An unexpected treasure trove of historical artifacts long forgotten are nestled in the heart of downtown Birmingham. Piles of reclaimed wooden boards boast rich, forgotten stories inside this dusty, 100,000-square-foot warehouse sit . If you’re looking for a connection to the past, you’ve come to the right place.
This is the home of Evolutia, a small family-run business that brings life to ignored pieces of history, turning them into new creations with new functions. Owned and operated by Vestavia Hills native Clay Klinner, Evolutia ensures the integrity and preservation of reclaimed wood by transforming it into works of art for contractors, restaurants, businesses and remodelers.
“Most of the wood we salvage has a story to tell,” Clay says, “from the dry dock in Mobile Bay used to transport captured German submarines, to plantation homes built by actual slaves to salvaged parts of a theater where famous actors and actresses, including future assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, performed. These are all stories that deserve to be retold.”
Inside the Evolutia warehouse, a subtle sweet smell of pine weaves throughout your senses and a light layer of sawdust sprinkles at your feet. Alongside its antique wooden boards and beams you’ll see wide range of machinery for cutting, shaping, and general fabrication of wood. If you’re a carpenter, interior designer, architect or contractor, this is your candy store.
It’s in this space that Clay’s team of lumberjacks combines their talents to transform material that could have otherwise ended up in a landfill into beautiful flooring, countertops, accent walls and architectural beams.
Clay, who has finance degree from the University of Alabama and zero years of woodworking experience, stepped into the company’s operator role four years ago when his father, Robert Klinner, and his former business partner parted ways. Under Clay’s leadership, the company has steadily increased its revenue year over year, but it was Robert who truly built the company from the ground up, almost by accident.
In 1985, Robert, along with his then business partner, operated a large industrial recycling company and haphazardly fell into the opportunity to purchase a large textile mill. Constructed at the turn of the century, Robert saw that the dilapidated mill was formed with high-quality wood materials and knew he had struck gold.
“We went backwards in the business planning process,” Robert admits. “We salvaged all this beautiful, authentic wood with so many stories to tell and didn’t really know what to do with it.”
So they dabbled in a little bit of everything to pinpoint exactly where the market was. “We were basically shooting in every direction,” Clay explains. “Cabinetry, furniture, hardwood flooring—back then, if you asked us for it, we would do it.”
This “let’s-do-it-all” approach delayed the company from establishing its true identity, Robert says. But when the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) movement zipped across the nation in the mid-1990s, he found he was making some real traction in the marketplace.
“All of a sudden, everyone wanted eco-friendly and sustainable material for their builds. It was a phenomenon that just kind of swept us up with it,” Robert says. “We had companies coming at us left and right asking for antique, reclaimed wood. It helped us buckle down and really focus on our product.”
It was a turning point in the company. Today Evolutia is much more specialized, strictly adhering to the processing of reclaimed wood without all the detail that comes with building furniture, cabinetry, or whatever is requested. And when homeowners are gravitating more and more toward a rustic farmhouse style, the Evolutia product is flying off the shelves like never before. Just recently, Clay installed a new automated phone system to accommodate the increasing number of calls pouring into the office.
“Even with the new system, it’s still hard to keep up with all the phone calls,” Clay says with a laugh. “With the boom of all the home improvement and DIY shows on TV, the demand for this type of salvaged wood look has skyrocketed even further.”
For the Evolutia product in particular, people are forking out the big bucks. Several of Evolutia’s customers pay more for the shipment of material, say out to Oregon or Colorado, than the actual wood itself. As hard as that is to wrap your mind around, it makes sense if you think about it.
“We have a good reputation,” Clay explains. “But you also have to consider that the prices out West for reclaimed material are much higher than what they are here. We have much better access to this stuff. Wood from old barns, rundown plantation homes, 500-year-old trees—you can’t find those things anywhere, but [in the South].”
Everyone has the ability to be an Evolutia customer, which is another hallmark of the company’s exclusivity. Most wholesalers strictly sell to contractors and builders, and/or offer special pricing to certain types of companies. But Evolutia sells to everyone, and no one gets a better price over anyone else. Any and everyone is welcome: contractors, floor distributors, architects, DIY-ers, even the woodworking hobbyist who has been tasked with building a dining room table for his next-door neighbor. “We can give you the material rough and raw,” Clay says. “Or we can mill it to specific dimensions if you prefer. We work with you.”
Even though the Evolutia product is demanded nationwide, Clay and his wife, Julie, intend to stay grounded to their Vestavia Hills roots. The high-school sweethearts, who married after 10 years of dating, never questioned that they would raise their family here. “I feel like Vestavia is centered around community,” Clay says. “It’s an area packed with families who just want a happy, stable life for their kids.”
As new parents to an almost 2-year-old little girl named Katherine, this type of stability has never been more important to the Klinners. Even after all these years, it’s the solid friendships and sense of community that keep the couple “in love,” Julie describes, with Vestavia. “Our close group of friends from high-school have all settled back in Vestavia to raise their children too,” Julie says. “Raising children is not for the faint of heart, and it truly does take a village. I’m so grateful to call Vestavia Hills my village.”
To learn more, visit evolutiamade.com.
See Evolutia’s Work
The Evolutia product can be found in local restaurants and businesses including:
- Avondale Brewery
- 2nd & Charles
- Bar Taco
- Brick & Tin
- Cahaba Brewing
- Cayenne Creative
- Coyote Drive-In
- Demetri’s BBQ
- El Barrio
- Good People Brewing Co.
- Leaf & Petal
- Miss Dots
- Mobley & Sons
- Mountain High Outfitters
- Pies & Pints
- Pizzeria GM
- The Grand Bohemian Hotel
- The McWane Center
- Trinity United Methodist Church
- Twisted Root Burger