For years, fans of “Salvage Dawgs,” a home improvement program on the DIY Network, have visited the show’s warehouse in Roanoke, Virginia, to poke around among items rescued and ready for a new life.
Now, those fans have a place to stay. The duo behind the hit show have turned a stately 107-year-old stone home just steps from the warehouse into a vacation rental and salvage show house. Its interior is a cornucopia of saved and reincarnated materials - discarded doors serve as elegant bed frames; kitchen windows have become bathroom mirrors. It’s an upcycler’s dream, an inspiring display of what’s possible when you reuse and repurpose.
The rental, called the Stone House, is the latest project from longtime Roanoke residents Mike Whiteside, 62, a former Navy parachute rigger and professional yacht captain, and Robert Kulp, 54, a builder and former Navy officer. The two started salvaging together in 1999 and opened shop as Black Dog Salvage later that year. After outgrowing their original site, they moved to a 44,000-square-foot warehouse, now their primary location, in 2003. There, visitors can browse individual parts such as doors and tiles, as well as the furniture that Whiteside and Kulp churn out in their on-site workshops. A second warehouse, about a mile away, opened to the public a year ago to showcase inventory that’s just been received. Both locations have become bucket-list destinations for fans of “Salvage Dawgs,” which premiered in 2012; the team estimates that they receive 150,000 visitors a year from around the United States and as far as South Africa and New Zealand.
“It’s a destination attraction, and it’s really made an impact on Roanoke as a region and around the state,” said Catherine Fox, vice president of public affairs and destination development at Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, a tourism bureau. “What we hear more times than not is that people are rerouting their trips to make a special stop at Black Dog Salvage. And on a typical day, when you go and look at the license plates in the parking lot, you’ll see a wide variety of folks from all over the country.”
The Dawgs aren’t the only home-improvement or design personalities who have branched into hoteling: Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame have opened vacation rentals in Texas, including Magnolia House, where each room is designed in the couple’s style. And designer Annie Selke has 33 Main, an upscale Massachusetts inn that’s a showroom for her textile business.
Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, sees this as part of a trend toward individualization in the lodging industry. Until about a decade ago, “if you stayed in a hotel in Florida or Maine or Texas or Washington state, the room would be the same,” he said. “And that’s actually a negative now to a majority of travelers. People are looking for something that’s more of a local experience, more genuine, more respectful to the environment or local population.”
The Black Dog team jokes that their lodging venture is a B&B that’s missing the second B, but they’re open to offering beers or bagels in lieu of breakfast. Most guests will come for the one-of-a-kind treasures that Whiteside and Kulp salvage during the four months a year they spend on the road.
“We’re not salvage prudes,” Kulp said. “We’ll go just about anywhere” - including churches, sawmills, schools, mansions, airport hangars and boats.
The duo used materials they already had in their workshops to renovate the 2,400-square-foot, three-bedroom property, which is rented on a whole-house basis and accommodates up to six people. The result is “a guest home for people who think like we do,” Kulp said during a recent tour of the house, which opened this month. “It’s a fusion of historical architecture and modern convenience and style. We respect old things, but we don’t mind mixing in the new, and that’s exactly what we’ve done here.”
Beyond its allure to salvage aficionados, the property offers a convenient base for exploring Roanoke, a railroad town nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s adjacent to the Roanoke Valley Greenway, a 30-mile biking and walking trail, and a few minutes’ drive from Grandin Village, a historic neighborhood with an art deco theater and natural foods co-op.
The house itself reflects Roanoke history. According to the Dawgs, the Italian stonemason who constructed it, Michael Grosso, used surplus from his projects in the town, some of which are still standing. Each corner is adorned with the same carvings he crafted for the local post office.
“It was sort of serendipity that a salvage company opened next door” to the home, Whiteside said, gesturing to a carved stone gargoyle he and Kulp unearthed that, like the carvings, apparently didn’t make it to the post office. It now perches in the front yard, welcoming guests.
When the Black Dog team bought the two-story building in 2003, it had no air-conditioning or heat, and a dilapidated roof and exterior. In an effort to preserve as much of the original house as possible, they kept the oak flooring in many of the rooms and, after stripping the house to its bones, reinstalled the trim. The original staircase stayed, as did two charming but nonfunctional fireplaces.
Every reincarnated piece has a story: The sink in the downstairs bathroom once was a workbench in a Lexington, North Carolina, furniture factory. The cap rail on the back porch was recovered from a Yard Patrol boat that the team found wrecked in Florida - a nod to Whiteside and Kulp’s Navy days.
The body of the dining room’s chandelier is a wooden pattern once used as a mold for metal parts on ships. Whiteside and Kulp found three containers of the patterns in Princeton, New Jersey.
“As soon as we pulled one out, we said, ‘This is a chandelier,’ ” Whiteside recalled. “So that’s what we created. It’s a puzzle - every piece is different, and everything is homemade.”
The dining room’s shelving unit was once the top half of a baby grand piano - no disrespect to the instrument intended. There’s a “monster glut” of old pianos across the country, Kulp said, “so we’ve turned them into things like bars and are always looking for other new ways to use them.”
The crown jewel of the house is the master bath, a 16-by-10-foot suite with a head-to-head, ceiling-mounted vanity, a luxury shower and a soaking tub from about 1915. There’s stained glass from England in the transom windows, and the walls have knotty pine paneling from 1940, salvaged from a church in Laurel, Del. The soaking tub once lived in the Laverock Hill Estate, a Georgian mansion in Glenside, Pa. And the silver expansion tank from the Stone House’s original heating system is displayed above the tub, lending an industrial vibe.
Kulp declares it his favorite room in the house, because it so perfectly represents the fusion of old and new.
“It’s a mixture of all these different salvage projects, and the combination of modern design and antique materials says everything about Black Dog Salvage,” he said. “The opportunity to do this and make a home and really be able to highlight how things are used - you see things in a huge industrial showroom like ours, and the scale is different. So here you’re able to place objects and utilize some of our salvage in the right scale, in the right frame.”
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If you go
The Stone House at Black Dog Salvage
914 13th St. SW, Roanoke
Rates from $400 per night for the entire house, which has three bedrooms, each with its own bath. Items in the house are for sale as-is or can be custom-ordered from the warehouse.
Haupt is a writer based in Washington, D.C.