A Second Chance

There’s magic in the feel and smell of reclaimed wood—whether it’s found along the silky surface of a newly milled tabletop or in the soft earthiness of freshly installed floorboards. The comfort of trees with histories, character and stories to tell is palpable. And when it comes to finding new purposes for our tired or felled tree sentinels, several businesses and establishments around Austin are choosing to incorporate those histories and stories into their own. 

During our recent and lengthy drought, Carol Ann Sayle and husband Larry Butler of Boggy Creek Farm tried to salvage as many of the dead trees on their property as possible. This wood was then used for the main elements in the construction of their 2012 Dog Trot House, located on the western side of the urban farm. But then came another crisis. “When the 2011 Bastrop fires happened, we were able to mill eight large logs and reuse them in the construction of this house,” says Sayle. She points to the large wooden beam supporting the awning. It was constructed from one of those logs, and features what Sayle calls a “live edge” detail: a line of exposed natural bark burned black from the fire. “You just can’t get this stuff,” says Sayle. “It’s special.” 

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Salvaged wood was also used in the cabinetry and furniture at Dog Trot House; almost every piece in the home has a backstory. Sayle gestures toward a large pecan wood table. “This is the tree that fell on our house from a tornado in 2001,” she says. Contractor Mark Marsee was brought in to help build the Dog Trot House and fill it with objects that have a history, like the reclaimed black walnut wood cabinets featured in the kitchen. “The patinas you get on the wood…it really is unsurpassed,” says Marsee. Now a bustling place to host family and friends, the Dog Trot House utilized materials hundreds of years old to celebrate a new time and place. “We gave the wood a new life,” Sayle says. “The trees have an immortality.”

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Kay Rogers of Bastrop played an instrumental role in preserving some of the loblolly pines the fires destroyed. Her home was leveled by the devastation, but she couldn’t just walk away. “We were trying to figure out a way to live on these fifty acres again,” says Rogers. “It had been such a beautiful place. I just saw all this pine and said, why aren’t people harvesting them?” The process of harvesting and milling the trees was daunting and expensive—the damaged trees were loaded and transported to mills, processed and preserved, then brought back to the property. But Rogers saw the benefits, and rebuilt her home from pieces left over from the catastrophe that destroyed it. “It is real special to walk in the front door and be in a house that is built out of the pines that were killed here,” she says. “It’s like the phoenix.”

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Rogers relied on the support of her friends in the aftermath of the fire, including Emmett and Lisa Fox, owners of Cantine in Austin. “[They] showed up right away with a cooler full of pots and pans and knives,” says Rogers. “I’ll never forget that…they were some of the first out. They were so supportive.” When Emmett approached Rogers about using her wood in the design plan for their restaurant, Rogers knew that it was an excellent use for the leftovers from rebuilding her home. “We could have gone out and bought wood,” says Emmett, “but because she is our friend, we were able to help her as well as help the environment.” The beautiful reclaimed wood-paneled walls immediately greet visitors to the restaurant—a design choice that Emmett says makes people feel good when they hear of the wood’s origin.

by Rachel Johnson • Photography by Melanie Grizzel