Cary business finds new uses for town's last barns

akenney@newsobserver.comApril 22, 2013 

— Vines creep along the gaps in the barn’s aged boards, the wood bowed but firm beneath a roof streaked silver and red. Unused for a decade, the place still smells like horses and must.

It’s a decaying icon of Cary’s rural past – and a prime opportunity for artistic scavengers.

“We took the stable doors down and said, ‘There’s six beautiful tabletops,’ ” said Angeline McInerny, safety goggles strapped over her pulled-back hair as she dragged another board through the dust.

Last week, she and her husband stripped thousands of board-feet from a horse barn that stands on the Wilkinson land, a rural island in western Cary near Davis Drive.

A townhome project by developer StanPac is coming to the land, and the three-story structure out back was scheduled for demolition – until the McInernys caught sight of it. While other Cary couples search for new homes in their spare time, these two hunt for old barns on the verge of collapse.

“We were just driving around and saw the sign,” McInerny said. She and her husband run The Weathered Barn, a Cary-based business that makes furniture and gifts from barns that were in danger of demolition or collapse.

It began as a hobby in 2009, after a storm crippled a barn at the couple’s former home in Franklin County. Since then they’ve ranged around the state and into Virginia, “reclaiming” about a half-dozen aging barns so far.

All of the barns were doomed otherwise. In one case, a farmer was ready to burn the wood when the McInerneys arrived.

Now the couple say they’ve found a healthy market for their custom tables – a typical six-footer for the dining room might sell for $975 – along with gifts such as picture frames and wine racks in the $15 to $35 range.

Eventually, they hope the business can replace at least one of their full-time jobs. Scott McInerny, who works in local government, first learned the furniture-making trade from his father, while Angeline, a professional administrator, handles much of the finishing.

Many old barns’ lumber was cut from trees on the farms and weathered through decades of use, lending the McInernys’ projects a unique grain.

“It’s not like you’re going to Lowe’s and getting a dimensional board. Every board’s completely different” Scott McInerny said.

There’s also a common belief that older wood is stronger than today’s farm-grown lumber, though the old barns can also be a pain in their irregularity.

“You just can’t see the quality and the workmanship that you see in these local structures,” said Gary Roth, president of Capital Area Preservation.

But the irony is that The Weathered Barn’s story-laden furniture can come only with the death of an old barn. Often, reuse is the only choice left for decaying rural structures. As they age, old barns and houses can become tax and maintenance burdens, with government programs offering little more than tax breaks for their preservation.

The end of the big barn on Waldo Rood Boulevard won’t be the end of the area’s rural character. The Wilkinsons are saving smaller barns, while StanPac, the developer, has donated the main house to Capital Area Preservation, which will move it to a 1.4-acre site just across the road.

The nonprofit plans to repair the house, protect it with a legal document preventing its demolition or modification and sell it to a new owner.

So some of old Cary will stay standing – and some will become tables for sitting.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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