Crammed between two houses on East Second Street in South Jamesport is a one-car garage going on 100 years old. Crooked and slanted, the old building could be taken down by a strong whisper. But to Dan McAllister and his team at In the Attic, this pile of wood is a list of commissioned pieces of furniture waiting to happen.
With a few laps around the small structure, they’re ready to start. After emptying the garage’s interior of old wooden doors and window frames, the three-man team starts to strip away the shingles. And a percussion beat begins. Cracks and splits from rotted boards being snapped by Corey Cherouvis, McAllister’s nephew and right-hand man, are syncopated with McAllister’s use of a stripper, popping the shingles off the exterior — or what they call “skinning” the building. As parts of the roof are stripped away, pools of sunlight fill the floor in their place.
Underneath those shingles is gold: the planks of wood they’ll take back to their woodshop in Jamesport and turn into coffee tables, kitchen islands, benches or any other commissioned custom piece. Most of McAllister’s salvage operations work as a simple barter: The building owner gets a potentially dangerous structure removed from the property, and McAllister gets the wood for his shop, a family operation he co-owns with daughter Heather Ganguzza. His wife, Sue McAllister, makes candles and paints furniture, as does his sister Donna Cherouvis.
“This is what we want,” McAllister said, running a hand along the exposed siding of the building. Each plank has a slightly different look; years of exposure and climate give character. Some have slight warping, others are faded, with layers of chipped paint peeling away. These slight differences stack up to give the wood its beauty, but also make it more difficult to work with than newer wood that could be bought from a lumberyard.
“When this lumber came out in the early 1900s, it was probably all pretty consistent. But over time, the boards may have weathered differently — this board might have gotten wet, and these didn’t,” McAllister said, pointing to two adjacent planks making up the siding. “You take those boards that 80 years ago were consistent, and now they’re different by an eighth of an inch or a quarter of an inch.”
This weathered look has, of course, become highly sought after. The reclaimed look that In the Attic’s work is so well-known for is constantly being reproduced by larger furniture chains.
McAllister thinks often about the history of these old North Fork buildings. They may not be famous for their architecture or have any special significance to most people, but he imagines his work as paying tribute, in a way, to those who had a hand in building these structures — the hands that touched a revealed siding, say, or the only other person to see underneath the roof.
“It’s pretty cool to think,” he said. “Who last touched this wood or painted it?” In this old garage, the wood beneath the shingles was probably last seen by the builders who constructed it, between 1900 and 1930, McAllister estimates. But some of the other local buildings they have salvaged go back centuries to the 1700s.
McAllister’s first project was a birdhouse made from some old boards, tin and hooks, a piece he still has in his home. He started small, continuing with the birdhouses while working as a cop on the South Shore. “And then that turned into benches and then cabinets, and then tables,” he said. Soon, he and Sue opened an antique store in Speonk.
Eleven years ago, the McAllisters closed that store and opened their Laurel location. Four years ago, they opened the Jamesport barn. Now, the bulk of their business comes from salvaging wood and making furniture from it.
Back in South Jamesport, the old garage is prepped to be torn down (which in this case will be accomplished with a strong push). Any salvageable wood is removed and placed to the side. Years of vine growth wraps around what remains of the structure like the hands of time.
To completely deconstruct a 100-year-old building of this size, while saving the wood that isn’t rotted or damaged by bugs, takes the three-man team and about one day. The salvaged wood goes back to the Jamesport barn, where it can be used for commissions or bought as is by the DIY-er. McAllister estimates this salvage will get him about six projects, depending on the work.
About a week later, he starts one of those projects back in the woodshop: a coffee table. He takes wood from a different salvage and combines it with the pine from the garage in South Jamesport. The sound of loud and constantly running machinery vibrates the walls of the shop. McAllister moves between a workbench and a saw, cutting down pieces of wood until they slide together perfectly. With a sander, he turns years and layers of paint into a new surface. With a swipe of an old cloth coated in a sealant, the table is done. What used to be a dilapidated garage is now a coffee table that he will sell for $350.
“People just love to be able to know where it came from and what it was used for,” he said. Many of the hand-crafted furniture pieces they make come with a photo of the building where the wood came from, often indicating exactly what pieces they used.
For the In the Attic team, the work is hard. They often work seven days a week and most commissioned projects have a six-month waiting period before they can start work on them. But the promise of a new space is on the horizon.
In October, McAllister hopes to consolidate both locations at a warehouse in Peconic near Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, which will allow him to grow the business.
“You don’t do this unless you enjoy doing it. It’s not easy work,” he said. “But we do have a passion for the old materials. And then on top of that, it’s local. We took it down. We build something cool. We get to see the joy and appreciation for the folks that we build for. That’s a nice full circle for us.”