The wood, harvested more than a century ago from deep inside Southern forests, is being reclaimed by salvagers across the country. Today, the timber is a rare find naturally. Because of its popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries, the uniquely durable timber has been largely depleted. The South Richmond firm counts itself among the first to make its mark in the industry recycling the rare wood.
“It’s not demolition or salvage anymore,” Moore says of the work. “It’s deconstruction.” His business brings in specialized equipment to haul heart pine beams away from old factories and warehouses and prepares them for new lives as fine flooring, furniture or even buildings.
There’s a growing market for the material, not from the standard-issue construction industry, but from purists who see price as no barrier and age as no disadvantage.
“You’re starting off with the absolute best materials and you attract those types of clients,” Moore says. “One client built a golf room right on the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, with six holes and a driving range and a clubhouse. There were 80 species of wood in that house. These are projects where a bathroom might cost $160,000, where they spend about $4,000 a square foot and take eight to ten years to complete. They’re Vanderbilt-level, monumental quality, top-tier master-craftsmen homes. The clients want to have what nobody else has.”
He recounts an example: “Once we sent some cypress by next-day air to a German millwork shop to make a door. By the time it got back to the client’s house in Palm Beach, it cost 50 grand.”
Moore is shipping 18 cargo containers of heart pine to Portugal, for a designer and builder of luxury hotels known for his spectacular oceanfront resorts and exacting standards. Richmond heart pine is also on its way to China for a new Hilton Hotel, and is being used for the restoration of Montpelier, the home of James Madison. It’s in the Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot and in the ceiling of a Mediterranean-style mansion under construction in Ashland.
For their huge houses in Goochland, Hanover and New Kent counties, Moore says some clients will spend a half-million dollars on heart pine flooring to achieve a timeless look that newer materials can’t imitate. “We put a lot of material into Dover Hall. People who are really in the know understand that this material is true low-maintenance, it’s strong and beautiful. With high quality materials, that’s why they’re still around hundreds of years later.”
Moore says the company takes pains to accommodate every desire. “A lot of our clients come to us because they keep hearing ‘No.’ Our answer is always ‘Yes, it’s just a function of price.’ Heart pine can take on many different looks, from the most formal of rooms with 15-member millwork to a mountain hunting shack with rough-sawn beams, the whole gamut.”
Moore is a major supplier for Colonial Williamsburg. Timothy Edwards, millwork shop foreman for the historic village, says heart pine’s durability and decay resistance make it an optimal choice for buildings there. “I haven’t found a material that’s better suited for the things that we do,” he says. “We use it a lot in the historic area for interior floors that go down unfinished, without wax or anything, and they have to stand up to a lot of wear and tear.” It’s also used for lamp posts, signs, stair treads and porches.
And while visitors may not recognize the specifics of the wood, they appreciate its authentic flavor. “Details are the important things,” Edwards says, “because you see one detail and it makes you seek out others.” Such is the case with Moore’s high-end clients, whose awareness of details defines their motivation to build for posterity.
Inside Moore’s sprawling Hopkins Road plant, history is a tangible commodity. Warehouses hold ancient timbers, countless tons of boards and beams, and an unexpected collection of old cars, buggies, sulkies and a covered wagon. “Can you imagine going 3,000 miles in that?” Moore asks as he surveys the well-preserved, blue-painted wagon parked next to an old Miller & Rhoads delivery truck.
This unofficial museum is a fitting introduction to the family business. Moore points out a hefty pine log that was first slashed for tree sap by men who stood on their horses to cut as far up a trunk as they could reach. Hash marks are still visible on its graying skin. In its second life, the pine brought its strength to a factory, hauled by a railroad car after being dragged through the woods toward the tracks. The third incarnation for this beam is whatever Moore’s clients can dream up – a spiral staircase, an elaborately carved mantel, even a fancy boardwalk.
Moore says his father, always a history buff and “a wood nut,” started the business 35 years ago with the demolition of the old Richmond mule barn at Second and Decatur streets. Now the company operates in a network of suppliers and clients, pulling beams from old structures throughout the country and reclaiming their value as symbols of a rugged past.
“When we tear this stuff down using machines and we’re working on the fourth or fifth story, we think about the poor dude who built this, how heavy and hard it was,” Moore says, shaking his head. “It’s not the pyramids, but it’s close.” S
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