This piece was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
Sitting with Taylor and Craig Lott at their recently opened business The Rugged Reclaimers, I ask them to describe their business to me, partly because I’ve had so much trouble describing it myself. A retailer of reclaimed (and new) goods, it’s tempting to group Rugged Reclaimers in under the moniker of antique or thrift store. But despite the number of antiques and goods usually associated with thrifting (pre-owned men’s flannel shirts, furniture, etc.), “antique” or “thrift store” still doesn’t sound quite right. Rugged Reclaimers is too curated for that. The closest I’ve come to an accurate description is Lumberjack Boutique.
“It’s been hard to explain because it’s been evolving. Every week it’s been growing and evolving,” Taylor tells me. “It started off as just a recycled furniture-making little entity using reclaimed wood to make little pieces of furniture. From there it grew into many other things. It grew into an actual store. Then we had other things like antiques and even men’s apparel. And then we got really into the DIY section which is still in progress right now.”
The venue itself exceeds the mere functionality of the average retail space. With its wall-sized pallet bookshelves, animal hide rugs, and campfire-scented candles, it almost feels like a place you would plan to grab coffee at with an old friend. In fact, the first time I visited the shop, a friend and I sat down in a couple of rocking chairs just to talk and enjoy ourselves for a while. The geography also contributes to the sense of place. Located in South Jackson just down the street from the ghostly, beautiful skeleton of the old Bemis Mill, it almost seems that Rugged Reclaimers is reclaiming discarded space as well as material resources such as lumber and furniture.
“It really all started with Taylor wanting to build furniture,” Craig explains.
Taylor’s interest in building or reimagining existing furniture stemmed from his need to affordably decorate a few Airbnb properties he owned in Memphis—an investment that would eventually fund the Lotts’ new business. The shop is full of furniture pieces that Taylor has built, revamped, or is in the process of making new. As they show me these pieces, the sense of pride in their work and in the shop overflows.
“I told Craig a couple days ago, ‘I’m just so excited,’” Taylor says of their plans for Rugged Reclaimers. What started as an interest in upcycling furniture has grown into a retail space that’s, really, more than a retail space. The Lotts are in the process of building a DIY area where customers can work on their own projects. They hope to have after-hours workshops with wine in the future. Maybe even a potting station where you can choose plants to pot yourself.
“I never thought it would come to the point where we’d want to do after-hours classes or workshops,” Taylor says. “Two or three months ago we never even had these ideas. . . . I’m just so excited. The more we do, the more ideas we get, and I sit down sometimes and am like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy.’ I’m so overwhelmed sometimes, but it’s a good thing. I’m just pumped.”
“I take it day by day,” Craig says in a comically composed tone that makes us laugh.
“Craig is really chill,” Taylor says.
The Lotts complement each other in this way. They balance out each other’s extremes as well as build each other up when one is being modest or self-deprecating when answering my questions. This dynamic has no doubt been a valuable force in the literal and figurative journeys they’ve been on since they’ve been together. Just a year ago Craig was a hospital administrator and Taylor was a high school Spanish teacher. Ready to stray from a career trajectory that was burning them out, they decided together to leave their jobs and hit the road.
“Taylor and I have been together seven months, married six,” Craig says. “In that time we’ve been through twenty-three states, Canada, and Mexico. Since I’ve been with him, we’ve done more things than I’ve ever done in my life.”
The two were on the road when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of making same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states. They got their marriage license the same day and married at a PFLAG marriage equality celebration.
“Then we just kept touring around west,” Taylor says. “We’ve traveled internationally since then, which a couple of [trips] were not planned almost at all. The Mexico one I’d been planning for quite a while. I’ve always wanted to be in Mexico for Day of the Dead and experience it because I’ve always taught that to my students, and we’ve always studied it, but I’d never personally experienced it. . . . So we went. I’ve traveled a lot, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen.”
For the most part the Lotts’ adventure was itinerary-free, and the two would drive around until they could find places to stay for free.
“We would be driving to, for example, Montana,” Taylor says, “and we wouldn’t know where we were staying. We would just be on this couch-surfing app and finding places and messaging people, ‘Can you host us?’”
The two picked fresh fruit during their travels and ended up with several carts of strawberries and blueberries. They gave the fruit to people they met on their journey—to homeless people they encountered on the street, to people they met on the beach. I half expected them to tell me they picked up Neal Cassady in the desert somewhere and became old pals as they shared tall tales and stained their lips red on fresh strawberries.
The Lotts’ sense of adventure extends to the Rugged Reclaimers aesthetic and mission. They show me beautiful pieces of furniture they’ve made from discarded furniture or lumber they’ve found.
“We want to recycle. We see stuff thrown away on the side of the road, and we stop and pick it up,” Craig says. “All summer long Taylor was in the truck going from neighborhood to neighborhood, going, ‘What day is garbage pickup? That’s the day I’m going to be out.’”
In addition to scavenging, the Lotts welcome calls to pick up recyclable resources. Craig says he’ll be driving to Mississippi soon to pick up a whole tree. “An F4 hurricane came through and destroyed the town, so all of the trees have been torn down, and we got a phone call that we get to go pick up tomorrow a whole pine tree. We’re going to bring it back and try to do something with it. And we’re fixing to go tear down a barn.”
“We want to encourage the trend that exists of using reclaimed wood or recycling wood that would either probably go in a landfill or get thrown away,” says Taylor. “We really want to encourage people to buy or get wood that’s not from anywhere they have to cut down trees. We want to encourage people to recycle because there’s so much of it.”
As the Lotts continue to describe their vision for Rugged Reclaimers, it’s refreshing to see how their various talents and interests are coming together so cohesively in their business. To see the creativity that was perhaps once dormant in the former schoolteacher and hospital administrator but that has since been unearthed. Talents that were perhaps dug up on the road somewhere, maybe in the Mexican desert or maybe in a strawberry field in Montana. Or perhaps Rugged Reclaimers’ beginning has been a more cumulative one. Taylor and Craig, in the way of great explorers, are pushing their way through uncharted territories toward some unknown coast, some long-hidden relic, or maybe just toward a building on Missouri Street where you too can go to find that you can build something you didn’t know you could build with resources you didn’t know you had.
The Rugged Reclaimers is located at 203 South Missouri Street in Jackson, Tennessee. To learn more, visit their website or call 731.234.9593.
Josh Garcia is a commercial photographer who landed in Jackson in 2008. With a B.A. in English from Union University in his back pocket, he’s abandoned other adjectives for “home” when describing this city. He enjoys reading, writing, photography, and cultivating community around the dinner table. #INFJ
Photography by Josh Garcia.