on it with knives and forks waiting for dinner, things like that? It’s really beautiful when I think about these pieces going into the home of a family and becoming part of the family.”
Once each piece of wood is milled to the desired aesthetic, it is cut, glued, given intricate joinery, assembled and delivered.
“That is the best part,” Nummela says. “When I get to go on deliveries, it’s like we are old friends.”
Today, Rustic Grain is going on five years of business.
“I have the same hopes for Rustic Grain that I have for myself and for my family – that we grow and get better at what we do,” Nummela says.
Rustic Grain is certainly growing, and soon, so is the Nummela family; come April, Nummela and his wife will welcome a baby boy to the world.
“I hope he can find fulfillment in his life like I have found,” Nummela says. “This is exactly where I want to be.”
Although far from the quiet of a woodland retreat, some might say Nummela has found his new “place.”
Rustic Grain, 9420 Watson Industrial Park, St. Louis, 314-690-3633, rusticgrain.com