Four years ago, Andrew Huycke was working in construction management and living in Newport Beach, California. One weekend, he and his wife, Stephanie, were getting ready to entertain, and they wanted an outdoor fire pit so friends could gather around, have a drink, and chat when the evening grew chilly.
Huycke’s neighbor happened to have a few wine barrels in her yard that weren’t being used, so Huycke decided he would use one to make a DIY fire pit.
“I liked it so much that I made some more and sold them on Craigslist,” Huycke said, “and now here I am.”
Huycke quit his job in construction and become a wine barrel artisan. He and Stephanie were also planning to start a family, and they couldn’t think of a better place to bring up their children and begin a new business than Medford, Huycke’s hometown.
A graduate of North Medford High School, Huycke earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics at Southern Oregon University and a degree in construction technology from Rogue Community College. His business, Smokin’ Barrel Works, allows him to combine his education with a passion for crafting beautiful furniture and décor from reclaimed wood.
“As I was building the fire pits, I had extra materials, so I decided to make some other things with it,” Huycke said. “The products snowballed from there, and now I get requests for all kinds of custom furniture and décor.”
His clients enjoy owning something that is original, beautiful, useful and reflects Southern Oregon wine culture.
Many decorative items can be made from wine barrels. Huycke’s product line includes a variety of fire pits, tables, chairs, wine racks, chandeliers, clocks, mirrors, serving trays — even dog beds. Huycke also specializes in pyrography, the art of using a wood-burning pen to decorate wood and other materials for signs and wall décor.
The transformation from barrel to beautiful begins with oak wine barrels that come from Roxy Ann Winery in Medford, Cow Horn Vineyard and Garden in the Applegate Valley and a few wineries in the Napa Valley. Wineries sell the barrels after the oak loses its ability to flavor the wine, typically after five seasons, Huycke said.
A standard-sized wine barrel holds about 60 gallons and has a diameter between 25 to 28 inches. The color, wood grain and wine stains of each barrel are unique, so customers get a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture or décor. The interior of barrels used as fire pits are coated with high-heat paint, and the exterior is covered with polyurethane. Even with this protective coating, it’s best not to leave the furniture out uncovered in severe weather, Huycke advised.
Each fire pit puts out 75,000 BTUs of heat, and runs off a 20-pound propane tank, the standard size for a residential barbecue grill. The fire pit can also be set up for natural gas. Tabletops are made from different kinds of wood, stone and metals; the center is filled with ceramic logs, lava rocks or tempered glass, which is available in different colors.
Wine barrel furnishings and décor go well with rustic or modern industrial styles, depending on the materials used for the tabletops and other accessories.
If you missed the Smokin’ Barrel Works booth at this weekend’s Barnstormer’s Vintage Fair at the Expo, you can still see Huycke’s wine barrel fire pits and other creations at several local wineries, restaurants and stores — even a few fire stations use them.
The Grange Co-op in Medford carries Smokin’ Barrel Works fire pits, and all of Huycke’s craftworks are displayed on his website (www.smokinbarrelworks.com) and in his studio and showroom at 1862 Delta Waters Road in Medford.
Years ago, Huycke developed a love for pinot noir and viognier when he delivered wine for Roxy Ann Winery. Of course, he couldn’t have known back then that one day he would make finely crafted fire pits with Roxy Ann Winery’s wine barrels. Nor could he know that Roxy Ann Winery, and several other places, would provide his fire pits so friends could gather around, have a drink and chat on chilly evenings.
You could say Huycke’s deliveries these days are truly smokin’ barrels of fun.
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at [email protected].