Creative Genius: Robert Kulp and Mike Whiteside of DIY's "Salvage Dawgs"

The Salvage Dawgs stars talk about the upcoming season and share tips and tricks of the trade.

By: Megan Daley

Robert Kulp and Mike Whiteside have made a living out of taking tired, worn out bathtubs, dressers, coffee tables and more and turning them into upcycled, one-of-a-kind creations. The duo, co-owners of Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, VA, are back with a new season of their DIY series Salvage Dawgs, uncovering forgotten treasures at sites across the country.  



Robert Kulp (L) and Mike Whiteside with a door panel coffee table created at Black Dog Salvage, as seen on DIY Network's original series Salvage Dawgs.

Photo by: Sam Dean/ Getty Images ©2013, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sam Dean/ Getty Images, 2013, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Ahead of the premiere, we caught up with Kulp and Whiteside to talk all about season six. They even shared some tips for fans looking to roll up their sleeves and take their upcycling skills to the next level. 

Season 6 of Salvage Dawgs premieres Sunday, July 31 at 9 p.m. ET. For more Salvage Dawgs, check out the official show page here

Are there any projects that stand out that you worked on in the shop from this upcoming season?

WHITESIDE: Well, we do a build on every show and a lot of them are—they’re all salvage inspired; from an office bar to a bed to a light, and coffee tables. Robert did a cool one in which he used license plates and old barn wood to make a coffee table with a Mustang grille emblem in it.

KULP: There’s also that ladder console that [Mike] built. The ladders probably came from an earlier episode, in season three when we worked in an apple orchard. We found a new opportunity for them—Mike turned them into a console table. He cut the ladder up and almost none of it went to waste. 

When you are working on these upcycling projects, where do you get your inspiration from?

WHITESIDE: I get asked this question a lot, “How do you come up with the ideas for all your projects?” Each piece kind of talks to you—not literally talks to you…Like, barn wood is a very good medium for a lot of different things—for paneling, for building furniture. Or the iron that we have is great for art or for furniture pieces. It just depends on how you put it together.

KULP: That’s the creative answer. Mike’s the creative guy. When I go into a salvage site, I’m looking at the pieces of this house as pieces of a house and I’m hoping to sell them just the way they are. But the reality of the situation is there’s always these monster amounts of leftovers and that’s what Mike’s talking about. We have this monster warehouse and it’s an opportunity to walk around and say, “Well, okay, this hasn’t sold as a door. We’re going to have to do something else with it, and what can we do with it?”

For somebody who's looking to start salvaging or upcycling, what are some of the tips you would share with them? What are things you learned when you were first starting out?

WHITESIDE: Don’t look at things like, you know, a door is a door. But, a door can be a headboard or a shelf or a tabletop or a piece of wainscot paneling. You know, you have to look at it differently. It’s always nice to have an end destination in mind. Okay, I want to build a coffee table. And I can go out and buy some wood and make a coffee table. But it’s how you use the upcycled, recycled items creatively to incorporate it into a piece that really makes it stand out. You can’t really teach it. But you can inspire it. That’s kind of where we are. Obviously, I see the world a lot differently than most people because I’m always looking at [something] as what it could be, not necessarily what it was. 

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found at a salvage site?

WHITESIDE: One of the coolest things that we did is the Eiffel Tower in Columbus, Ohio. That’s not something that you do every day. Here I am hanging on top of an Eiffel Tower with a couple of ropes and I look like King Kong up there. You’ve gotta start laughing at yourself like, “This is not normal.”

KULP: We were salvaging a very cool house in North Carolina several years’ve documented all the things that you came for, all these architectural pieces. But then you start finding things. In the old garage behind this building, Mike found boxes of glass negatives—photography negatives—that were probably from the late-1800s, mid- to late-1800s or 1880s. And the guy that had owned this property was a doctor. So, these images were a little bit bizarre. They were documenting skin disorders and...

WHITESIDE: Ailments.

KULP: Yeah, it was kind of freaky. And it turns out freaky sells.

WHITESIDE: Those things flew off the shelves; it was amazing. 

What are some things that you’ve tried to upcycle that didn't exactly work out? Have you guys had experience with things that have gone terribly wrong?

KULP: Every day. [Laughs] For every great upcycle idea, there’s probably 10 that are mediocre and another two or three that are just an absolute disaster and you try to forget those things. Mike, what’s your worst one?

WHITESIDE: I don’t have a worst one, everything I’ve built is beautiful. [Laughs] I always say, “My children are not ugly”—that’s what I call them, my children, and that shows you how psycho I am. Every once in a while you’ll get a failure and not too often. Robert obviously has more failures than me… A lot of times what you’ve gotta do is turn it upside down. And say, “Oh look at that, there it is!” 

Perfect example is we brought a bunch of carved teak from a guy down in Greensboro and I just love it because it’s 100+ years old, it’s teak, it’s hand carved and very ornate. Everybody says, “Well, what are you going to do with it?” I say, “You know, like a table or a bar edge. We’ll do this, we’ll do that.” Well somebody came in and they wanted to make a bed. This thing is massive, but it’s gorgeous. It’s just one of those things that you try to stereotype and say, “Yes, it’s gotta be a door frame.” Then you’re limiting yourself to what it really could be. 

How much of your own homes are made up of salvaged or upcycled goods?

WHITESIDE: You’d think my house would probably look like our shop here but I luckily have a wife who’s got a lot of taste and she has the last word on stuff so we collaborate on stuff—she’s an interior designer. 

KULP: I lean towards the same way. I’m a contractor in my other life, a residential contractor. Additions I built on my house entail some architectural salvage but it’s usually pretty straightforward. And of course, a lot of Mike’s creations—I like to have that furniture around. I’ve built a couple houses that were a good 40 percent salvage that were designed around the pieces. 

What are you guys working on right now at the shop as far as upcycled projects?

WHITESIDE: There’s a cool—we call it a log table—we use the logs out of one our salvage shops where the center section is a big beam and the legs coming off are a big beam. Then we used a piece of an old railing on the First Street Bridge that was down here in Roanoke—they opened it to pedestrian traffic and it’s called the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge now. And all of those pieces we’re assembling to make this grand table. This thing is going to be about 4 feet wide by about 12 feet long. It’s massive. 

Of course, we have a lamp shop that we’ve created. We’re building custom lamps like crazy—made out of logs, made out of metal. My daughter is a glassblower, she’s in her last year of art school in Richmond and she’s prolific. She just creates glass like crazy. So, we’re buying that glass from her and putting it into the lamps. She’s been on the show half a dozen times doing pieces with me and with her brother. It’s hard to say because there’s probably five to six projects going on all at one time down there. 

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