Funky Junk Kingdom

For a group of innovative Austin Creatives, a barn packed with ephemera becomes a think tank where outside the box ideas and wildly original projects are born.


It's a thinly veiled hoarder's delight, and you can't help but think that Wes Anderson would have a field day with the stockpile of vintage skis, hand-tooled leather belts (many that answer to the name "Jerry"), rubber ducks, bouncing balls, and heaps of plastic animals and horseshoes. It's not the sort of curated showroom that immediately suggests the beginnings of some of Austin's coolest commercial and residential projects. But for the interior designer Veronica Koltuniak, foraging through piles of "cool shit," as she describes it, has been the inspiration for her best work. Like that bathtub full of compasses, for instance—she'd like to see them on the wall of a restaurant someday.

So it was fortuitous when Koltuniak met Greg Wooldridge and his wife, Lynne Dobson, over margaritas at Güero's. Wooldridge, a fellow scavenger and kindred spirit, happened to have a 9,000-square-foot barn brimming with vintage clothing, furniture, classic cars, salvaged buildings, and randomness from his many years of picking. Jackpot!

"I think the habit of harvesting the planet's endless orchard of discards and detritus is in the DNA of those who are the Scavengers," Wooldridge says. "I was always drawn to creek beds and abandoned places and dumpsters, any mini adventure into the unknown. Somewhere along the way you begin to notice that objects are more beautiful in their brokenness than they were at their bright and shiny birth."

It didn't take long for collaborations to ensue. Greg and Lynne became Koltuniak's first clients when she moved to Austin in 2000. Since then the friends have collaborated on two homes, and they're currently working on a new ground-up project. "Greg and I are like siblings who actually get along," she says. "We have the same quirky eye and love the pursuit of obscure objects." The barn has also been the source of inspiration for some of her clients and restaurant designs, including Easy Tiger.

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"It seems that if you tell the world stridently, 'I am not a hoarder and have never been a member of the hoarder party,' then you just might be," Wooldridge confesses. "I can say—with witnesses who will come forward when I go to hoarding court, I hope—that I really love to share. It's the discovery and sharing that is the most satisfying part of it. If you have creative friends who know how to put the rubber to the road—like Roni—then there is a cure for hoarditis."

The thrill of the hunt has led both of them down back roads throughout Central Texas. "I really appreciate small towns and look for any opportunity to see where the ranch roads and farm-to-market roads lead me," Koltuniak says. "Once, I found some cast-off pecan trunks in a construction yard. Greg brought over his trailer and a "Texas toothpick" (super-long crowbar). We spent way to much time trying to cajole this very large hunk of wood up the ramp. Finally, a crane operator working in the yard took pity of us and hoisted it onto the trailer. Now it stands proudly as the vanity in my powder room and I'm just so grateful we still have all our toes!"

"When we bought the property it was a much larger space than I had been looking for, and I knew then that it had to be shared and put into use in a different and productive way," Wooldridge says. "I hope the barn can be a fulcrum for artisans and folks to leverage their ideas into reality. A fluid space for artists and musicians on their way up, and open to nonprofits to host events."

So they decided, with the help of their friend architect Mark Odom, to utilize the barn as an open work space. They even formed a new venture, Freedom Arts Factory (named after a nightclub in an obscure Australian film, of course), a couple of months ago, and Wooldridge has been remodeling the space to accommodate a welding and ceramics studio and a commercial kitchen. They plan to open the space up for events and sales of the work that comes out of FAF. "Mark immediately felt part of the tribe," she says. "We started FAF after many free-range discussions and a decision to purchase a 3D printer together to explore ideas."

Wooldridge hopes that "ideally FAF will be a place that produces unique and useful objects and designs that someday become beautiful in their brokenness."


Photography by Molly Winters

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