Sweet Home Alabama: A Salvaged Home in the South

A Wedowee, Alabama, family hand-built their cabin using scraps they found onsite and in the surrounding counties. This is as local as it gets.

| March/April 2009

  • The Bakers at home (left to right): Jeffery, Adam, Kay, Guy and Kyle. Adam is in college, but Jeffery and Kyle now work for Guy. “This project gave them a passion for the construction industry,” he says. “At age 20 and 22, they could each literally build their own house today.”
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • This bathtub cost $90: $50 for the cattle trough and $40 to have a fiberglass lining installed.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The Bakers cleared a minimal amount of forest trees for their small cabin. The surrounding trees provide an elegant backdrop for the outdoor kitchen.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • At just 1,100 square feet, the Bakers’ weekend cabin became their main residence after the family spent years building it together.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Kyle found the old Native American grinding stone that adorns the outdoor grill just a few feet from where the cabin now stands.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The Bakers' sons built this fireplace by hand.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • This small "shed" houses a storage closet for the home's outdoor kitchen.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The next step in Guy’s vision is a working waterwheel; the home is ripe for microhydro power.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The home has no “finished” ceilings. “I wanted the lumber to be exposed, so it would look like I’d remodeled an old mill,” Guy says.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • At just 1,100 square feet, the Bakers’ weekend cabin became their main residence after the family spent years building it together.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The hinges and doorknobs were the only things the Bakers bought for the kitchen; everything else is salvaged. “I think we spent $20 in there, total,” Guy says.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The enormous open-faced fireplace is one of Guy’s unique designs, built for function as well as form. Because the family lost everything in a fire 18 years ago, he wanted every part of this fireplace to be visible. It easily heats the entire house.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Salvaged wood, doors and windows give this home a charming, rustic feel.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn

Growing up in rural Roanoke, Alabama, Guy Baker and his brother spent hours roaming their grandpa’s 40 acres, reined in only by the creek that marked the boundary of their play area. Thirty-eight years later, Guy returned to that patch of land to build a retreat for himself, his wife and his own sons on the edge of that same creek.

In 2001, Guy had hit an emotional wall. Kay, his childhood sweetheart and wife of 20 years, was busy earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology. The couple’s three sons were entering their teens. Guy’s mother had died a few months before, and Guy had thrown himself into his work.

"My construction business had slowly spiraled out of control," he says. "I was working 10 to 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week, and it still wasn’t enough. I had no downtime. I feared for my boys’ future in this ever-changing world. I missed my mom. I felt my life passing me by. Heck, I was 41 years old and had forgotten how to fish!" Guy knew he needed peace and serenity, and his childhood stomping grounds seemed to be calling his name.

Guy and Kay had bought eight of his grandfather’s 40 acres inthe late 1980s, and Guy had a fairy-tale vision for the land he once played on: a cozy little millhouse on the creek bank, with a waterwheel. A house that he, Kay and their three boys would build all by themselves using found wood and stone. "I wanted to spend my off-time building a little weekend cabin to escape to," he says. "But more than that, I wanted a project that would bring us together as a family."



Though hesitant at first, Kay suspected the project might be just what her husband and family needed. "When he first told me his plan, I thought, ‘Yeah, OK, whatever,’" Kay says. "To me, being in the middle of the woods didn’t seem peaceful. I felt too enclosed. I like being around people, being in the world. So it was not a real fantasy for me. But he’s the love of my life, so I supported his vision."

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