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Architectural Salvage: Hot Home Decor Trend

Modern Day Treasure Hunters

Fans of such TV home renovation shows as Fixer Upper, Design on a Dime and Property Brothers are familiar with the term architectural salvage.  But if you’re not, it’s the booming business of reclaiming, upcycling and repurposing architectural building materials. The architectural salvage marketplace, once the sole province of old-house owners and a curiosity to nearly everyone else, is going mainstream in a big way.

Brass doorAs the desire to purchase expensive, high-end homes increases among residents, these same consumers may seek to add an historical touch to their milestone purchase by incorporating architectural salvage. Upcycled antique fixtures ranging from vintage tin ceilings and historic chandeliers to porcelain bathtubs and refurbished flooring add the perfect sustainable transformation to these newly acquired residences.

“We treasure hunt and upcycle from the most prestigious New York historic hotels, Broadway theaters and prominent commercial buildings to rustic barns, industrial warehouses and vintage shops in order to create a most unique retail experience for our customers,” according to Jim DiGiacoma of Olde Good Things, the nation’s leading architectural salvage company with retail stores in New York and Los Angeles.

“On any given day, shoppers might include an architect looking for antique French doors, a restaurant designer looking for industrial chicken wire glass and unusual factory doors, a decorator trying to find a set of lights for over a kitchen island, or millennials shopping for unique items from the past,” adds DiGiacoma.  “Urban dwellers snatch up things like bar carts made of reclaimed pine, large mirrors framed with repurposed copper or tin ceiling tiles, and rare pieces of wooden furniture, while others may covet the cast iron ball and claw bathtubs or porcelain faucets. Some recent finds have been terracotta gargoyles from the perch of a Park Avenue building.”

Paris Bistro LampsThose interested in revamping their home to create a more sophisticated and authentic style may wish to start their design search at their local salvage shop. “Salvaged from old buildings or junkyards, these items ensure a home’s uniqueness,” says George DeMarco, real estate agent with Halstead Manhattan,” and can boost resale value if done well. Walking into new construction and seeing a blast from the architectural past often can make just enough difference in the buyer’s mind to help make the sale.”

Incorporating large artifacts into a 21st century home demands skilled craftsmen. Unlike demolition, architectural deconstruction requires finesse instead of shear force. Reusable items such as tin ceilings, large mirrors and intricate cabinetry can lose their value if they are damaged during the salvage process. To recover more than 250 fireplace mantels from New York’s legendary Waldorf Astoria hotel, for example, Olde Good Things workers had to cut fasteners in the wall, extricate the mantels, and store them safely on site until they were transported to a warehouse or retail operation.

Olde Good Things also salvaged the treasured stained-glass windows from the old JFK Airport American Airlines Terminal 8. Designed by renowned stained-glass artist Robert Sowers, it was a time-intensive and precise salvage job that left the windows virtually intact. Today, sections of these famed stained-glass panels are being incorporated into modern-day interior design such as room dividers and wall art.

White wooden Corinthian columns scaledSalvaged items can add a sense of history to a new residential apartment notes Michael Cohen of Michael J. Cohen Interiors, a New York-based residential interior design company. “Introducing historical items such as a stained-glass casement window or repurposed industrial halophane lighting, can add character to an otherwise cookie cutter city space.”

Although preservationists bemoan the loss of the distinctive buildings that supply the inventory for architectural salvage, the greatest appeal for consumers is the chance to acquire house parts with a pedigree. “People like to point to an antique mantelpiece or flooring and say that it came from an old button factory,” adds Mr. Cohen. “They like the stories behind the pieces.”

Shelley Fox, New York condo owner, bought antique French doors to separate the kitchen from the dining area and added six tin ceiling tiles as a grouping on her living room wall. “The next thing I intend to add is a fireplace mantel even though my new building doesn’t have fireplaces,” she noted, “I just love the cozy feeling that comes from the look of a fireplace. And I’m even going to add an electric crackling wood log hearth.”

Then there is that bootmaker’s rack from the early 1900s that Ms. Fox retrofitted into a convenient place to store her vast wine collection. “As soon as I saw it, I knew that it could be easily converted into a wine cabinet,” Ms. Fox noted.

“It’s a treasure hunt,” says Michael Laudati, a New York-based designer specializing in restoring historic Manhattan residential building lobbies to the original beauty of a bygone era. “You never know what you’re going to find or where you’re going to find it when you shop for architectural salvage.” Among his latest salvaged discoveries include a hand-hammered copper ceiling fixture, a Renaissance Revival fireplace mantel and an 1880’s wrought iron gas light fixture.

Treasure hunting at the local flea market, antique store or salvage shop, whether you go by  yourself, or with your designer or architect, can often turn up the most interesting and memorable items, things that you never thought would fit into your design scheme, yet once repurposed, can make your home truly personalized and inviting. How about an industrial vintage factory cart repurposed into a coffee table? Or old barn red doors turned into room dividers? Or if you’re just getting started, how about adding vintage opalescent glass or brass doorknobs and hardware?

If quality, uniqueness and bragging rights aren’t enough reason to join the treasure hunt, factor in the sense of buying a bit of history and nostalgia along with the idea that repurposing is a very smart way to go green.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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