When it comes to creating character in a room, many interior designers and artisans agree there is no substitute for the unique qualities and richness that wood provides. Even one eloquent wood piece can be a striking addition to any room.
Mesquite is one of the most common trees in the desert southwest. During times of drought, mesquite pods served as a primary food source for caravans of pioneers and settlers.
Mesquite trees by nature grow twisted and gnarly, often producing wood containing cracks and voids.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Art Flores, owner of the Tumacácori Mesquite Sawmill, just south of Tubac. “Because mesquite wood is generally irregular and imperfect, it makes each piece unique and when it’s used in furniture, cabinets and fireplace mantles, it really is one-of-a-kind.”
Art and his wife Valerie harvest and use velvet mesquite (prosopis veluntina), a plant they describe as a “large shrub or medium-size tree” characterized by straight, 2-inch spines on the branches.
“It’s generally larger than other mesquite species and can reach 30 feet high or more with trunks measuring 24 inches in diameter,” Art says. “At our sawmill, we’ve had trunks as large as 36 inches in diameter.”
Since 1982, Tumacácori Mesquite Sawmill has been providing craftsman, artisans, woodworkers, cabinet makers, and custom homebuilders across the country with velvet mesquite, Art says.
“We have Green Valley and Quail Creek woodworkers and hobbyists coming down all the time to select mesquite for projects they are working on in their local woodworking clubs from our remnant collection,” Art says. “People are invited to work at the sawmill too, where we can help them with any questions they might have using mesquite.”
Mighty mesquite creations
Art says the mesquite trees selected for harvesting are evaluated before being felled to maximize the use of the entire tree. Tree trunks are milled to yield lumber or mantles, while limbs are used for fence posts, table bases, lamps and more.
“Mesquite burls, those growths that look bulbous and sometimes strange on a tree, can be used for so many unusual and beautiful things like our cutting and cheese boards,” Valerie says. “We also use them to make crosses that many people love to give as gifts.”
The owners work with local, state and federal guidelines, pursuing only those mesquite trees that are destined to come down on both private and federal land, Art says.
Art, Valerie, and his craftspeople are putting the finishing touches on mesquite cabinetry destined for the historic Otero House near the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa. The owners and their crew are familiar with the resort. They spent six years adding mesquite mantles, cabinetry and shelving to the interior of the spa and resort hotel rooms, including designing a mesquite bar for the interior of the Stables Bar, famous for hosting actors through the decades including John Wayne and Kevin Costner.
“The richness, the color, and the wood’s density and feel add so much to any room,” Valerie says.
The sawmill has also produced mesquite pieces for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, and Old Tucson Studios.
“Over the years, the Tumacacori Sawmill has become a tourist destination in Southern Arizona and we invite everyone to schedule a tour,” Art says. “As you tour the sawmill, you can see mesquite in many forms from logs to milling to beautiful finished pieces.”
Barn wood redux
Master craftsman Mark Ostermann’s passion is also working in wood. Ostermann looks for antique lumber and reclaimed barn wood for creating his furniture, wall hangings and other wooden decor.
With a 40-year career in construction and engineering to his credit, Ostermann started Second Chance Reclaimed Wood, based in Show Low. He confesses that hunting for barns across the country and dismantling a structure with the help of his crew is his “dream job.”
“Getting it back safely to Arizona is another part of the job,” Ostermann says. “Every barn I find and the wood it’s made of has its own story and history. It’s weathered beauty makes it ideal for a home or office.”
The most common reclaimed wood is barn siding, Ostermann says.
“Whether I can use it or not depends on how the barn was maintained and how it stood up to the weather,” he adds. “Rain and any water can really damage a barn and destroy the wood.”
Ostermann uses reclaimed wood for a variety of projects including window trim, counter tops, rolling interior doors and timber joists.
“If you are considering a custom antique barn home interior, ready-to-install antique wood flooring, or wall and ceiling board, it can be done with reclaimed barn wood,” Ostermann says. “Even custom staircases are possible and we can help with structural and architectural assistance.”
Ostermann takes pride in his custom-made American Flags made from reclaimed barn wood.
“If you’re passionate about history, there’s no better way of celebrating than by using historical reclaimed wood for making American flags,” he says.
He makes a straight flying flag or a wavy flag, both with flagpoles. The straight flag is approximately 12 by 24 inches, and the waving flag is approximately 16 by 26 inches.
“All my flags are made without the addition of color to the wood,” he says. “Every piece is different and can’t be replicated and shows character.”
Ostermann admits he is “always on the lookout” for barns and other historic buildings for salvage.
If you have a barn or building that you need removed either for the added space or due to its condition and may not be standing much longer, Ostermann wants to hear from you. He will also negotiate taking disassembled reclaimed barn and antique wood.