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An Alabama Family Handbuilds a Sweet, Small Home From Scraps

4/14/2011 5:16:23 PM

Tags: salvaged materials, salvaged homes, Guy and Kay Baker, building with salvage, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailWhen building contractor Guy Baker set out to build a weekend cabin for his wife and three boys in Wedowee, Alabama, his goals were quite simple. He wanted to build it using the scraps and salvage that he had collected over the years, and he wanted to teach his sons—none of whom had any construction experience—how to build. “I wasn’t about to raise three boys who wouldn’t know how to work and get really tired and sweat and bleed,” Guy says. “This project turned them into three fine young men. It taught them values and character, respect and responsibility.”

Guy and his sons spent five years building the 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath house from old wood, tin and other materials that he had collected from 75 Alabama counties. “I got wood from old barns and sheds; some pieces I just found in a field somewhere,” Guy says. “My company also did a whole lot of work on a church from the 1850s that people claimed was the oldest in the county. I got all the windowpanes, some trim and a few pieces of lumber from that.”

Aside from the wiring, plumbing, lights and some store-bought rocks for the indoor fireplace, the home is built almost entirely from salvaged materials—which Guy much prefers. “A hundred years ago, they used bigger, older trees. It was heart pine—a harder pine, and a better cut of tree,” he says.

The Baker family built the house without plans or blueprints, following only a vision in Guy’s head. When it was finished, the family loved it so much that they made it their permanent home—despite its relatively small size for a family of five.

“If it had been up to me, this place would have been twice the size,” Kay admits. “Goodness, did I try to persuade Guy! We had 100 arguments about it. But he won out because he could always come up with a construction-based reason why we couldn’t make it bigger. The truth was, he didn’t want it any bigger, period. And now I’m so glad he didn’t listen to me!”

Kay has learned to love the little home more than she could have believed. “It’s the most comfortable place I’ve ever been in my life,” she says.

baker exterior 

At just 1,100 square feet, the Bakers’ weekend cabin became their main residence after the family spent years building it together. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

 baker family 

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. Photo by Michael Shopenn  

baker kitchen   

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. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

baker living room 

The enormous 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. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

 baker rocking chairs 

 The porch is ideal for sitting and drinking sweet tea. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

 baker bathtub 

This bathtub cost $90: $50 for the cattle trough and $40 to have a fiberglass lining installed. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

 baker outdoor kitchen 

Kyle found the old Native American grinding stone that adorns the outdoor grill just a few feet from where the cabin stands.  w  baker outdoor fireplace 

The Bakers' sons built this fireplace by hand. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

 baker shed 

A small "shed" houses a storage closet for the outdoor kitchen. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

 baker tower 

The next step in Guy’s vision is a working waterwheel; the home is ripe for microhydro power. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

baker hallway to bath 

Salvaged wood, windows and doors give the home an old-fashioned, cozy charm. 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. Photo by Michael Shopenn

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8/6/2014 12:19:30 PM
Did anyone ever get an answer about the trough liner????!!! Thanks!

10/2/2013 8:30:03 AM
Sorry to ask again... I didn't see an answer posted. How do you find a company that does fiberglass liners? What company did you use or where would you buy one?

George Bishop
4/20/2013 8:57:44 PM

George Bishop
4/20/2013 8:47:34 PM
Where did you get the liner, or did you have it made?

George Bishop
4/20/2013 8:29:47 PM
Where did you get the liner for the tub, or did you have it made?

George Bishop
4/20/2013 8:28:40 PM
Where did you get the liner for the tub?

Debra Thomas
1/20/2013 4:12:05 PM
I love the tub do you have to have the fiberglass liner made special or can you buy it already made?

Amanda Pope
1/8/2013 12:12:32 AM
The tub is a horse trough,Home Depot has them.Very creative folks I give you alot of kudozs for it.What a wonderful idea it was and very conservative!

Susan Kretschmer
12/24/2012 1:44:20 AM
Questions about the tub!! How is it made with the insert

Pam Smyth
5/4/2011 12:38:45 PM
I would also love to know where I can have that tub made, I LOVE it!

4/22/2011 10:02:54 AM
This is a neat house and made from scraps to boot! Excellent job, I wouldn't mind living there one bit.

John Duffy_3
4/20/2011 9:27:51 PM
That is a sweeet house. I could live there in a heartbeat! I would love to sit on the front porch & do my wood carving. Awesome job!

Liza Vial
4/20/2011 9:02:35 PM
Wonderful job on working together and creating a beautiful home! Congrats!!!

Sean(Builder Huddersfield)
4/20/2011 6:39:20 PM
This truly is a work of art. Great job you guys did. I wonder if you guys would build an extension houses for your sons.

Lynn from Ohio
4/20/2011 6:33:04 PM
I love this house and will be forwarding the article to my daughter who has 3 young sons. She hasn't learned that small is good, and is currently house-shopping for a big, modern Florida-style home. In the meantime, is it possible to forward my comments and email address to Kat in Montana who submitted a comment earlier today? I'd love to talk to another self-building woman in her 60's. I have a 2-story log home to rebuild by myself, and I'm 57, so maybe I'm not so crazy after all!

Suzanne Horvath
4/20/2011 6:17:35 PM
@Toulle The original article said "75 towns", not counties. Must be a misprint on the retelling in this article.

4/20/2011 1:28:38 PM
I too was wondering who you had make the fiberglass insert for your water trough.Super idea !!! Plus I would love to see your open ceiling.I plan on building a smaller cabin out of recycled materials this summer and if you have anything to say towards things that you had problems with while building with such materials I sure would love to hear from you towards that. I am a woman in my early 60's and will be building this by myself if looks like.Thanks !!!! Kat in Montana

GregC in Austin TX
4/20/2011 10:51:33 AM
First off, what a great job you did! Quick questions about the cattle trough bathtub: Where did you get the fiberglass insert? Or was it custom made? If the insert was custom made, who made it, and what business are they in? I would like make a tub like that here in Texas. Thanks! Greg

Liliana van Lawick
4/20/2011 9:16:42 AM
The cabin is beautiful! I don't know much about building, but I wonder how you got building permits without submitting an approved plan? Where I live in Washington state, you have to submit a plan to the county for even a simple garage.

Jerry N_1
4/18/2011 8:47:44 AM
There's a picture of the open ceilings if you follow the "a weekend cabin" link in the article. I'd really like to see a floor plan diagram. I'm having a hard time figuring out how the 1100 square feet are allocated.

John Sealander
4/17/2011 8:28:06 AM
Nice work guys! But would have loved to see the open ceils you did.......

4/15/2011 10:28:13 PM
Lumber from 75 Alabama counties? There are only 67 counties in Alabama.

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