From Salvage Yard to Garden House

Using salvaged pieces in clever ways turned this garden into one of a kind.
Steve Bender

For eons, wives have scolded their husbands with the censorious question, "Why do you keep bringing home all that junk?" The simple, honest answer, "Someday I'll find a use for it," has never once met with approval.

Well, guys, meet your hero. His name is Doug Honeycutt. Years of scrounging through salvage yards and going-out-of-business sales--as well as picking up stuff from the side of the road--has created one of Birmingham's neatest backyards. From the neon "flowers" sign above the garden house door to the antique tools decorating the front of his workshop, this 25- x 60-foot space overflows with personality. Best of all, his wife, Frances, loves it.

Big Plans
The Honeycutts moved into their home about five years ago. Among the first things Doug added were a rear deck and a wisteria-draped arbor. If he had stopped there, Frances might have been content. But Doug had bigger plans born of talent that had him dreaming of being an architect before joining his family's construction business.

For three years, Doug was a mysterious pack rat, filling sheds with artifacts and throwaways he found all over Alabama. "Frances kept asking me, 'Why do you keep collecting all this stuff?' " he recalls. "I didn't tell her the truth. It was going to be a surprise.

"I sat down one night in October and sketched out the garden house," he continues. "I told her, 'This is your Christmas present.' She took one look at the sketch and just fell in love with it."

Then came the hard part: designing it to incorporate the many salvaged pieces he'd brought home. With carpentry help from friends, the Owen family, Doug pulled it off. He presented the finished house to Frances in March. "It's the best gift I have ever been given, except for my engagement ring," she says.

Smart Details
Here are a few of the special touches that make this garden house unique.
• Placed above the door is a salvaged arched window. Doug designed the garden house to fit it.
• A heron sculpture Doug collected in North Carolina is perched in front of the arched window.
• Above the door is a neon "flowers" sign that Doug bought for $25 from a local Habitat for Humanity shop. The garden house was already built at that point, but the sign fit the door perfectly.
• Window boxes are suspended on chains from salvaged wooden brackets attached above the windows. Vines growing up the chains hide them.
• A cord running through pulleys allows Doug and Frances to easily pull shade cloth over the top of the clear roof to cool and shade the interior.

Let's Go Inside
The interior of the garden house is just as funky as the exterior, displaying everything from stained glass to an old Coca-Cola ice chest to a prized collection of wine bottles. Frances stores tender plants in here for the winter and pots up plants for the summer. A floor of salvaged brick resting on compacted gravel allows water to drain through it.

The room's centerpiece is an old drawing table given by their friend Marcia Unger. Doug installed a sink in it, and they often use it for dining.

The amenities don't stop there. The garden house also includes automatic fans for cooling, heaters, a smokeless grill, a microwave, a gas fireplace, and a stereo. "Frances says that she would live in here if it had a bathroom," Doug says.

It sounds as if someone is ready for another scavenger hunt. On behalf of messy men everywhere: Go, Doug, go.


"The Coolest Backyard" is from the August 2007 issue of Southern Living.