Photo by Ash Daniel
Sam Sikes founded Wellborn + Wright in 2009.
When Sam Sikes sees a deteriorating barn or an abandoned warehouse, he doesn’t see decay — he sees potential. The founder of Wellborn + Wright has built a business out of reclaiming antique lumber and giving it new life in the form of wood flooring, beams, paneling and furniture.
The University of Richmond grad started out in 2009 making sales calls in the library and selling materials on eBay. Five years later, he manages 23 craftsmen and makers in a massive warehouse on Richmond’s Northside. You can see their workmanship locally in the rustic décor of restaurants like Fat Dragon, Pearl Raw Bar, Burger Bach and Tazza Kitchen.
R•HOME: Where do you find all of this wood?
Sam Sikes: We work mostly with demolition contractors to source the materials and they will contact us when they have something interesting that we may want to look at. If it looks like something we may be interested in, we make an offer. When they take down the building, they reserve the lumber and send it back here for us to process.
R•HOME: What makes wood “good” for you?
Sikes: What we’re looking for is old-growth wood. When a tree grows in a competitive environment, meaning a virgin forest, they tend to grow a lot taller and stronger. So when the settlers came to this country, there were basically all virgin trees — none of it had ever been cut down. Not only did [the trees] grow tall and strong, but they grew large, so that’s what we’re looking for.
R•HOME: Are there any areas that are particularly reliable sources of old-growth wood? Sikes: Right here. There are a lot of old structures and that’s a big part of it. Because it’s an agricultural community, we take down a lot of barns.
R•HOME: Do you ever worry that reclaimed wood might be a passing design trend?
Sikes: I don’t think sustainability and environmental consciousness are things that are trendy. Reclaimed wood may be a little trendy, but high-quality, hand-made wood floors are going to be around forever.
We want to make great products. With the machines that we have, we’ll always be able to do that regardless of what the trend is. I think this will be around for a long time, at least until the wood runs out.
R•HOME: Is there any real danger of that happening?
Sikes: It’s hard to predict. It’s easy to see when you’re flying over the countryside and you look down and see how many plots of land there are — those all have an old building on them. There were trillions of feet of material cut before 1900 in this country, and all of that was used and a good bit of it is reclaimable.
R•HOME: What inspired you to set up shop in Richmond?
Sikes: I like the city. There are a lot of historic buildings here. There’s a passion for restoration and design. There’s also a lot of talent here for workers. We get a lot of folks out of the art school at VCU.
R•HOME: What’s next for Wellborn + Wright?
Sikes: We hope to continue to grow and increase our capabilities. Hopefully we’ll continue to add [employees] and make more materials, come up with new ideas, create new things. Innovate, basically.