Mainstreams: The Rustic Way

by Rachel Minske
Contributing Writer

Dan Pauly is a fourth generation carpenter.

Dan Pauly, of Elk River, has spend the last 28 years creating custom wood projects. He builds saunas, cabinetry, guest cottages and small structures, among other things.
Dan Pauly, of Elk River, has spend the last 28 years creating custom wood projects. He builds saunas, cabinetry, guest cottages and small structures, among other things.

His family’s handiwork dates back two centuries; Pauly’s great grandfather, Henry, emigrated to the United States from Switzerland in the 1800s and built barns in central Minnesota. The woodworking craft was passed down to Pauly’s grandfather, Carl, then to his father, Bob.

Then to Pauly himself.

These days, Pauly takes down those barns built so many years ago and uses the reclaimed wood for projects of his own through his business, The Rustic Way, located on County Road 15 in Elk River.

“That’s the beauty of it,” said Pauly. “There’s a lot of history. Most of my customers, that’s the biggest meaning they have with this material. If you can tell them a story … that’s what it’s truly about.”

A guest cottage is one of the many woodworking projects Pauly creates.
A guest cottage is one of the many woodworking projects Pauly creates.

Pauly said while his business attracts clientele worldwide and has been featured in the likes of Better Homes and Gardens, Minnesota Bound, Cabin Life Magazine and beyond, there are customers who venture to his business for the first time not ever knowing he was there.

A guest cottage, built by Dan Pauly of The Rustic Way, is one of many woodworking projects Pauly creates.
A guest cottage, built by Dan Pauly of The Rustic Way, is one of many woodworking projects Pauly creates.

“A lot of people that end up here tell me they can’t believe (they’ve) never run into (me),” Pauly said. “Unless you knew or came across my website or something, you might never know I was here.”

The Rustic Way’s product line ranges from saunas to play houses to guest cottages to garden sheds, interiors and beyond.

The often playful and eccentric designs of his custom-made buildings are a huge draw, Pauly said.

An outhouse building designed and constructed by Elk River resident Dan Pauly is pictured. Pauly owns the The Rustic Way, a business situated on County Road 15 that sells tiny homes, small specialized buildings and interior woodworking, among other services.
An outhouse building designed and constructed by Elk River resident Dan Pauly is pictured. Pauly owns the The Rustic Way, a business situated on County Road 15 that sells tiny homes, small specialized buildings and interior woodworking, among other services.

“I think it’s all about that whimsical feel of the building, that’s the main eye catch for my building,” said Pauly, who usually constructs six to eight buildings at a time in an assembly-like process. “Then, once they see the quality of the reclaimed wood on the inside, that’s the sale part of it.”

The artistry side of his projects represents who Pauly is on a profound level, he said.

“I try to keep it true to myself,” he said.

Home interiors are one of the specializations of The Rustic Way in Elk River. While owner Dan Pauly is regularly contacted by customers across the country – and as far as Europe – he often has customers stop by his business off County Road 15 unaware he was located there.
Home interiors are one of the specializations of The Rustic Way in Elk River. While owner Dan Pauly is regularly contacted by customers across the country – and as far as Europe – he often has customers stop by his business off County Road 15 unaware he was located there.

Pricing for the buildings is contingent on what the customer would like; elective feature options include indoor wiring and plumbing, insulation, a choice of reclaimed wood or plaster, customized interior finishing and a range of building sizes: 8, 10 and 12 feet.

Pauly’s designs have won the hearts of many in the tiny home movement, too; The Rustic Way was once featured in Tiny House Magazine.

The tiny home movement

“Tiny” living is a social movement driven by the premise of economic downturns, environmental concerns and a desire for simplified living, according to the Small House Society, an organization that supports the research, development and use of smaller living spaces.

Among the services offered by The Rustic Way are custom cabinetry. Owner Dan Pauly, said his great-grandfather Henry emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in the late 1800s and built barns across central Minnesota.
Among the services offered by The Rustic Way are custom cabinetry. Owner Dan Pauly, said his great-grandfather Henry emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in the late 1800s and built barns across central Minnesota.

According to the society, there are no guidelines that determine whether a home is tiny or small, but members of the group live in homes ranging from 140 square feet to more than 4,000 square feet.

The movement is something that wasn’t even talked about when Pauly’s business got off the ground about 28 years ago, he said. He strives to stay true to his roots and doesn’t change his buildings too much to accommodate the needs of tiny house aficionados. Some of his customers, however, do choose to arrange small, whimsical buildings like a tiny village; one building may be for sleeping, another for an outhouse, Pauly said.

Tiny homes are beginning to pop up all over the state as home builders try their hands at the pint-sized construction and cities begin to allow the small structures.

St. Cloud Technical and Community College has even jumped aboard, with plans to build two tiny homes each semester and put them up for sale. One 8-foot-by-24-foot home built at the school went up for sale in February with a starting bid of $46,000.

Dan Pauly travels across central Minnesota to collect reclaimed wood from old barns to use in his artisan woodworking projects. Pauly said he strives to ensure each of his projects are his own design and he doesn’t like to copy others’ ideas.
Dan Pauly travels across central Minnesota to collect reclaimed wood from old barns to use in his artisan woodworking projects. Pauly said he strives to ensure each of his projects are his own design and he doesn’t like to copy others’ ideas.

As of June 2016, residents in rural Andover could request permission from the city to build a tiny house in their backyard, according to an article by ABC Newspapers.

The city of Elk River may not be too far from joining the tiny home revolution, too. In early April, members of the Elk River City Council and city staff discussed a proposal from Northern Tiny Home Builders during a work session. The applicant, Jay Hagelberg, was interested in manufacturing tiny homes and refurbishing vehicles like buses and trailers into tiny homes near 163rd Avenue.

The City Council provided non-binding direction to the applicant during the work session.

For more information about The Rustic Way, visit rusticway.com.