Rough South Home founder upcycles salvage finds

Clarke Titus transforms everything from factory fans to MARTA doors into stylish home furnishings
Photograph by Christopher T. Martin

“I find the weird stuff no one wants.” That’s how Clarke Titus begins our conversation as we traipse through a cluttered salvage yard a half dozen miles west of Atlanta. To the Kirkwood furniture maker, the decades-old trash is full of potential. Like a Depression-era Georgia freight car paneled with ten-foot-long pine boards. Titus used the weathered wood—stenciled here and there with numbers and workers’ instructions—to create more than a dozen original pieces, including tables, mirrors, consoles, and a king-sized headboard. At his studio, Rough South Home, he has repurposed industrial filters, factory fans, air movers, well buckets, restaurant equipment, and even MARTA subway doors.

The thirty-six-year-old has a gift for reinvention, including when it comes to his own career. Titus has been a golf pro, a cook, and a writer. “The most important thing I learned is that if you are a perfectionist, the only person you should work for is yourself,” he says. “I started RSH because the time was right for me to make a change and bet on myself. It took on a life of its own. Most importantly, it makes my family happy, and my boss is an awesome guy.”

Since launching RSH in 2011, Titus has done mostly custom work, but this summer he is introducing small batches of products based on his most popular designs. Available for purchase on his website, these tables, chairs, and benches will be made with domestic hardwoods like white oak, walnut, cherry, and maple. All wood will be forest-free and hand-selected.

Titus relishes the entire building process. When creating a coffee table, for example, he lays out a handful of boards and tests various combinations. He stares, changes the layout, stares again. He’ll spend hours, sometimes days, finding exactly the right balance of grain, color, and texture. His passion for the wood, its nuances and history, comes across in the finished piece. Says Titus, “I’m self-taught, stubborn, and I won’t stop until I like it. It’s obvious when it’s the wrong combination. And when it’s right, it’s easy and calm. You can’t turn the piece into something it’s not. It’ll feel forced.”

Guys style Texture gives every room personality. For a manly touch, a sure bet is a leather chair, says designer Bob Brown, owner of the newly opened store Townhouse. “The more worn like a baseball glove, the better.”