Burt’s Bees company rebuilds iconic cabin in North Carolina

By Richard Stradling

News & Observer

DURHAM, N.C. — Burt Shavitz, the late founder and namesake of the Burt’s Bees company, used to sit on the porch of an old turkey coop he made his home and look out over the fields where he lived in Maine.

If Shavitz sat on his porch now, he could watch people come and go from Burt’s Bees headquarters at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham.

Last summer, a year after he died, his wood-shingled home with no electricity or running water was deconstructed, loaded onto a truck and driven south, where it has been rebuilt amid the old brick tobacco warehouses that have been turned into trendy offices.

Shavitz’ bearded face, which has long been the symbol of the Burt’s Bees company, peers out from under a cap on the company’s logo.

Now his home has become another company symbol — of his values and choice to live simply amid nature, said spokeswoman Patrice Sherman.

“The coop tells the story of his connection to his land and to nature,” Sherman said. “It’s a reminder of what he valued.”

Shavitz was living in the turkey coop and raising bees and selling honey when he picked up a hitchhiker, Roxanne Quimby, in 1984. They became a couple, and she began selling candles made from his beeswax. The partnership led to the founding of a company, named after the phrase he wrote on his hives, that later added soaps, shampoos, lotions and beeswax lip balm to its offerings.

Quimby was the driving force behind the company’s growth and orchestrated the move to North Carolina in 1994. After an acrimonious split, Quimby eventually bought out Shavitz’s stake in Burt’s Bees, though Shavitz remained the symbol of the company and made public appearances on its behalf.

Clorox acquired Burt’s Bees in 2007 for $970 million, and Quimby reportedly gave $4 million to Shavitz. But he continued to live in the converted turkey coop, hauling in water and cooking on a propane stove, until he died at age 80.

William “Billy” Higgins and a crew from Atlantic Corporate Contracting in Raleigh were hired to dismantle the coop last July and bring it to Durham. In the 10 days it took to carefully take the home apart, bits of Shavitz’s life were revealed, including pictures of him and his golden retriever, Rufus, hidden in the walls. On the floor of the closet of his upstairs bedroom, they found a lot of change, Higgins said.

“It was all dimes,” he said.

They later learned from talking to people in town that Shavitz used to pay for things with rolls of dimes.

“I would have loved to have met the guy,” Higgins said.

The coop is made of white cedar shingles, with tongue-and-groove pine boards upstairs. There are 9 windows, only two of which were the same size, Higgins said. All of the pieces, numbered and photographed, fit in the back of a 28-foot semi trailer.

The coop originally was built on 16 sections of tree trunks, which had rotted. The concrete foundation in Durham is just one of several changes necessary to ensure the coop can be used for company meetings and to accommodate visitors. That included the addition of power and a bathroom with running water that meets Americans with Disability Act requirements for accessibility.

But otherwise, the home has been put back the way it was when Shavitz lived there, with his furniture and knickknacks. The potbelly stove and piles of wood he used for heat dominate the main room downstairs.

And while the view outside is nothing Shavitz would recognize, visitors can look through a viewfinder that shows the land he saw when he stepped outside his home each morning.

— News &Observer

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