Wes Cunningham home recycles

Published 3:39 pm Monday, June 14, 2010

Recycling was a way of life for Wes Cunningham long before it became so in fashion.

He began recycling in earnest in 1990, when he saved and reused a whole house that was being demolished on the corner of Middle and Island streets in Montevallo.

Cunningham recognized the value in the beautiful old wood, the staircase, woodwork and flooring of the 1914 Mulkey/Warnke house.

Over a period of six months, he carefully took the building down piece by piece, doing nearly all of the work himself.

He claims the job killed two trucks and nearly killed him.

During a recent visit, he explained he transported the Mulkey house, along with some materials he had saved from demolishing the Atchison house on Island Street, to a beautiful home site in the country just southeast of Montevallo, where he built what he refers to as “his mansion in the woods.”

For the many months the house was under construction, Cunningham lived with two dogs, a cat, and his patient wife, Gwen, in a small camper.

He admits that those months were difficult, but worth the trouble, for this, his dream: a two-person home with one bedroom, two baths, living room kitchen, and an upstairs studio.

Cunningham wanted the new house to look old; a southern home wrapped in four porches. He accomplished that; the house has character and a uniqueness of its own. Everywhere you look you find something you haven’t noticed before, hand-hewn floors, gorgeous beams, slave-made bricks, and artistic carvings in the woodwork.

Cunningham is especially proud of a huge 23-foot beam that runs through the porch and living area.

They found it submerged in the Cahaba River. It came from a trestle that had burned.

There’s evidence throughout the home and yard that two artists live here.

There are wonderful paintings, sculptures, and furnishings, some collected from estate sales, old homes and others of the couple’s own creations.

Cunningham is proud of their project.

“I love our home,” he said. “Gwen deserves much of the credit and we had the support of our parents, too. It cost us less than $20,000 and it’s paid for. The only money we borrowed was for kitchen cabinets. Everything in the house is from those two old buildings except the cabinets, plumbing and roof tin.”

The recycling doesn’t end with the house. The yard is filled with plants and shrubs from the Mulkey place and those collected from abandoned home-sites and from their many friends.

The Cunninghams enthusiastically demonstrate, in their home and in their life, proof of the value of recycling and thriftiness while truly preserving character and beauty.

Catherine Legg can be reached at clegg2@bellsouth.net.