Finding Minnesota: How Rustic Way Goes Against The Grain

ELK RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) — An Elk River carpenter is pushing the boundaries on the traditional building.

Dan Pauly doesn’t build with 90-degree angles or straight lines, he prefers a different approach to his signature design.

Pauly’s day often begins in the early hours in the morning in his Elk River workshop.

“I’ve been known to get out here at 2:00 in the morning,” he said.

As he measures and cuts down pieces of wood, it hardly looks like he’s preserving history.

However, as Pauly takes an old plank to one of the many saws set up in his workshop, he’s attempting to hold on to the past.

“This is our history of our country,” he said.

Through his business, The Rustic Way, Pauly works almost exclusively with the reclaimed wood of old barns, schools, churches and other buildings.

“This is why it’s important to try to salvage the wood, because we’ll never have a chance to use something like this once it’s gone,” Pauly said.

He finds inspiration in the character of each piece, knowing that time will often change the coloring in the wood.

“Most people don’t realize what’s hidden beneath that board,” Pauly said. “That’s where the beauty of some of that stuff is.”

That appreciation for carpentry was instilled early on. As a fourth-generation carpenter, Pauly is carrying on his family’s legacy.

Some of the reclaimed wood he works with even comes from buildings constructed by his great grandfather.

“You learn from them, even though you’re not standing by them, you can figure out how they were doing it,” Pauly said.

In his business, Pauly emphasizes the value of custom-made wood products and his most recognizable work is anything but ordinary.

Twenty-eight years ago, he built a sauna with an exterior frame that looks like it belongs in a Tim Burton movie.

“I usually don’t do things standard,” Pauly said. “I have more fun, It’s more creative for me to go against the grain.”

The walls slant out and away from the foundation. The roof’s frame bends at an inverted arc and the exterior panels slant towards the center.

“As soon as I built it, I figured I must have done something. People were taking pictures of it and knocking on my doors wanting to know what it was,” Pauly said.

That design would eventually become his signature product.

“It’s amazing to watch people, what happens to them when they look at it. It just takes the playful side out of you,” Pauly said.

Over the years, the building not only brought him worldwide attention but the demand that goes along with it. Pauly will build around eight to 10 of the small buildings each year.

The uniqueness isn’t just limited to the exterior architecture, he also tailors the interior for each customer. He’s turned the buildings into garden sheds, play houses, bathrooms, guest cottages and saunas.

“I’ve never really named it, it’s the rustic way,” Pauly said. “I named the business The Rustic Way.”

He may push the boundaries of design, yet that mix of character and passion is still framed in woodworking’s oldest traditions.

“I think it’s more about the story, telling people what the story is all about,” Pauly said. “All the history I’ve been taught over the years and all the wood and how they’ve been made.”

Pauly is looking for someone to eventually take over the construction of the whimsical buildings. He doesn’t have kids but still wants to find someone to continue his work.

To learn more about his products go to www.rusticway.com.

More from Rachel Slavik
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