How to Use Architectural Salvage in Interior Design

One of the quickest ways to add personality and drama to an interior is to incorporate a piece of architectural salvage into your design. What is architectural salvage? It is something that has been torn out of an older building, scooped up by a collector or dealer, and made available for sale….often for very little money. Architectural salvage pieces might be made of rock, wood, glass or metal. They include mantels, doors, windows, brackets and korbels, banisters and railings, exterior friezes, columns, sinks, faucets, doorknobs, and all sorts of other things that were built in to the old place. They are often decoratively carved or displaying an interesting finish, such as layers of paint that are partially pealed away. Frequently these unique finds have barely escaped the wrecking ball when a house or building was torn down. Take from the old…and install in the new(er). That’s the game, and no rules apply. You can install anyTHING you want, anyWHERE you want. However, there are some helpful guidelines that will make the most of your precious find and keep you from getting into too much trouble. This article shows you beautiful examples which will inspire you to go out hunting… perhaps next Saturday morning. It’s a great big cut above garage sales and can turn your house into a place that you love and that visitors never ever forget.

In the photo above we see someone’s creative idea for using a fragment of a corinthian column capital. It was about the same height as the kitchen cabinets and so it was installed as an additional support for the counter. The beautiful thing about most rock pieces is that they blend with just about any style interior. It’s difficult to say what style this kitchen is anyway…but doesn’t it bring memorable character to the space!?!

When you find an appealing artifact made of rock, such as this beautiful goddess, buy it and make yard art out of it. Let Mother Nature do its thing and grow around and upon it. This creates a sense of history that can’t come any other way.

I love this handsome wood archway. As you can see from it’s simple design, it doesn’t need to be carved or fancy to look good. The shape of the arch is absolutely elegant! (with no further embellishment needed). When found it was hidden beneath layers of paint. The homeowner had the vision to strip away the paint and apply some stain which ties it nicely into the rest of the house.

Here is one of the cleverest uses of architectural salvage I have ever seen. Do you see a mantel here?……Did you have to look twice? Yes, you guessed it. It’s the console table. Perhaps some resourceful person with a keen design eye saw the beauty of the wood carvings, but had no need for another mantel in their house. So they cut off the top approximately 20″ (same height as the chair seat) and attached it to the wall. Et voila! Accessorized with a mirror and a vase of flowers, it makes a beautiful vignette in an entry hall.

Shutters abound in the salvage world. And in most cases we can easily understand why they have been discarded and left homeless. However, there are some lovely unusual ones out there and these “wave-slats” are very charming, are they not? The pealed paint finish is perfect for a french country interior. The shutters have simply been screwed to an interior wall of the home. A pot of geraniums beneath gives it balance and creates an attractive composition.

If you hunt, you can easily find wood columns to install somewhere in your home. Some are smooth and round, some are smooth and square…these are fluted and round. A bit of an ancient Greek flavor to them. The best location for a pair of columns is flanking a doorway, either against the wall or within the door frame. If you only find one column, and you love it, buy it and attach it to a wall where one room transitions into another.

Brackets also abound in the world of salvage. I have seen many which are distressed beyond recognition, and just not that pretty. This is a particularly beautiful one and some lucky person had just the doorway for it. What do these things cost? Need I say that this depends upon whether you are buying from a trendy Soho (New York) dealer or from a collector in Independence, Kansas where my friends live. I saw one like this (about 24″ high) last year in Seattle with a pricetag of $475.

Interesting glass windows can add a phenomenal amount of elegance to a space. This gothic arched window set above an antique copper tub creates the bathing nook one might dream about. Just a little warning, when installing “found” windows be sure to calculate size. If you are not a professional carpenter, you will want to hire one for this sort of retrofitting project. It’s possible that a window this size may require demo of supporting wall studs and it could get ugly if you attempt it yourself. Another wonderful way to use salvaged windows is on interior walls between rooms. This allows light to pass from room to room in an unusual way.

Vessel sinks are very popular these days. Of course, they are not really new. They are inspired by the old pre-plumbing bowl and pitcher that sat atop the dresser…in your great grandmother’s day. Here’s a salvaged drop in wash basin that has been placed upon a simple marble counter, allowing the chrome drain pipe to be exposed for all to see. The mirrors look as though they were stolen from my son’s diesel pickup truck. Big and heavy duty and mounted within two chrome towel bars placed vertically.

We have merely scratched the surface of the fascinating subject of architectural salvage, which is enjoying even more popularity now that our consciousness has been raised about recycling and reusing old things. There is so much more to show you, more stories to tell and so many exciting things for you to create. I plan to revisit the subject in the future so check back in with Design Like the Pros for more information. Suffice it to say that salvage “yards” exist in most large metropolitan areas as well as many small towns around the world. My favorite spot in Seattle, WA is Earthwise, Inc. Building Salvage. Another one that has attracted my attention is Black Dog Salvage and Architectural Antiques in Roanoke, VA. In the meantime, please send me the names of your favorite salvage yards and I will publish them for everyone to read.

Photos from Decorating With Architectural Details by Michael Litchfield – Friedman/Fairfax Publishers – Copywright 1995

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