Photos by Hillary Ehlen
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Wendell Danielson is living proof of this old saying. After purchasing a farmstead in Otter Tail County, Danielson is busy bringing their 1896 farmhouse into the 21st Century and is using the outbuildings for his business. Though he started out as a tradesman, Danielson has carved out a career where he can utilize his astonishing skills as an artisanal craftsman. Through Danielson Design Co., he provides one-of-a-kind, custom-built furniture out of metal and reclaimed wood for high-end clients in Lakes Country. This month, we discovered that work and family tend to go hand-in-hand for Danielson, and for good reason.
Meet the Danielsons
The Danielson family is made up of Wendell and Bethany Danielson and their three sons: Owen (8), August (6) and Elliot (3 Weeks). Bethany Danielson works as an elementary art teacher at a local school, but currently is enjoying the summer with her boys. Owen and August Danielson are also enjoying their summer, spending it riding their bikes, baking cookies and looking after their new baby brother.
Wendell Danielson is from the area and started his career as a tradesman nearly 20 years ago. “My first job was for a cabinet maker. Then I got into decorative concrete and the guy I worked for was into salvaged materials,” he said. Today, Wendell Danielson is a husband, father and an artisanal craftsman, making furniture out of reclaimed wood.
Why They Chose to Make their Home on a Farmstead
When they were house hunting, the Danielsons weren’t exactly looking for something they had to completely remodel. “I grew up on a farm site, so I like the old ag buildings, but this was a little more of a project than we were hoping for,” Wendell Danielson said of the farmstead. At first sight, the farmhouse itself looked pretty rough. The Danielsons debated whether or not they even wanted to go inside. However, Wendell Danielson needed lots of space for his business, and the outbuildings were perfect for that.
The plan is to eventually renovate the second floor of the barn into unexpected living space, but that will need lots of work. Last summer, they were deciding between building new or simply remodeling the existing farmhouse. “We weren’t sure if we were going to re-do this house,” Bethany Danielson said. It had sat abandoned before they purchased the property. “It was abandoned for 25 years,” Wendell Danielson said.
They ended up completely gutting the 1896 farmhouse. Then Wendell Danielson salvaged all of the material and incorporated it into the remodel, which he took on himself. “I’ve been building with scraps from the house,” he said. Demo started in July 2017 and the interior is now nearly complete, while the exterior still needs a little bit of love.
Wendell Danielson uses one of the outbuildings (the quonset) to store materials, including parts of an old elevator. The owner actually approached Wendell Danielson and asked if he could work with the reclaimed wood from the elevator. “His dad built the mill in ’59. He remembers playing in it when they were building it, and now he’ll have some in his house. They took it down in pieces, and he was storing it until he could find someone to take on the project. I met with their interior designer and we’re going to do a bunch of it in their new house,” Wendell Danielson said.
The wood contains amazing detail from years of use that you couldn’t find anywhere else. However, the material is too heavy to put in any equipment. Wendell Danielson even had blade manufacturers come out and consult. “We’re actually using pretty simple tools. Beam saws are about the only thing that’s working for us,” he explained.
Now, Wendell Danielson is cleaning and processing the material. However, he does not plan to process it all. “I want to leave some shapes to design projects around,” he stated. There is so much material that the Danielsons even got to use it in their own remodel with plenty left over for clients. For example, Wendell Danielson just built a large table out of it for Thumper Pond, a local resort.
The other outbuilding serves as the workshop for Danielson Design Co. Wendell Danielson’s younger brother, Webster Danielson, also works in the shop. On one of the original walls, they hung up a sign made out of reclaimed wood from the old elevator.
Next to the sign, you can see where one of the former owners, William Smith, wrote his name on the wall. One of Smith’s sons actually visited the farmstead last summer. Wendell Danielson said, “One of his sons stopped by last summer. Then a couple of days later, he brought his sister over. They’re excited to see what we’re doing out here.”