About Green Design


The essence of sustainable architecture, in part, is the attempt to reduce the collective environmental impact of the entire building process-from planning through construction to the lifecycle of the building itself. A component of this process is the reuse or recycling of building material. At Reclamation Lumber we’ve discovered, somewhat inadvertently, that our business embodies many of the central tenets of the green building movement-reducing the pressure to cut new forest and recycling existing building material that might otherwise have been destined for a landfill.

While looking for a suitable property to house our remanufacturing plant in 2002 we discovered a former trolley garage in New Haven, Connecticut located in one of the city’s Enterprise zones where the city provides tax incentives for redevelopment. As a brownfield site the building was forlorn and neglected and, with few interested buyers at the time, would have eventually been demolished. As the building and site suited our needs we decided to embark upon one of our most satisfying “reclamation” endeavors. Working in conjunction with the City of New Haven Economic Development Council to purchase the site while the State of Connecticut DEP led the brownfield clean-up, we were able to move in and upgrade the structure to meet our needs and all State codes. This process affirmed for us our on-going commitment to the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability.

As craftspeople, we at Reclamation Lumber have long been aware of the magnificent properties of old-growth wood—unmatched dimensional stability (ability to withstand changes in humidity), unique grain-patterning, and the beautiful patina that old wood acquires. Our goal is to salvage structural timber and planking from mill buildings and barns destined for demolition, remanufacture this material, and then to market it to architects and builders for reuse in 21st-century buildings.

Old-growth forests are virtually extinct: They are no longer commercially viable sources for building materials. But as the supply of these trees is decreasing, the demand is growing for materials with the exceptional characteristics of this nonrenewable resource. What remains today, mostly third and fourth-growth trees, bears little resemblance to the original woodlands encountered by the colonists. Those forests are preserved, now, only in the older homes and factories of our country. As “progress” leaves many of these buildings obsolete and redevelopment obliterates them, the challenge arises: How can the original building material, whether it is timber, brick, or stone, be reallocated? That question gave rise to the work we do-selectively “mining” the industrial forest. Our days are spent in not only reclaiming but remanufacturing vintage timber for the adaptive reuse of this precious resource.

The recycling of these once-mighty trees adds a dimension to today’s home that approaches the sublime. The patina, the texture of the wood, and the smooth, mellow tonality of its color and grain work together to produce ecological and aesthetic harmony.

The motivation for sustainable design was originally voiced in E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 book Small is Beautiful. An esteemed economist who had worked as Chief Economic Advisor to the National Coal Board in England, Schumacher produced a series of essays which coincided with the energy “crisis” of 1973 and the ensuing emergence of ecological concern and the rise of environmentalism. At Reclamation Lumber we are proud to be a small part of designing and building with sustainability in mind. We have provided a few links to information we have found to be helpful, inspiring and encouraging.






Judy Swann
Green design consultant
Interior design/marketing business
Development Environmental Initiatives
[email protected]


Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard

All text and photography by Philip Dutton. For more, please visit www.philipduttonphoto.com