From Mighty Oaks…

Orlestone Oak is a company with its roots deep within the Kentish woodlands from which its founders hail, in the Kent Wealdnear Shadoxhurst.

We’ve shone a spotlight on many companies in the south-east over the last few years, from stained glass makers and roofing specialists to master masons and traditional tile and brick manufacturers. All have their own fascinating stories to tell, and all have a link to period properties in some shape or form, for instance providing vital services or products aimed at the niche audience of historic house owners or enthusiasts.

Something they all have in common is how much they value the ethics on which they run their company. It’s as if by the very nature of being involved in the ‘heritage’ world, the importance of doing things beautifully and correctly and with attention to how it impacts on, not just the present but the future too, is instilled into the culture of the company.

Our latest subject is no exception to this roll call: Orlestone Oak is a company with its roots deep within the Kentish woodlands from which its founders hail, in the Kent Weald near Shadoxhurst. Well over 60 years ago, the father of Barrie Barton, the current Managing Director of Orlestone Oak, was involved in transporting timbers that were mainly props for the mining industry. Barrie became involved in the felling of trees, and the family business that started from humble beginnings has developed from there.

Some years later the company diversified by producing oak beams for the oak frame buildings’ market. The range was further extended as the business grew, becoming one of the first oak frame building companies in the country, manufacturing houses and extensions, garages, porches, gazebos and balconies.

This impressive range doesn’t stop there: Orlestone also produces beautiful bespoke joinery including windows, doors, stairs, kitchens and furniture. Added to that is a comprehensive range of solid oak flooring that boasts not just standard width boards but specialist giant boards with widths up to 350mm and 6m long, ideal for historic buildings or period property projects. All boards are manufactured on site in Kent and exquisitely hand-finished with 30 colour choices.

Exteriors are also well catered for. Orlestone’s decking boards are available in up to 4m lengths and come in a variety of grades and profiles.

This is all true for the company’s cladding range as well, with a wealth of styles and finishes to enhance both contemporary and traditional houses.

Barrie’s son Jack is now a director of the company, having been introduced as a young boy to the business in the time-honoured tradition of all family firms, learning the ropes at his father’s side and working his way up from basic jobs like splitting ‘rounds’ for firewood, to learning how everything is run, including the sawmill, all aspects of production and buying timber. He’s justifiably proud to be able to say that at one time or another, he’s worked in every area of the company and knows what each role entails. He believes this is crucial, as it’s important when running a business that you never ask anyone to do something you haven’t done yourself.

The team seems relatively small, with 15 full-time members in a company that produces such a wide range of high-end and top-quality products, but maybe the emphasis is on quality in the workforce, too, as they are all long-stayers, many having been with Orlestone for over a decade. One team member of particular note, Ron, has been with the company since it started more than 60 years ago. Jack says, a little reluctantly because he thinks it sounds corny, that the close-knit team is like a big family and they all pull together to create Orlestone products they can be proud of. Nevertheless, the sentiment is there, corny or not! Once again, there’s that commitment to heritage and care for quality that shines through in this type of family business.

Barrie and Jack visit forests in northern France and the UK to personally inspect and select the oak trees that end up in the company’s sawmill in Kent. They believe this is vital to maintaining the highest quality of finished products. Oak is a naturally resilient hardwood, with an incredibly dense structure, so it doesn’t require any chemical treatment to preserve it. Instead, it is kiln-dried, which means the beautifully hand-crafted Orlestone products have a natural longevity.

Jack’s passion for the timber at the heart of almost everything they manufacture is evident. He mentions his awe when he surveys the mighty oaks that have taken so many years to grow. He says it gives a different perspective on life when seeing the new young trees that are continually planted to ensure there are always mature ones to be harvested – trees that will still be standing tall long after we are gone!

The oaks are from a managed and sustainable source that is on a grand scale. Orlestone’s awareness of trees as a valuable resource speaks of the care taken to minimise their impact on the environment. As they grow the oaks capture harmful carbon, removing it from the atmosphere; it is then locked into the timber that is used to make products. Great care is taken to reduce waste throughout the manufacturing process, making sure everything has a use. Even the sawdust is used in the biomass boiler to run the kilns that dry the timber.

Having said all this, you can see reflected in the beauty of Orlestone Oak’s products the honesty and integrity shining through the gorgeous golden-toned, handcrafted wood. If ever the saying ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ could be applied to a family business, it is justified here. Long may it flourish and stand tall!

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