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Dendrochronology. You probably know exactly what this word means and don’t even realize it.
Remember your 7th grade science class when you learned about the magic of tree rings? As trees age, they produce cells in concentric circles. These circles each have a distinct look based on atmospheric conditions and the season – their characteristics tell a story about the world around them at a blink in time forever encased in layers of other stories.
Nature had a way of documenting its own history long before we came up with the idea of chronicling the past.
Without even realizing it, humans have hidden their very own tree rings in the scraps and debris that New Orleans is built upon. It is precisely these pieces, disregarded by others, that Doorman Designs breathes life back into.
Barge board is one of our favorite New Orleans treasures to salvage from old homes. Barge board is simply pieces of wood that were once part of the flat bottomed boats that brought people and freight down the Mississippi to New Orleans in the early nineteenth century. Once they arrived in port, they were dismantled and sold as building materials for homes in the growing city. The barge boards often became the walls of the working class neighborhood homes. Typically built in a time before the widespread installation of electricity, the homes relied upon makeshift insulation crafted with everything from old canvas bags to recycled newspapers.
Check out some of the treasures we’ve stumbled upon:
Flour sack with the image of the Louisiana state flag circa 1880-1900. Attached to a barge board that acted as a wall in a neighborhood grocery store in the 7th ward. The owner lived on one side of the structure and ran the shop on the other.
Newspaper ad for women’s hats circa 1920. Board found in a small shotgun in Hollygrove around 1920-1930. This newspaper ad was read and then adhered to the wall to insulate the structure.
A German newspaper on a barge board that helped build an old corner store in the Esplanade Ridge area. When the neighborhoods of New Orleans were still divided by ancestry, a number of different language newspapers reflected the division. The paper dates back to July 1866 (just one year after the Civil War if you’re looking for an age reference).
Probably our favorite discoveries was this piece of barge board we found in an 1850s home in the Bywater neighborhood that had layers of period wallpaper dating all the way back to the Victorian era of 1880 to 1900. On the first layer we discovered a bright, floral, retro 1950s pattern. Right underneath was a more subdued traditional floral from the 1930s. Beneath that was a delicate pink Victorian pattern that goes back to the end of the nineteenth century.
History is buried within everything we create here at Doorman Design, and making furniture is more to us than cranking out a few pieces of aesthetically pleasing wood.
It’s about discovering something lost, letting it tell a story, and enriching your space with character.
Doorman Designs furniture with barge board: