Guest Post by Tracen Gardner
I came up with the idea for Reclaimed Space when I needed a living space on my ranch outside Shiner, Texas. There was no electricity or running water on the site, which is located 15 minutes from the nearest hardware store. I did not want to use all that energy driving back and forth and was concerned with not only with time constraints but also the confusion involved in meeting sub contractors in a remote area. I was afraid of not completing the project in time and that it would take too long to “dry-in” if I worked only on weekends.
I decided to build my Reclaimed Space to fit a “shipping envelope.” Not so tall that it would hit bridges, but wide enough to be usable. I also incorporated sustainable practices I learned at UT like cross wind ventilation, single pitch roof optimized for rain water catchment, solar compatibility (orienting the space long way east/west preventing too much sun), over insulation, and the use of piers. The piers eliminate the need for a lot of concrete and are able to relocate easily if needed.
Since I painted my way through college, I knew where most damage would occur from the sun and rain. To compensate for this, I placed galvanized tin on the bottom 1/3 of the north and south walls, and almost all of the east and west walls. The structure was built with eaves for the same reasons.
Next came style, for years I had collected 100 yrs old material with great appreciation for it’s structural strength, historic value, rich colors and textures. I was happy to do my part to save landfill space.
Once the first Reclaimed Space was built, friends told me I should start a business of building and selling more. Three months after completing the first Space, I called Dwell magazine. To my surprise, I received a call back 3 hrs later from the President, Michela O’Connor Abrams. She asked if she could meet in two days for dinner. Michela changed her flight plans to stop by Austin on her way to San Francisco from New York. She asked her SW Branding representative Nualla Berrells to join us. Over dinner Michela invited Reclaimed Space to attend their Dwell on Design conference in LA. It was at the end of June, only 3 months away. This opportunity gave RS the perfect platform to represent it’s model of effeccient, quick build, shippable, and “drop-ready” (able to plug in and use immediately) spaces.
We were received brilliantly. Over 14,000 attendees toured the Space. I can not remember how many people came by 2 or more times, brought their friends to show/tour, and commented that they felt our Home was the best attraction at the show. I was afraid we would be looked at as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” what a great relief to get so many compliments, to see so many world renowned designers asking to take photos, and to meet so many intellectuals in the sustainable and architectural communities. The Space was featured on several LA news broadcasts, we were asked to be interviewed for 15+ videos, and professionally photographed by Dwell and many others.
Instead of paying to ship the unit back to Texas, I came up with the idea to sell it at the show. At first, Dwell was on board, but later recanted because they felt it would not be professionally correct to support one vendor and not the others. This did not slow Reclaimed, we came up with a new idea: to sell the Space using eBay and give half the profits from to Habitat for Humanity. The Space soared in price, by the closing, we were able to sell it for $75,000 and donate $10,000 to Habitat. The actor, TJ Thyne, from the TV show Bones was the lucky winning bidder. He located his Space in Southern California. Later, Dwell supported the sale of modular homes during their convention, they even invited us back, really, they demanded we come back, and deeply discounted our vendor fee. During the next year we received an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for their Life Cycle Building Challenge. We flew to San Francisco for the West Coast Green Conference to receive our award and to – Hide quoted text – give a speech. Wow, what an honor and experience, my degree in Environmental Resource Management was paying off.
We started to get more and more media attention, from solar, sustainable, building, small living, design, and re-use magazines and blogs. Two authors even included Reclaimed Space in their books. Our sales really took off once the Austin American Statesman wrote a lengthy article for their real estate section, front page, with some great photos.
Our next Space, built, shipped, set and electrified in 4 short weeks, was purchased by a couple in Marfa, TX. It is a sewing room/guest home on the grounds of what was once owned by Donald Judd, the famous artist. Next, we built a guest home that was shipped outside Austin for an expanding family. A few months later, we built and shipped the “Land Yacht” outside Bastrop, TX for a professional sailing couple.
They wanted their ranch home to reflect the clean lines of the 140 ft sailboat they use to tour the world. While we were building this Space, we were de-constructing the 1880’s Shiner Livery Stable for the Shiner Brewery. The “Land Yacht” was finished in all Shiner material, it even had the Spoetzl Brewery Shiner TEX brand on the plank we used for the bar top. As all this was going on, we were also building the 2nd Dwell Show Home. Another great show, more press, architects, designers, and videos.
Later, we delivered a Space to a remote ranch outside Navasota, TX for a weekend retreat that will eventually be used full time. We started building furniture for the Spaces, new clients, our own office, and for my personal bedroom. This summer, Dunton Springs Resort in Colorado, ranked 6th most exclusive in the world, flew me up to design a “Glam Tent,” a canvas camping tent joined with a Reclaimed Space bathroom, front facade, decks, outdoor claw foot tub, and large pine poles to support the tent fly. This will be a prototype for what may become a whole new resort on a 520 acre fishing ranch on the Rio Dolores with 8 “Glam Tents” renting for as much as a $1,000/night.
Next week, we plan to re-locate the original Space form my ranch to a private horse ranch next to the soon to be completed F1 track. This will be it’s 6th move. Because we do not use sheetrock there are no repairs, after each move we have been able to use it within minutes of delivery.
Three short years later, we have de-constructed over 10 homes, 8 small-medium sized barns, and the 8,000 sq. ft. Shiner Livery Stable. So far, we have saved over 3,120 cubic yards of landfill space, moved into an enclosed 7,000 sq. ft. warehouse where we can build up to three Spaces at a time, and finished out all 4 of our offices to demonstrate our material types. Just this week, we have been asked to be covered in a documentary movie about reclaiming and small home living.
Our rusty/patina style and sustainable designs continue to grow with our diverse client base. Thanks to the great wood artist Brian Welch, 3-D artist Hayden Lindley, and all the skilled sub-contactors, our future looks great, it will be dusty with more de-cons and remote gravel roads.