The Joys of Building a Home Together

An Alabama family built this beautiful, affordable green home by hand using salvaged wood and other reclaimed materials.

| December 2011/January 2012

In Wedowee, Ala., Guy and Kay Baker live in a cozy cabin they built with their three sons using almost entirely reclaimed materials. Under the guidance of Guy, a professional builder, the family spent about five years on the project, lovingly and painstakingly building a sustainable home using centuries-old materials. The family so loves their hand-built home — initially planned as a vacation cottage — that they ended up moving in full time. Every day, Kay and Guy enjoy the personal connection they have with every detail of the 1,100-square-foot space.

In 2001, Guy was feeling overwhelmed at work, and Kay was working on her bachelor’s degree in psychology. The couple’s three young sons were becoming increasingly busy with school and their personal lives. When Guy’s mother unexpectedly fell ill and passed away, Guy became acutely aware of the sensation that life was passing him by. For years, Kay and Guy had owned land on which they planned to build — a piece of property formerly owned by Guy’s grandfather — but they’d never gotten around to starting the project. After his mother’s death, Guy felt driven to make good on a longtime dream of building a getaway in the woods for himself and his family. “We just needed some peace and serenity,” he says.

Building With Reclaimed Materials

Guy had long had a fascination with the antique building materials he saw while working on tear-down buildings in the area. He was impressed with the materials’ quality and durability. He saw the antiques he’d collected as heirlooms of a bygone era that valued craftsmanship over speed.

“It amazed me that I could work on houses that were 150 years old, and the damages to these homes were minute be­cause of the materials and the quality of the studs and the lumber,” he says. “A year later, you work on a home that’s only 20 years old, and you see all this termite and water damage.”

For years, Guy had been collecting items — bits of the region’s architectural history — gathered from projects in the area. Though he hadn’t been sure at the time what he would do with them, he knew they were too wonderful to throw away. When it came time to start construc­tion on his family cabin, Guy realized he had collected nearly enough reclaimed materials to build the whole cabin.

Having spent 20 years building in Randolph County, Ala., Guy had a vast knowledge of the area’s best sources of re­claimed and antique building materials. “All these materials were readily available. They were everywhere,” he says. People in the area who were tearing down old structures often didn’t have another des­tination for them, so Guy took them off their hands. “Being in the construction in­dustry, I saw it everywhere — say we were tearing down an old barn with great old wood. If you ask them if you can have it, nine out of 10 people say, ‘Sure!’”

Jeffrey Vasby
12/13/2017 10:12:16 AM

Beautiful! I have built sheds and animal barns completely free from construction salvage. Thanks and God Bless you and your family and Merry Christmas! Uncle Jeff!

Jeffrey Vasby
12/13/2017 10:12:13 AM

Beautiful! I sadly had to sell "Mater " my tiny house I built on our 1976 GMC class C motor home chassis after my 2nd heart attack. I built him with 80% recycled materials but over the years I've built many sheds and animal barns completely free from construction salvage. Our local utility company in Tennessee used to burn acres of huge oak pallets until I found out. I got them free,the company even loaded my truck and trailer for me. When we sold our farm a few years later my realator was impressed with all my oak out buildings and barns. Thanks for sharing your Beautiful home and God Bless! Uncle Jeff!

12/10/2017 8:42:20 PM

Not sure I would agree with that, although that was our plan before my husband was badly burned in a car fire. We are in our 70s and don't have the physical requirements to be pulling cable, installing duct work, sheet rock, etc. Reliable help is hard to find, so we may end up having to sell our retirement dream home as is and maybe finding something that just needs a little TLC. Congratulation to anyone who is able to accomplish their dream.

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