In Conversation with George Gatewood of Longwood Antique Wood
Confession: We are in love with George Gatewood. We met him at the Garden & Gun Jubilee in Charleston, South Carolina but only for a moment. It wasn’t until we spent an hour with him on the phone that we really got Gatewood at full gallop. Born and raised in Kentucky, he has that twang in his voice that is as soothing as a sip of Pappy VanWinkle. He is a great storyteller too. He nearly had us in tears when he talked about his tree house that was bulldozed several years back, “I still have dreams of that tree house I built when I was ten,” he laments. And like so much of the South these days, George is finding the good in all that ‘oldness’ that is laying around the landscape from Alabama to Kentucky. His company, Longwood Antique Woods is a salvage company that George started back in 1991, way before the concept was trendy. The ‘green’ wood that they offer up has a richness and luster you simply won’t find in freshly milled lumber. George and his team make amazing flooring as well as beams, mantels, doors and furniture. Oh, and they can build a mean log cabin too.
We spoke to George about how he got his start, Churchill Downs and hot ass chicks.
Where did the name come from?
Longwood is an old antebellum farm that has been in my family for a couple of hundred years.
What is your first memory of wood working?
When I was about 10 years old I saw an old falling down barn on the property and took the wood from there and built a big tree house. So I have been doing this for a long time!
In college I built a bar out of barn wood and then was asked to do more projects.
How did you start your company?
My dad always read Colonial Homes and Southern Living. We found a company in New England advertising that they bought old wood. We started selling them old wood we found around the state. Then we thought, why the hell are we selling to them? People are buying houses here in Kentucky on these big horse farms and want to make them look old. We decided to set up a shop and mill the wood ourselves in Lexington.
We rented a space and started offering finished flooring. When we started there were only five people in the nation doing this so a lot of people didn’t have the option to have old floors. We have had a lot of different customers from builders to decorators. We work with some really big horse farms too.
What was next for the company?
As we expanded our market we started selling in Nashville and Cincinnati. Since I’m an old farm boy I know all these farmers and as much as we hate to see the old buildings go away, they appreciate it if we take it down carefully and put the wood to good use.
It’s the same reason the bourbon and horses are good; the wood is good too from the limestone soil and mineral springs we have.
The settlers liked this area because there were so many springs, creeks and rivers for their livestock and themselves. You can still find some old cabins from 1770s on some of these old creeks. But I’m going on and on.
Tell us about the cabin we saw at the Jubilee.
The one at the Jubilee was from Northern Kentucky. It had been abandoned for a while and I bought it from the family. Very rarely do you find a cabin that is perfect, sadly. Usually we find parts and pieces. We had this one for spare logs so we made a 10 x 12 cabin people could use for gardening or tools. That was the premise for this cabin.
What are some other projects that you can tell us about?
Well, we have been working with the world renowned gardener, John Carloftis for a while. He does a lot of work in New York although he is from Kentucky. His parents own Rock Castle River Trading Company. He pioneered roof top gardening and design over 20 years ago and we branched into a partnership with him to use some of our reclaimed wood in his garden design. We have made planter boxes with him and even did some for the Google headquarters in New York. He asked us to make the cabin for the Jubilee. It was a really fun time and brought us some good leads for future sales!
What is next?
We just recently scored some really, really nostalgic wood from Churchill Downs. They are putting a jumbotron on the back stretch and they had to take down half of two of the barns. We acquired the wood from all 18 stalls at Churchill Downs, we have all the walls and doors, and we are in the process of making some samples of the wood to show clients.
Is Kentucky experiencing a revival?
Absolutely. Being here in Kentucky we are surrounded by Bourbon, horses and beautiful scenery including hot ass chicks! As John says, ‘The South starts here”. And from our end, people are proud to state that their floor comes from a certain farm people may remember.
It is safe to say we have salvaged wood from over 1000 farms, distilleries, cabins and we have a full time nail pulling crew. We probably pulled about 2-3 million nails! I take them to the scrap yard then buy some beer.
I am all about preservation but when the bulldozers are coming, I am all about salvaging and repurposing to help the legend of that place live on.