American barns are being pillaged by thieves with a taste for rustic chic

Image: AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
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Barns are under siege. The theft of weathered timber planks has been reported around the US from Montana to South Carolina.

The phenomenon is especially pronounced in one state. ”Kentucky is a veritable hotbed of barnwood purloining,” the Associated Press reports.

Just as thieves strip copper wiring and tubing from abandoned buildings and catalytic converters from cars to harvest the palladium, they’re cruising the countryside with hammers and crowbars, keeping an eye out for barns to pillage. Depending on the condition and color of the planks, wholesalers will pay up to $2 a board foot, the AP said. Authentically worn barn doors also fetch a premium.

Local sheriffs believe that a new demand for reclaimed lumber is driving the crime spree. Rustic chic, a look that favorites open-floor plans, farmhouse sinks, and tastefully rusted antique planters overflowing with greenery, often incorporates weathered wood on floors and walls, in soft, earthy shades of brown and gray. In one episode of Fixer Upper, the immensely popular HGTV show, Chip and Joanna Gaines convert an actual barn into a home, with many of the interior walls clad in barn boards. One of Joanna Gaines’ signature looks as an interior designer is to hang a vintage barn door on a sliding rail system, as a room divider.

The rough-hewn, mason-jar-full-of-wildflowers look has also driven a trend of barn weddings, invoking the long history of barn dances and rural community gatherings—and inspiring some barn owners to jump into the event industry.

Despite what your Instagram account might show, even as their rough-hewn aesthetic proliferates, barns are disappearing from the American landscape. “There are all kinds of obvious threats to barns—weather, fire, age—but the biggest is not having a purpose,” Kelly Rundle, director of the documentary The Barn Raisers told City Lab. The National Barn Alliance estimates that there are close to 1.5 million barns on farms in the US, a far cry from the more than seven million believed to have existed in 1935. Many now are in serious states of disrepair.

This is not the first time enterprising thieves have plundered rural barns.

“In the case of Old Homestead Farm, which is owned by Dennis and Elaine Thomas, the police said the thieves might have used climbing gear to scale the barn, remove the horse-shaped weather vane and replace it with a duplicate,” The New York Times reported in 2006, about antique. weathervane thefts around New England. “I just screamed, ‘That’s not our horse,’ ” Ms. Thomas said. “I knew instantly.”