Buying a gun can be an almost holy experience for the right person. Feeling the cool metal of the barrel, the wood grain of the stock and the tension of the mechanisms is part of a ritual for gun owners. It’s ecstasy in the form of steel and wood.
For some, gun collecting is less of a hobby and more of a passion. That’s especially true in the United States, where gun ownership, despite falling in recent decades, is a well-established tradition.
According to a 2019 Gallup Poll, 32 percent of U.S. adults said they owned a gun, while 44 percent said they lived in a gun-owning household. In Arkansas, this percentage is likely higher. The poll listed Republicans, rural residents, men, “self-identified conservatives” and Southerners as top groups most likely to own guns, with Republicans having a 50 percent likelihood of owning guns, rural residents at 48 percent, men and conservatives at 45 percent and Southerners at 40 percent.
But collecting guns goes beyond just owning a shotgun or two or a few rifles. Taylor Denniston, the owner of Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in Sherwood, said gun collecting is easy to fall into for those who love hunting and shooting, but that collectors come in all stripes. At his sporting goods store, Denniston sees people coming in to buy for a multitude of reasons beyond just hunting, whether people are collecting guns as investment pieces or for the “cool factor.”
Denniston said a lot of gun buyers are collectors. “First off, they like to shoot them and have them, but a lot of the stuff they’re collecting, they’re really not even really shooting. They’re just buying it because they like it. Some of them gain value — some of the older Winchesters and Colts and stuff, that if you bought them a long time ago and kept them in good shape, you could have made quite a bit of money off of them for what they go for now on the auction sites. But I think a lot of the people are doing it as a hobby.
“They’re cool. Some of the guns, like what you would call collectible shotguns, are almost like art with all the hand engraving and the fancy wood. Once you get up into the upper end price points, you can get some really pretty stuff.”
It’s hunting, though, that really draws in gun buyers, according to Denniston.
“We sell tons of shotguns and rifles, and they may say, ‘Hey, I want to start target shooting or deer hunting or duck hunting,’ so they may come in and buy their first shotgun,” he said. “Then they buy a 12-gauge and they say, ‘I want to get a 20 gauge. Then they go buy a second one, and they’re like, ‘Well, I may go on a pheasant hunt… so I want to over-under, maybe in a 410 or 28 gauge and they just kind of start buying different things. They keep coming back and adding to their collection.
“And then by the time they’ve turned around, they’ve amassed quite a few different ones,” he said with a laugh.
Once collectors have the guns, then there’s the question of where to put them. The common solution is gun safes, where the guns can be stored behind steel doors to be pulled out when needed. Safes serve a much-needed utilitarian purpose, but one Arkansas company is raising the game for gun and trophy rooms.
Located off the beaten path in Heber Springs, Julian & Sons is crafting extraordinary cabinetry designed to showcase gun collections, hunting trophies and more. But owner Joe Julian said he isn’t satisfied with just putting guns on display. He wants to help the owners tell the stories of their collections and their hunts.
“Most people start out hunting, white tail hunting ducks, squirrels, whatever it is. But that love can turn into a passion. If somebody invites them on their first safari in Africa or they go and kill their first elk, they really don’t know what to do with it. When they get all this stuff, they know that they want to display this. They want to find a way to, to share this with their family and friends, and we’ll come in and help them, not only do the space allocation for the floor plan to make sure everything works. We come in and draw the elevations and help them organize their trophies from their hunts and their guns in a way that helps tell their story,” he said.
It all started with his father, the late Tom Julian, who launched Julian and Sons in 1985. Tom Julian wanted to launch a woodworking company with his sons, and he started it in the family garage, teaching his four sons the trade. As the company grew, they found their niche: gun and trophy rooms.
Building gun and trophy rooms was a classic case of Tom Julian knowing that he could build something better than what was already there. Joe Julian said that Tom’s background in custom homebuilding served him well, giving him insight into the functional and aesthetic design of these rooms.
“He started recognizing and noticing these trophy rooms and these gun rooms just didn’t look right. They didn’t have the right feel — they were more museum feels — or had as many animals as you could stuff on a wall. So he said, ‘We can do this better.’
“So we were able to go in and help these people redesign their rooms or design new rooms that were more consistent with their hunts, their memories, their lifestyles. That’s really how we got into the hunting and guns,” Julian said.
For Julian, these gun and trophy rooms are not just repositories for firearms and dead animals. They are intended to be a centerpiece and showstopper for a home, telling the stories of the owner’s passions, whether that’s big game hunting in Africa, duck hunting Arkansas or just showing off prized Winchesters.
“We’re able to really give them something that they couldn’t have with any other experience,” he said. “In certain areas, people go in, walk through [a trophy room] and they’re done, and they move on to somewhere else in the home. But what we want to do with these rooms is we want people to come in and spend time there.”
Julian’s craftsmen use a range of woods to build the cabinetry and features for each custom room, which he said are in homes across the United States, England, South Africa and even Dubai. Each year, Julian estimates the company averages 24 jobs, with projects ranging from $30,000 to $1 million or more.
While the price is eye-popping, Julian delivers with exacting attention to detail. The company has developed its own system for displaying guns, allowing guns to be raised or lowered or displayed horizontally or even angled — all to improve the visual experience. They add billboard cloth to make the guns pop and outsource details to master craftsmen to ensure that each custom room and piece has the best possible luxury finishes.
“You can go buy a piece of hardware anywhere, but to have a custom piece of hardware handmade by an Arkansas blacksmith — we have a long blacksmithing tradition in this state — that adds so much. It’s a small detail and a lot of people won’t see it, but, but our clients know and appreciate that,” he said.
Julian and Sons is expanding its range products, and Julian said that the company is working to develop a portable gun rack, made with the same exacting craftsmanship and exotic woods as found in a full room but in a compact size. This gun rack would allow hunters to set up and have their guns ready on the fly during a hunt, or it could even be a display piece in a home. For Julian, it’s a way of getting that signature Julian and Sons luxury experience at a more affordable cost.
At the end of the day, these luxury gun rooms are all about bringing people together, Julian said. His father designed a gun room in Ranger, Texas, for a client, and when he found out that another potential client lived just down the road, he arranged a tour of the room. What started out as a business discussion turned into a lifelong friendship between the two Texans, brought together by a love of guns and hunting.
“That’s so satisfying to enhance somebody’s life with not only the work that we’ve done, but bringing them together with other like-minded people. It’s just amazing,” Julian said.