Browsing The Barn Company’s collection of upcycled curiosities
PUBLISHED: 14:47 14 May 2020
It’s the ultimate in 21st century sustainability and waste reduction, Tony Knights’ reclamation barn, where all sorts of surplus stuff is turned into on-trend, must-have items | WORDS & PHOTOS: Richard Ginger
This article was written prior to lockdown and all information should be checked before your visit
Childhood memories of precious time spent tinkering about in his grandfather’s shed and a later lightbulb moment while working on a building project triggered Tony Knights’ love for reclaiming, repurposing and up-cycling all manner of weird and wonderful things.
Today, as the proud proprietor of The Barn Company, a building clad in corrugated iron and weathered barn wood behind Friday Street Farm Shop just off the A12 on the road to Aldeburgh, he’s in his natural element.
“I used to love going in my grandad’s shed and watching him make all kinds of things. He had one of those sheds with every tool in place, like they did. He could make anything, from bird boxes to cupboards. He even made my first push bike.”
Later on, while working in the building trade (which can be renowned for throwing away unwanted and surplus materials), one morning Tony spotted a potential opportunity laying on the ground in front of him.
“I remember finding some joists on one job and I stood on them and they all fanned out, and I thought they would make lovely steps for my mum’s garden. When she was away, I went and put them in.” He’d taken his first small steps into a new venture.
He soon started making all manner of items from reclaimed materials, finding great demand when selling them through a local shop. “I was making mirrors, picture frames and coffee tables out of scaffold boards. I did it for fun really.
“I also did my house using scaffold boards, which was about 25 years ago. When that shop eventually closed, people kept asking to see my stuff.”
Seeing a gap in the market and spotting an opportunity to fulfil some long-held dreams, Tony decided to take the plunge and open his own enterprise. “I thought long and hard about it and decided, why not?”
His decision was well timed. Universal awareness about the environmental impact of rampant production when resources are becoming depleted is increasingly at the fore of our lives, so a venture with sustainability, reusing and localism at its heart has proved a successful business model for Tony.
How would he describe The Barn Co? “Like the sign says, it’s a shop of weird stuff, cool junk, antiques and retro pieces. It’s a collection of unusual bits that you don’t get anywhere else.
“We’re quite unusual in the area. No-one realises what it’s like until they come in. Every weekend I’m here we have people visit and say this is the best place they’ve ever been to, because it’s interesting and not like any shop. People like that.”
A wander around the shop soon throws up a cornucopia of unique discoveries, with just a few choice examples ranging from huge dining tables topped with reclaimed wood, to cast-iron machine parts and repurposed lighting made from fire extinguishers, to scaffold board shelving units and metal factory containers as kitchen storage.
“We have other traders that we rent space to, and some of them also make their own stuff,” says Tony.
Alongside the obvious sustainable benefits of reusing junked materials to give them a new life, rather than consigning them to landfill, Tony says there’s an unrivalled beauty in timeworn and battered old wood. “Every day we think that people must be getting bored with scaffold boards, but they come in and see a huge table and they want it.”
It’s a similar story with another strand of his business, creating kitchens using reclaimed timber and other cast-off components. “People just love the look and feel of reclaimed timber. I think they’ve just had enough of white, glossy kitchens.
“We’re still using a lot of scaffold boards to make them, but we’re also using other salvaged materials such as pitch pine floor boards for the doors, and even corrugated tin for the door inserts.”
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It’s a fully bespoke and characterful alternative to the sleek designs of mass-produced kitchens found in certain Swedish mega-warehouses and the like.
More recently, Tony has branched out into other creative areas of construction, taking on new challenges for commercial and private customers. “We made some beds for a local glamping site that were fascinating to make.
“They told us we could make them however we wanted, so we had a chat over a cup of tea and I showed them some little sketches. One was made from old gas cylinders as a headboard, another from old doors all cut down.
“We also made a boat bed, which had half a disused boat as a headboard and we made the rest of the bed look like a boat. Another was made from lots of weird bits of old oak. None of them are the same and they love them.”
He also relishes the odd commission to build shacks in customers’ gardens, creating perfect places to hunker down in and escape to a simpler life for a few hours.
Then there are the bars and tables for local coffee houses, display wardrobes for clothing retailers and even a three-metre long bar area for a nearby vicarage.
However, with the reclaimed ‘hipster’ look so ubiquitous in current design schemes, is there any danger that he will run out of the necessary source materials? He admits that his foraging is taking him further from home.
“It’s getting more difficult, but we have some good people who help us from all over the country, right up to Newcastle. I’m going to Essex soon to see a guy who has a business renovating old properties in London and he has 2,500 old doors.
“We’ve just had 600 square metres from a local pub, which we’re using to put down for flooring in an orangery of a house we’ve been helping with.”
He also confesses that the nature of the work, when you have to jump on any opportunity or offer that presents itself, can make him a bit of a hoarder. After all, he never knows when something might just come in handy.
“I try not to be, but if it’s stuff that’s free or cheap that I know I’ll be able to use then I’ll hoard it. I recently cut up a barrel that I got six months ago, which has been standing in the top field.
“I thought, right, today I’m determined to make something, so I cut it in half and made two tables with cable reels for the tops. They sold straight away.”
In among the piles of scaffold boards, rusting Crittall windows, belt sanders and clouds of sawdust, it’s clear he’s a man at one with his environment.
“I love all of it – none of it is work. I never moan about a Monday morning coming around and every day is different. One of the best things is the people you meet and interact with. Some of them have become good friends.”
Tony’s also keen to continue growing the business, with sustainability at the core of any future plans. “I’d love to go even bigger with a reclamation area and a vegan café, and storage for local traders who could also open up as and when, possibly looking after each other’s shops so they could be open every day.
“That would be wonderful. We’re also expanding out of the back of the shop soon, which is going to be an area for reclaimed materials.”
Find out more about The Barn Co at the-barn.co
The Barn Co, Friday Street, Farnham, Saxmundham, Suffolk, IP17 1JX