Architectural salvage offers sustainable decor with a story

Approximately 158 running feet of solid walnut paneling and eight walnut columns from the Public Ledger Building in Philadelphia sold for $30,000 and $5,000 respectively in May 2019. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK (AP) – Two of the hottest trends in home decor are sustainability and authenticity. No wonder architectural salvage shops are busy.

Homeowners love features that come with a story, says Rich Ellis, publisher of Architectural Salvage and Antique Lumber News.

“When you can point to your floor and say it came from an old shoe factory in Connecticut, for example, that’s a big attraction,” he says.

There are between 500 and 700 architectural salvage businesses across the country, and business has been good, he says.

“It’s about both history and sustainability,” says Madeline Beauchamp of Olde Good Things, one of the oldest architectural salvage businesses in the country, with one shop in Los Angeles, two retail warehouses in Scranton, Pennsylvania, three stores in New York City and a flagship store to open soon in Midtown Manhattan.

Lorna Aragon, home editor at Martha Stewart Living, says people are looking for quality and “want their homes to be original. And of course the whole ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ aspect of things plays into it as well.”

While some items are sold just as found when they were salvaged from renovation sites, others have been modified for home use. There are Paris streetlamps reconfigured as large pendant lamps to hang above kitchen islands or in loft apartments, and window frames from historical buildings like New York City’s Domino sugar factory or Flatiron building, now fitted with mirrors to be hung on walls. Tin ceiling tiles from old New York buildings are also sometimes fitted with mirrors, or framed and hung as is, says Beauchamp.

“One customer came in for a gargoyle, to be incorporated in their garden area,” she adds. Her customers tend to be designers, architects and those trying to update their homes with unique decor that has a sense of history.

Exposed to the elements, Vicenza stone hardens, making it suitable for statuary. This pair of 2-foot-tall Vicenza stone winged griffin garden statues, circa 1920, sold at auction in May 2019 for $3,000 + the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Olde Good Things sells everything from vintage doorknobs to huge stained-glass panels that were once part of the American Airlines terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. There are enormous chandeliers that once hung in a Broadway theater, and, from the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, dishes, fireplace mantels and the elegant doorframe of the historic hotel’s presidential suite.

Stuart Grannen runs the upscale Architectural Artifacts in Chicago, which deals in rare items favored by restaurants, bars and hotels. “These days, individuals might have one really great centerpiece item and live with that,” he says. “The days when someone would come in and buy 50 doorknobs are done.”

Most of his clients, he says, are businesses looking for huge, beautiful counters, showcases, consoles or back bars.

“When I salvage things, it might be the whole facade of a theater or a giant chandelier,” he says.

But Aragon counters that items like vintage plumbing, sinks and tubs continue to be popular.

In addition to architectural elements, salvaged lumber is also a hot item in many salvage shops, sometimes transformed into things like dining tables, ready-made, custom-ordered or sold as-is.

This pair of 8-foot-tall painted wood doors having an old blue surface with iron mounts and strap hinges, circa 1880, sold for $1,600 + plus buyer’ premium in May 2019. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“The antique lumber side of things is very strong,” says Ellis, for tabletops and other decor elements.

Antique bricks and paving stones are also being repurposed for, say, a decorative wall.

“Things like those wonderful old wide floorboards and barn siding have been popular for some time,” notes Aragon.

Ellis traces this history of architectural salvage to the 1960s, and says it has been growing slowly but steadily ever since but really became mainstream in the 1990s.

While the first generation of architectural salvage business owners is starting to retire and close, a new generation is stepping in, he says.

“That desire for elements with a sense of history and a great story behind them is not going away anytime soon,” says Ellis.

By KATHERINE ROTH, Associated Press

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