Reclaim It: Decorating with Architectural Salvage
Text & Photographs | Lori Malone
I have recently become obsessed with finding the perfect pair of corbels to mount in the upper corners of an nine-foot-wide passageway between my kitchen and dining room. Although both rooms are part of my home’s original 1935 floor plan, the passageway was widened from a standard, 30-inch doorway during renovations. The freshly painted sheetrock opening and surrounding walls seem a little too “new” for the vintage space, so to integrate the new with the old, I thought a pair of vintage corbels with a simple mission style would add interest and cohesiveness.
Much of my free time is spent on-line scouring the listings on E-Bay, Etsy, Craigslist and Bonanza, as well as frequenting local shops like The Barryville Antique Emporium in Barryville, NY and Green Demolitions in Honesdale, PA, in search of the perfect pair.
I haven’t found my corbels yet, but what I have come to understand during my three years of renovating is that patience is key when you have something particular in mind. I also have learned that you must always be ready to seize the moment, as I did recently when I spied a solid Virginia oak mantle remnant while looking for shutters. The forty-dollar mantle fit (nearly perfectly) over my fireplace in my home’s great room, which is new construction.
The timing seemed karmic as my stonemason, Patrick Kelly of Kelly Masonry & Design, had begun working on my fireplace’s surround. The fieldstone he selected in warm shades of gray, brown and green still had mossy spots on them. The mantel’s simple style appealed to me and I thought it would look nice painted a bright white against the natural tones of the rock.
(Check out the “before” and “after” in coming weeks right here on Our Country Home blog!)
This isn’t the first “reclaimed” architectural detail that I’ve added to my home. When the addition was constructed, it required removing part of an exterior wall which had a lovely diamond-shaped window. I hated to part with one of my home’s most charming features and decided to relocate the window to the top of the stairs overlooking the two-story great room—I’m now looking for vintage hardware to finish it off.
An important factor in retrofitting old architecture in new construction is hiring a competent carpenter who can not only see your vision, but execute it seamlessly. Michael Parker of Michael Parker Carpentry and his crew had the skill to do just that. In fact, the once stationary window was made to open for cross ventilation, as well as interest when looking up from the space below. The detailing of my home’s original moldings was mimicked to give the window the appearance it has always been there. It’s now one of my favorite features and always gets noticed by guests.
Where To Begin
If you are looking to incorporate vintage and antique elements into your home’s architecture, décor or landscape, it’s always a good idea to know what you want: the style, size and finish you desire, and some ballpark pricing so you can recognize great deals when you come across them. I always recommend carrying measurements in your wallet (or portable electronic device) and to keep a tape measure in your glove compartment or handbag. If you’re not sure about a piece, take a photograph of it and mull it over. Most times these items are final sale, so it’s a good idea to be sure. Be aware, however, that in doing so you also risk losing it. To find salvaged and second-hand architectural embellishments nearby, check out area yard sales, flea markets and the classified section of local newspapers, like The River Reporter (also a great place to sell such goods).
If your home’s architecture is not in need of embellishment, but you still want to incorporate salvaged and reclaimed elements to your decor, visit Van Gorders’ Furniture, based in downtown Honesdale and Lake Wallenpaupack. They carry a unique rustic line called Green Gables Furniture at their Lake Region showroom. Green Gables creates beautiful custom furniture using antique boards and timbers reclaimed from old barns. Green Gables Furniture is functional and stylish with intricate details like barn wood drawer handles. “Owning one of these pieces is like inviting a bit of history into your home,” says Scott Van Gorder of Van Gorders’ Furniture. “And its built to last another 150 years.”
Bridgewater Mercantile, in Jeffersonville, NY, also carries a line of hand-crafted kitchen islands and tables. Owner Jamie Stankevicius’s most sought after pieces are kitchen islands, made from yellow pine or cypress with a heavy bluestone top he crafts in his Pennsylvania workshop, and his farmhouse tables; a mix of old and new construction, the tables bring a sense of permanence and stability to any home. Stankevicius crafts European-style turned legs from re-purposed antique wood with barn board tops, hand-rubbed to bring out their character also made from reclaimed barn wood.
1)Van Gorders’ Furniture: The Green Gables furniture line at their Lake Region location is functional and stylish, made with reclaimed wood and intricate details like barn wood drawer handles. (contributed photo)
2) Bridgewater Mercantile: Jamie Stankevicius’ farmhouse table, crafted from reclaimed wood, adorns the showroom of his Jeffersonville, NY shop. (photo Cass Collins)
3) The RLW Cabin: Home owners used reclaimed barn lumber to clad the fireplace wall. (photo Barbara Winfield)
Everybody’s doing it
There was time when only the purists in home restoration painstakingly weeded through salvage yards and demolition sites seeking period architectural elements and fixtures to replace missing or damaged ones. Now, many architects and home owners are using salvage as a way to enhance their new construction. Our Country Home’s feature, The Floating Farmhouse featured in the Summer 2011 issue of Our Country Home, demonstrates how to use salvaged materials in new construction masterfully. From floating bathroom sinks to a 19th-century wood soaking tub, the spare modern backdrop is made warm and inviting due to these salvaged pieces.
Many homes featured in Our Country Home over the years have used vintage fixtures, reclaimed wood and salvaged architectural material in a number of interesting and unexpected ways. The RLW Cabin, an eco-sensitive cabin owned by Larry Cohn and RJ Millard featured in Our Country Home last fall, used reclaimed barn lumber to clad the fireplace wall and to construct the bed in the master bedroom, and old fire doors salvaged from a New York City building were reused as bedroom doors.
As important as style is, the greatest benefit in using reclaimed and salvaged material is that it helps the environment while it preserves the craftsmanship of a bygone era and architectural history.
Now, go reclaim something!
Current Trends In Salvage
- Using architectural remnants, like columns, corbels, bric-a-brac and stonework, as sculpture and wall art is a great way to incorporate salvage into your home’s decor.
- Metal grates & gates outfitted with legs and glass tops are being used to make stylish coffee tables.
- Industrial pendants are very popular right now, as is re-purposing vintage exterior lanterns for interior use. Another popular trend in salvage lighting is melding elements from several fixtures to create one unique fixture.
- Using reclaimed barn wood to clad everything from walls to ceilings to fireplace walls is a trend that continues to grow in popularity.
- Vintage kitchen sinks are now turning up in bathrooms (sans cabinetry). The floating iron and enamel sinks, mounted to walls, create a utilitarian yet airy space.
- Reclaimed doors are being hung with sliding, barn door hardware, creating dramatic entrances for rooms.
- “Primitive” wood benches are turning up as coffee tables, being used in place of sofa tables, and at the foot of a bed for a rustic touch.