By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor
BOZEMAN – Rustic furniture is in vogue in southwest Montana. One need only drive south on Highway 191 from Four Corners, past the many shops and lumberyards advertising reclaimed barn wood.
Rory’s Rustic Furniture in Four Corners has been riding that wave since Rory Egelus opened his shop space four years ago. Business has been so good that on June 17 he opened a new showroom called Homestead ‘89 in the same building.
The space features Egelus’ furniture – made from reclaimed barn, fence and corral wood – as well as custom work from other Montana craftsmen. Featured artists include Bozeman metal sculptor Brad Van Anderson, Big Sandy landscape photographer Craig Edwards, as well as custom sinks from Missoula’s Mountain Copper Creations.
Egelus also shares the space with another furniture maker, Randy Hillner from Big Timber. Hillner’s juniper rocking chairs and lamps make a striking addition to the showroom, with the trees’ cream-colored sapwood twisting through the dark red heartwood in each piece.
Homestead ‘89 takes its name from the year Montana gained statehood – 1889 – and is a tribute to the craftsmen and artists in the Treasure State, Egelus said.
“From what I see there’s a lot of people that come into Big Sky that want that rustic Montana feel,” Egelus said. “Whether [it’s their style] at home or not, they want their getaway to be rustic.”
The term “rustic furniture” can be traced back to the Great Depression and other hard times in U.S. history, when people used any material they could find to build tables and chairs. However, the intended use of reclaimed materials for aesthetic purposes likely began in New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the 1800s, where wealthy Americans of the time built their “great camps.” The ubiquitous Adirondack chair originated during this period.Egelus grew up in Palmer, Alaska and says woodworking has always been a hobby. Before moving to Montana he made bent-willow furniture, and peeled logs part time while earning a degree in construction engineering technology from Montana State University.
Until the showroom opened this month, Egelus’ work was exclusively direct-to-customer – by word of mouth, through his website, or to those who found his shop on Highway 191.
Bob von Pentz has owned a log home for 15 years near the mouth of Gallatin Canyon, and began a comprehensive remodel of the building last summer.
“I had an interest in an entertainment center and wanted to do something rustic,” von Pentz said, adding that the project shifted gears immediately. “The one thing he hasn’t done yet is the entertainment center.” Instead, Egelus built and installed a bedroom cabinet, three bathroom vanities, a custom bar, a fireplace mantle, and kitchen shelving.
The custom bar wood was reclaimed from an old granary on nearby Axtell Road and that’s part of the appeal, von Pentz said. “I get a psychic pleasure knowing where the materials came from.”
That’s one reason Rory’s Rustic Furniture stands out from other reclaimed-wood craftsmen, Egelus’ said, because they reclaim all the wood themselves and can tell customers the story of its origins. While he and his team handle the whole process from start to finish, it’s not without its challenges.
“I call it angry wood,” said Chris St. Don, one of Egelus’ four full-time employees. St. Don said the old wood can be full of knots, or twisted from decades of exposure to sun, wind and rain. “You have to know where to use it, and a vision of the project from beginning to end.”
Egelus says the green movement has encouraged people to use reclaimed material, and their work isn’t limited to one aesthetic – Rory’s Rustic Furniture is experimenting with other reclaimed material like metal, as well as stains and burning techniques.
“Just because its reclaimed doesn’t mean we’re always rustic,” Egelus said.
Homestead ‘89 is located at 81549 Gallatin Road, Unit 4 and is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.