HIGHLAND CRAFTSMEN FOUNDEDby Marty and Chris McCurry1990
Inspired by the natural beauty and culture of North Carolina’s Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains, Co-Founders-Owners, Marty and Chris McCurry had a dream to create a functional product that could properly honor the essence of this region. Attributes such as authenticity, depth, beauty, honesty, timeless practices, and ecology were contemplated. Highland Craftsmen began operations, aiming to connect people to the pure nature the couple had experienced in the region.
Marty had completed phase one research on the properties, design, and building applications of poplar bark. This material had never before been manufactured for use as a siding product. With an education in pulp and paper, chemical engineering, and a school of architecture, he was equipped for the daunting task of product design. He focused on how to make the manufacturing pure to honor and protect the forest.
Chris focused on creating a business modeled on whole-systems processes. She was educated as a nurse and healthcare was one of the few fields exploring the value of whole-systems thinking. She focused on how to return the people of Appalachia to their beloved forests.
Poplar Bark had never before been manufactured into a commercial siding product. There were numerous issues for Marty to overcome:
- How To Peel Poplar Bark
- Identifying Material Longevity For Use As An Exterior Siding Product
- Establishing A Supply Chain With Best Management Practices Through Small Scale Logging
- Raw Material Specifications To Ensure Integrity And Performance
- Finish Product Specifications To Ensure the Beauty and Longevity Of The Product
- Environmentally Sound Manufacturing Methods Including Kiln Drying (never before done with bark)
- Design And Build Tools And Machines
- Proper Product Application Techniques
- Creating Customers (as they did not exist either
In 1990, Extractive Business Practices were the norm. This was the landscape that Chris was determined to change. The following years would see Green Business Processes evolve into Sustainable Business Processes. Today, the movement to Regenerative Business is just beginning. When this company was founded, the Whole-Systems Philosophy that Chris put into practice, positioned the company at the verge of being regenerative at its inception. This is why the company was able to blow the top off of certification strategies that would follow in the coming years (as highlighted in this timeline). The challenges have been many through the years and the success has been unbelievable for a family-owned company in Appalachia.
Today, our mission to be the future forest.
Our goals are to:
- Improve the health of Appalachian forests
- Simultaneously benefit the people working and living in them
- Connect clients to the beauty of nature and the potential natural systems hold for human-nature development
- Invite those with interest to join us in developing Appalachia into a regenerative place for all
FIRST PRODUCT APPLICATIONon Family’s Home in Highlands, North Carolina1993
Gary and Brendan Ross (Marty’s sister) had established a reputation across several states in the east for their exquisite home design and construction. They raised the bar for style, in every area they developed. The couple purchased land in Highlands, NC and began construction on their rustic “Cabin In The Mist”. This would be the first newly constructed modern application of poplar bark shingles. It provided the perfect opportunity to test application theories and material response.
FIRST DEVELOPMENTLinville Resort, Eseeola Lodge1996
Eseeola Lodge was at the center of the unique resort community of Linville NC in 1892. Linville is of course the birthplace of the squared Chestnut bark shingle, the predecessor of our Poplar bark shingle. It was entirely fitting and a tremendous honor that our first application of this shingle in a development would be in Linville Resort.
Met our Mission Goal to expand a positive economic impact to other independent business owners in our community – by training loggers in the proper procurement and handling of RAW™ (Reclaimed Appalachian Wood Waste) poplar bark for shingles. Company co-founder Marty McCurry trained 50 loggers the first year and increased their income for a poplar tree substantially. Product demand had grown enough that orders could not be met through in-house harvesting. The work of peeling back the bark is hard but economically worthwhile – and environmentally sound. Today, The Bark House has trained over a thousand loggers and works with over 250 independently operated businesses each year from 13 states and 45 counties in Appalachia, increasing their income threefold for each log through selling us the waste bark from poplar trees.
New Bark House® Product DebutMassive Poplar Bark Panels Introduced to the Market1999
Original Designer and Manufacturer
Wall Street Journal1999
The first nationally syndicated article ever written on poplar “bark panels” appears in the Wall Street Journal.
