This hackberry planked dining table made by Alabama Sawyer won the overall prize in the Made in the South Awards.
This hackberry planked dining table made by Alabama Sawyer won the overall prize in the Made in the South Awards.

Alabama Sawyer, a company that specializes in making custom furniture and other products from fallen trees in the Birmingham, Alabama, area, won the overall prize in eighth annual Garden & Gun magazine’s Made in the South Awards.

Alabama Sawyer not only won the overall award with a cash prize of $10,000, but they also captured the top honors in the home category of the contest. Winners were showcased in the December issue of the magazine, which became available on newsstands on November 21. Garden & Gun has built a reputation as a trendy upscale Southern lifestyle magazine.

The three principals of Alabama Sawyer are Cliff Spencer, Leigh Spencer, and Bruce Lanier. Cliff worked as a set designer and master craftsman in New York City, Aspen, and Los Angeles for more than 20 years until he decided to return to his Alabama roots. His wife, Leigh, is a California native and a graphic designer by training. She guides the business and collaborates with Cliff on design. Bruce Lanier founded MAKEbhm, a creative co-working space in Avondale, Alabama, where Alabama Sawyer is located and he also works as an architect at ArchitectureWorks.

Alabama Sawyer specializes in using urban harvested timber in what the company characterizes as “field to studio,” much like the “farm to table” movement in food.

“We design modern, environmentally sustainable products from fallen trees in the Birmingham, Alabama area,” says a statement on the company’s website. “Since we began, we have diverted hundreds of logs from the landfill by transforming them into award-winning furniture and products for homes and businesses.”

Showcased in the Garden and Gun contest is a striking dining table made of planks of hackberry wood over a support of cast iron wishbone-shaped legs that were cast at Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces that date back to the 1880s and are now a National Historic Landmark.

Cliff and Leigh Spencer characterize their work as “field to studio,” much like the popular “farm to table” food movement. In Birmingham, they discovered a ready source of material as some 100 trees were being cut in the city each week. The Spencers rescue much of that wood, saving it from going into landfills or other disposal.

For a Montessori school, Alabama Sawyer turned red oaks into ceiling paneling for a classroom and used stumps as whimsical furniture for the students.

Some of their projects involve reusing trees for owners who were forced to remove the trees but wanted them to have some more meaningful use. For a Montessori school, they turned red oaks into ceiling paneling for a classroom and used stumps as play furniture for the students. For the Birmingham Zoo, they turned a cherry stump that measured 5x7 feet into the centerpiece of an amphitheater.

A gallery of work on their site shows off a wide variety of pieces, many of which take advantage of natural features in the wood, such as live edges, crotch grain, and things some might consider defects. But the site proudly proclaims, “Urban timber has knots, burls and insect holes. It’s not perfect—it’s beautiful.”

You can see more at alasaw.com.