After 41 years in the corporate world as a commercial real estate broker and developer, John Gabrielson — or Gabby as his friends call him — needed a new lease on life.

"I have to be busy," he said inside his Sandestin home. "I may have retired from real estate, but I'm not retired from life."

It wasn't until Gabrielson and his wife Carolyn or Ki, moved to Florida from Minnesota that he began craving those creative juices.

"I had to have something to do besides golf and fishing," he said with a laugh.

His wife inspired him to do decorative crafts by showing him design magazines. He fashioned candles from recycled wine bottles and crafted small sculptures from shells found on South Walton beaches. And then, one day he found himself at the Sandestin landscape dump.

"I saw a big, old pine log," he recalled. "I got approval and took it home, cut it into three sections and made three stump stools. I sent them to my daughter, Lisa, an interior designer in Atlanta and they sold."

It was an “ah-ha” moment for Gabrielson.

After his newfound talent in wood artistry, he came across Bruner Lumber Company in Bruce, where he started to buy reclaimed old-growth cypress logs. Judging by the rings on some of Gabrielson's finished pieces — one is 500 years old — these pieces of wood have seen a lot of history.

"In the mid-late 1800s this whole area was covered in swamps and cypress trees," the artist said.

Reclaiming the waterlogged cypress is like restoring a piece of the past.

"I get so enamored by this," Gabrielson said. "Think about it, a tree growing in Florida in 1400 — that was before Columbus. At some point I'd like to explore the old-growth pine in Minnesota."

Gabrielson constructs pieces such as tables, stools, picture frames and sculptures with the old-growth cypress. Not one to waste materials, the artist is always thinking of new things to create.

"It's interesting when you start getting into the that mode and you think 'Now what can I do with this?' " he said. "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of night with ideas."

In the past, Gabrielson said he has experienced creative spurts of energy, but he has never before acted on them.

"Every six or seven years I would get antsy or bored," he said of the corporate life. "But I have never done anything creative. Now, I can't wait to get in my garage and work."

Gabrielson certainly stays busy. Between his five grandchildren, he's crafted gifts such as rings made of antique spoons and photo boards made from his favorite medium — old-growth cypress.

The process of turning an old, rotten log into a beautiful piece of furniture takes about three days and a lot of manual labor.

"First, I pressure wash the log, to get the silt out," Gabrielson said. "Then, I use a dremel to dig out the ugly, rotted wood inside, then I start the sanding process using two or three different types of sanding tools."

The finishing work can vary. Sometimes, pieces are left natural while some receive a coat of Tung oil to bring out the wood grain. All pieces are given a clear finish to protect the wood.

After a request from his daughter to paint one of the cypress tables black, he's played with color, but prefers to leave the wood as natural as possible.

"The grains are so beautiful; I hate to cover it with a solid color," he said.

Entering a new world of arts and crafts, Gabrielson said he is having a lot of fun.

"I'm meeting some very interesting people — they're so encouraging," he said.

When it comes to selling pieces, Gabrielson's business is primarily word of mouth. He has sold a few tables and sculptures at Smith's Antique Mall in Destin and his daughter continues to sell pieces in Georgia at the Queen of Hearts Antique store and the Scott Antique Market fair where she has booths.

Combining the history of the aged wood and the time spent creating them into a unique piece of furniture, Gabrielson becomes rather attached to his work.

"I brought some cypress back from Bruner Lumber Company and my friend says 'That's great firewoood.' But, no, those are my babies," he said with a laugh.

Saving the cypress from the chipper, the artist is not only reclaiming history, he's restoring it too.

"There's a story behind these pieces and it's a story no one can tell," Gabrielson said. "It's a piece of Florida history."