The article loosely links poplar bark structures with the historic Adirondacks. Readers erroneously followed suit building Poplar Bark sided “Adirondack Style” houses in the mountains of NC and surrounding states as if there was no relevant regional architecture to glean inspiration from.
History and Today:
Although Hugh MacRae was not as wealthy as Rockefeller, and his development in Linville, NC was not as famous as the Great Camps of NY, his work and contribution were significant. In the late 1800’s MacRae needed a fresh aesthetic for his elite development in Linville – one of his many land holdings that included Grandfather Mountain. He recruited the classically trained architect and family friend who had grown up in Wilmington and vacationed with the family in their much beloved NC mountains. Henry Bacon, AIA designed many monuments including the Lincoln Memorial and was the only Architect in history to receive the Gold Medal from a President of the United States in full ceremony preceded by a grand procession down the length of the reflecting pool in Washington DC. He designed the first squared bark shingle in 1895, a fact not widely published until this company owner’s book was released by Gibbs Smith in 2008. Six structures were erected at Bacon’s specification in Old Linville. The cleaner, refined style remained a quiet, rich voice in the deep woods of NC until our company founders created the poplar bark shingle industry and elucidated this area’s own beautiful style through the eye of architecture.
A decade and a half after this article was written, any things changed and some remained. Hundreds of articles have been written about our company and the infamous bark shingle siding that we created. Architects across the world have received hundreds more awards forintegrating the shingles and large panels into their designs. The general public is now more educated about the use, longevity, attributes and history of poplar bark. We continue to clarify the myths but true to our heritage, appreciate some of the lore.
CURRENT MANUFACTURING FACILITY PURCHASEDSpruce Pine, NC2000
Current Manufacturing Facility Purchased in Spruce Pine, NC the half way point on The Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Boone.
Second DevelopmentDiamond Creek2000
In partnership with Wayne Huizenga, John and Sharon McNeely created an exclusive mountain resort in Western North Carolina appropriately named Diamond Creek. Huizenga has been involved in the founding of three Fortune 500 corporations and is responsible for six New York Stock Exchange listed companies. He has also been an owner of three top tier professional sports franchises. Golf professional John McNeely with his wife Sharon envisioned a golf club featuring a Tom Fazio designed championship golf course. This was the first time a newly developed resort created their design aesthetic around our poplar bark shingles.
Incorporated as Highland Craftsmen Inc2002
First International SaleThe order shipped to Norway2005
New Bark House® Product DebutCherry, Pine and Birch Bark Interior Wall Covering Laminate Veneers Introduced to the Market2005
Original Designer and Manufacturer
Brand Name - Bark House®Adopted and Registered in Response to Other Company’s Extractive Processes And Attempts to Create Confusion In the Marketplace2006
By 2006, there was an upswing in the housing market the building industry was booming. A steady flow of return clients in our local area reflected that selling through our company’s recognized name and reputation was working. However, with the proliferation of the style and the possibility of economic gain, other individuals and institutions were poised to extract what they could from what they viewed as a success.
This is indeed a story that many industry leaders share. One difference that operating in Appalachia creates is that resources are vastly more limited and new challenges can often break a business. Another difference was that it was not only individuals who were working to take what we had created, it was also a State University Agricultural Extension Office that saw a golden opportunity to expand what looked great. If that wasn’t enough, these entities had no capacity to understand the lofty goals we were working to address. It would have been easy to ask us how to improve forests and the lives of local people – but the choice was to figure out what we were doing and try to copy it.
The university’s actions emboldened others in the vein of extraction. Photos, webpages, slogans, names, logos were all stolen from us. A day did not go by without the companies calling to get our information, sending spies to photograph and videotape our manufacturing processes. All the while – their lust for extraction blinded them to the goals that we were working toward.
These actions continue today. All one has to do is review competing websites. The attempt to create confusion is prolific.
The media would eventually label these as “Cowboy Operations” and warn buyers to beware. We needed to BRAND our product and share its reputation against want-to-be knock-offs. We were alarmed by the long-term consequences of poor quality product contaminating our market. Many new clients from outside the region simply did not understand the product. They regarded one bark shingle, same as the other. They did not know that our company stood strong for something better.
