A local couple turns bourbon barrels into stunning creations

ZEALAND — Ed and Tara Schrotenboer wanted some extra money to buy tools to fill their family’s new barn.

Now they own a growing business.

It all started with Adirondack chairs. Then, on a whim, Tara bought three barrels of whiskey at a garage sale and presented her husband with an idea for a half-barrel wine rack she had seen on Etsy.

What started in January 2020 with three barrels has blossomed into a family business called Leisure Time Designs which has used over 300 barrels for unique handmade pieces – including half and full barrel wine racks, home decor items, serving pieces, clocks and more.

“Our first year of operation was in the middle of COVID – but in a way it was a blessing in disguise because we had nothing to compare to,” Tara said. “We’re still shocked at where this has gotten us…we get to go to different places and see what Michigan has to offer.”

So far, the couple have visited art fairs and festivals across the state, showcasing their items. They’ve also created an Etsy page and website to help spread the word.

“People always say how unique our items are and that they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Ed said. “It’s fun for us. We’re certainly not the only ones making things out of whiskey casks, but we’re the only ones in West Michigan.

Tara comes up with the concepts and Ed – who has always been a jack of all trades – builds them. As the business has continued to grow, both Tara and Ed say there has been a learning curve.

“I cut into the first barrel not realizing that the humidity is what holds the whiskey barrel together so the wood is damp and it expands,” Ed said. “When you cut the first group, it stuns you with the amount of pressure that’s in those barrels. There was quite a learning curve with those early ones, but we figured it out from there.

Building objects from whiskey barrels is not so simple. The couple buy barrels – each weighing more than 200 pounds – in large quantities and haul them by trailer to their barn.

Then the couple empty the remaining contents of the barrels and let them dry for a few weeks to a few months, depending on the time of year.

Once dried, Ed does most of the assembling and Tara dyes and varnishes the finished products.

“We get most of the barrels from local breweries,” Ed said. “At first we would go on Craigslist or the market and people would sell a few here and there. Eventually we developed a relationship with Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven. They have a distillation place about 10 minutes from us.

“Last week, actually, I went three round trips and picked up another 66 barrels.”

They do not give up their daily work yet. Ed plans to continue working at a local automation company, while Tara continues to work as a nurse in Grand Rapids.

“Retail is something very foreign to us,” Ed said. “Learning to market our products and sell them has been one of our biggest learning curves.”

The couple believe they have enough barrels to last until next year. Tara has more projects up her sleeve.

“I love it,” Tara said. “I’ve always been an arts and crafts person and design has always been a fun thing for me to do…I’ve always loved decorating and designing different things, so that’s a really fun of these projects.”

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— Austin Metz is a former Holland Sentinel reporter.

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