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Smith & Vallee Woodworks renovate 1880s barn, create Tombstone Project

Jul 12th, 2011 | Category: Crafts

by Brent Cole

Smith and Vallee Woodworks have gained a reputation as being among the top woodworkers in the area. Owners Andrew Vallee and Wesley Smith, along with their team of six employees, use sustainably harvested and reclaimed wood to create beautiful furniture and artistic cabinetry. The team recently completed the renovation of a nearly 130-year-old barn in Edison, transforming it into their new woodworking space while using some of the old materials to create unique furniture. In conjunction with the grand opening of their new location on July 9, Smith & Vallee are featuring these pieces in a showing called The Tombstone Project through July.

In business for over 10 years – most of that time based out of a workshop in Deming – Smith and Vallee saw their business growing outside of Whatcom County and felt the need to move. When the  1880s barn (believed to be a livery stable – a public town barn back in the day) came on the market, the team purchased the property with the idea of creating a new, upgraded workshop and art studio space on the inside while maintaining the general structure of the barn; essentially a building inside of the building.

“It was completely a shell,” Andrew Vallee said. “There was no power, nothing.” He added, “Anybody in their right mind would’ve probably just knocked down the building.”

Smith and Vallee saw the building as “part of the town’s character” and wanted to maintain its appearance. Along with a handful of friends and skilled technicians, they spent a year and a half remodeling the barn. “We hired some people with construction skills to help us – but we generally contracted it ourselves.”

They increased the size by approximately one-third, built a second floor (rented out to one of their main artists, Todd Horton) and upgraded to three-phase power. “We upgraded everything. It’s a much more modern facility than our old one. We were able to think about it a lot more. Having the benefit of 10 years of experience we thought ‘Okay, let’s try and set it up right this time,’” Vallee said.

During the remodeling process, Smith and Vallee decided to get creative with the old materials coming out of the barn. “We had a ton of material that came out of this remodeling process,” Vallee said. “We thought wouldn’t it be cool to do something like the tree project – it was sort of a play on that idea.” Back in 2002, Smith and Vallee created a series of furniture using a sustainably harvested tree they had cut down, and used every single piece of the tree in the process.

As the windows, flooring and other materials were pulled from the barn, they were stored outside, under cover and able to dry out. Approximately three months ago, with the building now in full swing, they tackled the artistic portion of using the old materials, which wasn’t inherently easy, Vallee said. “Prepping the material is a little more labor intensive – pull the nails out, dry it, mill it, sand it. Sometimes we left the paint on there. On other ones we sanded it down,” he said about the pieces.

The end result is 15 pieces, ranging from a chest and jewelry display cabinet to conference table. Vallee is proud of all the pieces, but there are two that stand out as his favorites. “I really liked the glass jewelry display cabinet we made,” he said with pride,” adding “and the conference table.”

The pieces are on display in their art gallery in the nearby school house, a turn of the century building the team renovated five years ago that became the art gallery space as well as a home for Vallee, his wife and two kids. The gallery space features exhibitions every four to six weeks of revolving artists from around the Northwest.

The Smith & Vallee Gallery is located at 5742 Gilkey Avenue in Edison and is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit smithandvallee.com or call (360) 766-6230.

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