We began what felt like an uphill battle to differentiate our techniques and quality product with others. After a couple of years of weathering the storm and several disastrous projects with product coming from counterfeiters, the public began to understand the differences and acknowledged The Bark House as “the quality purveyor” of bark shingles with the best initial quality product and performance over time. Commercial clients doing indepth research at first was followed by individuals who saw the benefits that Bark House brand products and processed are creating.
Today, our mission to be the future forest.
Our goals are to
- improve the health of Appalachian forests
- simultaneously benefit the people working and living in them
- connect clients to the beauty of nature and the potential natural systems hold for human-nature development
- invite those with interest to join us in developing Appalachia into a regenerative place for all
C2C Gold CertificationOur response to green-washing2007
When green-washing became so prevalent, we wanted to express to our clients one aspect of our product that was authentically different than other wall coverings. Cradle to Cradle provided the most rigorous, wholistic sustainability measurement tool that we could identify – and for us only the best would suffice.
B Corp Certified2008
A small Independent Businesses can be serious about what they do and reflect their impacts impressively.
Bark House Style, Sustainable Designs From NaturePublished by Gibbs Smith2008
Authored by Chris McCurry with Nan Chase
Had sold products in 49 states.
Bottom of Housing Marketin Economic Downturn2011
This was a heartfelt hit – literally. Although it seems that companies had returned to “business as normal” as of 2015 – many personal, family and business stories about the impacts of this era are yet to be told. Many colleagues visited during this period sharing their plans to file bankruptcy while having their lives turned upside down. They were beaten -financially, socially, spiritually and physically with uncountable back, heart and body ailments. We all felt it and no-one seemed to be immune. We came together. We grieved. We strategized, gained insight, grew and ultimately we continued on.
B Corp "Best For The World"Awarded2013
B Corp "Best For The World"Awarded2014
B Corp "Best For The World"Awarded2015
Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Platinum2016
For the first time since the creation of the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Products Program, a product—Highland Craftsmen Inc.® Bark House® poplar shingle and wall panel—achieved Platinum-level certification. This highly commendable feat required the product meet Platinum requirements across all five Cradle to Cradle certification categories: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
Architectural Record Product of the Year2016
Bark House® bark wall coverings made of Recycled Appalachian Wood Waste (RAW™) have been recognized as a 2016 Record Product by Architectural Record magazine. Architectural Record is the leading trade publication dedicated to architecture and interior design. Recognized for regenerative design, distinct beauty and lasting, maintenance-free performance, Bark House poplar bark wall coverings convey a unique authenticity that is quiet, yet very powerful.
A panel of six judges, representing the nation’s leading architectural firms, selected the best new products of the year from among 425 entries submitted for Architectural Record‘s 11th annual competition. Entries were judged on the criteria of innovation, aesthetics and purposefulness.
Bark House receives the 2017 Regenerative Business Award for 'Adorning'2017
Being regenerative as a company is about honoring the essential values of people coupled with the integrity of nature and creating streams of developmental reciprocity. Adorning relates to a sense of belonging. The Regenerative Summit Founder, Carol Sanford said if she was in a space with our bark wall coverings, she would know that she had found a place where she belongs.
Recognized as a Catalyst Company in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge2018
Bark House disengages from certification strategies2018
Certifications held by Bark House provided third-party verification relating to environmental and social inputs. After 10 years of certification, in which Bark House earned the top strata of these certification strategies, Bark House is now focusing on communicating to stakeholders the Outcomes versus Inputs. Bark House created the strategy of Whole Building™ , which is broader than the limitations of certification strategies. Verification is offered through interviews and third-party reflections.
John Ruskin Prize Finalist2019
The Bark House® would like to congratulate the artists who made the shortlist of this prize that aims to uphold the belief that art has the power to expose universal truths, and that a good artist should do just that. With over 3,000 entries, we are proud to say, that even though we didn’t make the shortlist, we were among the top 5%.
Bark House Marks 30 Years in business2020
In challenging times, Bark House is marking 30-Years in business. This year we have officially enacted a new project initiative and we are inviting those who care about Forests to participate. The One Forest Regenerative Project begins in Southern Appalachia and will work with one forest at a time for one world forest (and the people working and living in them).