Architectural Visionaries

By Mary Ann DeSantis | Photography courtesy of Black Dog Salvage

Sometimes old buildings just can’t be saved, but the “Salvage Dawgs” have shown the world that architectural
elements can find new homes and different purposes.

Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp, owners of Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, Virginia, look at old buildings and see the beauty that others often overlook.
“We look at what something can be instead of what it was,” says Whiteside. “Things that could be lost to dumpsters, we put a value on.”
The two Navy veterans met in 1999 when Whiteside needed a garage built and Kulp came to give him advice. They discovered they were kindred spirits as they lamented the pending demolition of a local 1892 landmark filled with architectural details. They decided to take a chance and make a salvage offer. They saved the house piece by piece, and their business was born.
“I had rented a warehouse for another project,” Whiteside remembers. “We wrote ‘SALVAGE’ on an old sign and moments later, a customer pulled into the parking lot.”
They incorporated in 2000 as Black Dog Salvage, honoring Whiteside’s first black lab, Molly. The black dog succession included Sally, who served as the company’s mascot for 14 years. Before she passed away, Sally was instrumental in “training” her successors: Molly-May, a rescue lab from
Mississippi, and Stella, a mixed breed owned by Whiteside’s son, Tay, who has been a part of the Black Dog Salvage crew “since he was eye-to-eye with the first black dog.”
The business is a lot more than just finding parts in old buildings. Black Dog Salvage’s main location – a 44,000-square-foot shop and warehouse near Grandin Village in Roanoke – features custom upcycled designs, salvage-inspired furniture and décor, custom paint developed by the team, and art from regional artists. It’s a must-see stop among tourists visiting the city, especially those who have watched “Salvage Dawgs” on the DIY Network. Fans from as far away as Ukraine and New Zealand have signed the guestbook.
The reality series, owned by Figure 8 Films & Trailblazer Studios, began in 2012 somewhat on a lark. The idea began as a dare from a friend on a fishing trip. That friend happened to be a producer and founder for Figure 8 Films.
“We didn’t really think it would work… who wants to watch a bunch of guys salvage a building,” says Whiteside with a laugh.
But work it did. “Salvage Dawgs” entered its 10th season in April on the DIY Network. Episodes from Seasons 1-9 are available on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube. The show is a fast-paced, treasure hunt filled with humor and fun. The mission of the show – as well as Black Dog Salvage – is to reclaim, reuse, and repurpose architectural salvage for a sustainable future.
In the television series, the Salvage Dawg team carefully extracts architectural details from not only private homes and historical properties but also from old hospitals, churches, and dilapidated mills.
For example, the old Bemis Cotton Mill in Jackson, Tennessee, north of Memphis, yielded light fixtures, doors, and old sinks. The refinished sinks recently turned up in a commercial bathroom in Australia. In Decatur, Georgia, the crew picked through the Scott Boulevard Baptist Church before it was demolished. They removed marbled-stained-glass windows as well as a giant arch around the baptistry that could be used later as a grand entryway. Columns and cast iron were salvaged from a crumbling storefront wall in downtown Vicksburg, Mississippi.
“The TV show is a billboard for what we do daily at Black Dog Salvage,” says Whiteside. In addition to filming at salvage locations, the show also features a do-it-yourself segment (or ‘show build’) on how to make something from items that normally would have been discarded.
“Architecture is spread throughout the spectrum of a building. Even an old mill or prison may have useable fixtures or trims,” Whiteside explains. “Old schools from the turn-of-the-century often yield arches, period plumbing, and lighting. You have to look at everything differently. A door can be a table, a headboard, or a piece of furniture.”

One of their most unusual salvage jobs, says Whiteside, was taking apart Geyser Gulch in Silver Dollar City near Branson, Missouri. “That was fun stuff and great TV,” he says with a laugh. Indeed, the crew became kids again with water cannon fights and trying to remove 1,000-pound “frying pans” hanging from towers.
“It’s always a reach to figure out who will want this kind of stuff,” Kulp said during the show which aired in 2015. He believed some of the Geyser Gulch pieces would be great additions to a small children’s park.
Envisioning new purposes for salvaged materials drives the entire team. “We didn’t create the salvage wheel; we just jumped on it,” says Whiteside, who has been described as an ‘architectural visionary.’ He sees ways that pieces can be used as functional art as well as unusual décor items.
An example is a piano frame that became a wall-hanging shelf. A salvage from a music store yielded a piano that couldn’t be repaired. “That was a show-build for one episode,” Whiteside explains. “Pianos were stacking up like cardboard out there and we were looking for ways to reuse.” Repurposing pianos can be labor intensive because every piece is built by hand.
The wall-hanging piano shelf is now a focal point in The Stone House, which was a labor of love for the Black Dog Salvage team over the last several years. The house – built in 1911 – is next door to the Roanoke warehouse and store.
“We bought a city block and the house came with it,” Whiteside says. “It’s been a project near and dear to our hearts.”
The house showcases a “salvage-inspired lifestyle” with products sourced from Black Dog Salvage. Originally built by Italian stonemason Michael Grosso and his son, the home has been fully renovated and serves as the ultimate showroom. Several of the custom-built pieces inside the home were featured in Season 9 of “Salvage Dawgs.” The original architecture has been preserved throughout the home, which is available as a vacation rental through Airbnb and VRBO.
Fabricating pieces from salvage yard items is what the team does best, according to Whiteside. “We open the doors to people who are looking for something different.”
He adds that Black Dog Salvage is more about sales than renovation. They sell to people who are doing the renovations and restorations although Kulp does use salvaged items as much as he can in his own construction business, which is separate from Black Dog Salvage.
The online marketplace for Black Dog Salvage offers a variety of eclectic items for sale. Shopping by episode is also possible. Those 6-foot tall frying pans from Geyser Gulch are still available for $575 each as well as a rolling factory door from the Bemis Mill for $1,200.
Whiteside is fond of saying, “Everything at Black Dog Salvage is for sale… except the dogs.”

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.