As some of you may or may not know, all of the wood used in my handmade pieces is rescued from homes that are to be destroyed to make room for new construction. The majority of the time, when going into a home to rescue materials, I know little to nothing about the family--or families--that have lived there over the past 80+ years.
I always leave with more questions than answers. Who were they? How long had they lived there? What stories did they have from the years living in their home that is now days away from being flattened and hauled away to the dump?
Sometimes I find photos, or little bits of things left behind. Things that had little to no value to them when they moved out, things that were forgotten in the corners of the attic, or lost in the dark musty basements. I could have only guessed who these people were or what their lives were like by what they left behind. Until my latest adventure into a small home in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville.
I pulled up to the home around 11:30 in the morning. Two cups of coffee deep, I was pretty amped on getting to explore another vacant home; this one built in 1930. I had just unlocked the front door when a very very tall man came walking across the street trying to get my attention. He introduced himself as Sam.
He seemed curious about why I was planning on spending my Saturday afternoon in an empty home. After a minute Sam tells me that this was the house he grew up in, and had lived in since he was 1 year old! He and his siblings had decided to part with the home after their mother passed away recently and he was hoping to take one last look around before it was demolished.
Obviously I was even more pumped now that I was finally meeting someone from one of my rescue homes! I immediately asked Sam if he would be kind enough to take me on a tour of his home. Without hesitation, he said, "Of course, let's go." I had told him in our introduction about how I was there to rescue materials from his old home to repurpose. His first instinct was that meant I wanted him to show me where he thought the best materials for reclaiming were located inside.
After he walked me through the first two rooms, pointing out the solid wood doors and high base boards in each, I stopped him. I told him that I wanted a real tour, of his home, not just a walkthrough of the structure itself. He said, "OK, I gotcha," and showed me into the next room, the kitchen.
He told me about how his father had installed these kitchen cabinets 40 something years ago, and although they didn't match, he did his best to make it look nice. He took me to the live-in attic, what used to be his room. On the way back down the stairs he pointed out the wooden rails and told me a story of how he got his head stuck in them as a young kid, and told me about how he once tried to ride his tricycle down them but it ended poorly.
He took me down to the basement and showed me where his father had built a workbench from an old door where he used to do his woodworking and other projects. I was lucky enough to find some of his old wood clamps in a corner where the workbench had once been. They were extremely rusted through and of no used to him, so he let me keep them.
As the tour neared an end, Sam took me through the front room where an awesome fireplace with amazing detail was. He pointed to three nails under the mantle and told me that as kids they used to hang their stockings there on Christmas, and how every year his mother would put Christmas cards from other family members along the top of the mantle. He explained how one year they received so many cards, that she had to put them around the entire living room door as well!
We headed back outside to the front porch, sat on the brick wall for a minute, and out of nowhere Sam said to me: "I think this is really awesome what you're doing. You're giving my home a new life. That really means a lot to me..." But the truth is:
It meant even more to me that it meant something to him...
A little bonus:
Along with other wood from the home I felt compelled to save the mantle and give it a second life too. I have too many memories to count with my family around the fire at Christmas, and knowing that Sam had the same, it just felt right saving it. SO, when I finally cracked the mantle away from the wall it was like a whole treasure chest opened and the riches fell out:
Photos from the home's original owner and other treasures found behind the fireplace mantle:
Walls and doors rescued for repurposing:
Larger format lumber being rescued by a friend:
The original (and beautiful) hardwood floors hidden under the mustard shag carpet:
One of the home's unique lighting fixtures rescued:
Poplar baseboards, rescued and repurposed: