Cleveland man’s passion lies in restoration
By Jessie Burchette
CLEVELAND ó Since his early years Charles Barber has struggled to find his true calling.
Was it photography? Maybe building furniture? Or perhaps running a restaurant?
Restoring historic buildings is close to his heart ó and so is going green, converting used motor oil and transmission fluids to replace diesel fuel.
The 52-year-old Barber credits his wife with steering him right.
Her message was simple as Barber recalls: “Honey, you can do anything you want to that makes money.”
Over the years he’s done a lot of things and his business, Barber Furniture Co. and Supply on Mountain Road in Cleveland, has prospered and diversified providing jobs for the family.
He laughs at the notion he’s somewhere between Mr. Haney and Donald Trump.
He sells his own line of barbecue sauce, touts a line of wood stoves and pushes the Big Egg cooker. “It’s the No. 1 cooker, the world’s best smoker and grill. It’ll cook a pecan pie.”
Inside in the salesman and promoter is a man who works wonders with wood.
In a woodworking class at West Rowan High School, he built a grandfather clock.
He admits to cheating to get into a woodworking class in school. Students drew numbers to get the slots available.
Barber figured out if he drew multiple times, he had a better chance. He drew three times and won a spot.
What he learned in the class served as the basis of a 40-year career.
He’s built houses, commercial buildings, designed and built furniture, and restored and duplicated antique furniture.
The most challenging project was copying a chair from London. “It was very old, had every curve you can imagine.”
He made two exact copies, which pleased the Atlanta customer.
Another habit he developed at a very early age may be a key to his success in restoring furniture and buildings.
“Mama said I used to take things apart. Anytime I got something, I took it apart, put it back together,” Barber said, adding that although sometimes there were parts left over, it still worked.
Restoration may be his true calling in life.
“It’s a different pleasure to do restoration … keeping the old stuff and bringing it back. Back then they were real craftsmen. Back then they cared.
“It’s a lot more fun going behind them than fixing junk.”
With his saw mill, kiln and access to a wide array of woods, Barber says he can exactly duplicate anything in any period.
He has a stash of heart pine lumber ó the main building material used when the Piedmont was settled.
In those days there were a lot of mature long leaf pines which provided the perfect logs and lumber. “The growth rings were so close together, 40 to 50 in an inch. Everybody built with it. It didn’t sell, shrink or rot.”
And 180 years or so later, there’s heart pine houses and and farm buildings still standing. Some in very good condition and need a little repair.
Others are abandoned, neglected and falling victim to demolition equipment and fires.
Barber recycles old buildings, reusing the heart pine.
And, once in a while, someone offers up a very old pine tree that yields heart pine lumber. This year he cut and sawed two trees ó 160 and 180 years oldó that yielded the prized lumber.
While he’s tackled a lot of restoration projects, his biggest and most successful are homes and building on the 200-year-old Jacob Franklin Barber home near Barber Junction.
For the past 21 years, Barber has worked on the houses and a multitude of buildings and he’s still got a few projects left.
Joyce Ann Barber and her sister, Rebecca Barber Floyd, were recently honored with a statewide preservation award for the restoration work which continues. The property contains two homes and more than a dozen farm buildings, which have provided challenges for Charles Barber’s restoration skills.
Restoration has caught on in perhaps an expected way.
Barber gets calls from people who have built new homes but want an old log building, or other farm building to go on their property.
He has developed connections to get the buildings and can move and restore them.
“What people really want is corn cribs ó the buildings with cribs on both sides ( a drive thru in the middle). That’s the hot item. Mainly they want hand-hewn logs óoak or heart pine.”
There’s a lot of old farm buildings still around that Barber would like to save. He buys some and often hooks up sellers and buyers.
“We’ll hook ’em up,” said Barber.
And somewhere in the future they might just need some restoration work.