Saturday, December 16, 2006

WARNING: This can be addicting.

So don't say I didn't warn you.
Some might say I have developed an addiction for architechtural salvage. Others might call it an obsession. Personally, I can't think of many better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Looking for architechtural salvage pieces is like going to thrift stores- There's a little of everything, including the kitchen sink (literally). You can find a single piece that inspires a whole room, or bring home a whole room's worth of flooring.
It's environmentally friendly. It has history. And some of it is a GREAT deal.

I'll admit, I was a little overwhelmed the first time I stepped into the world of salvage. So, here's my skinny on how to do it well:

1) Make a list of materials that would be useful/ necessary in your current or upcoming projects.
I've seen chandeliers, filigreed door knobs, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, ceramic tile, bricks, pillars, flooring, windows, door moldings, and dozens of doors in all shapes and sizes. I'm an architechtural history buff, so some of the stuff is just cool to look at. Some salvage warehouses resemble junk yards with broken windows and rust-stained sinks piled in untidy heaps. Others are more like museums with artful displays of architectural treasures. If you have an idea of what you might want to bring home, you're less likely to be overwhelmed by the selection of items.

2) Dress to get dirty.
Most salvage places I've been to are not exceptionally clean. Many resemble construction warehouses, so dress appropriately. In the winter, they can be COLD and I really like my gloves!

3) Take measurements or floor plans with you. Oh yeah, and a tape measure.
You have no idea what you will find. And when you find it, you'll have no idea if it will fit if you don't have measurements with you. They may have a tape you can borrow, but it's easier to bring your own. If you are trying to match something, take it with you- even if it's just a sample.

4) Be flexible in your measurements and plans, if you can.
I know you can't just wave a wand and make a room bigger (but wouldn't that be a neat trick?)
But, if you have flexibility, you are much more likely to be able to use that perfect piece that's only about foot shorter than you were envisioning.

5) Take a digital camera with you.
Don't be shy about taking pictures. You may not bring the perfect piece home with you today. But you might want to look at it again- while you are standing in the room you are working on. Pictures make it easier to compare options as well.

6) Take notes.
If you find the perfect piece, write down the measurements- and anything else you notice while looking it over, including the price. Then, when you get home, you have all the information you need to share with fellow decision-makers.

7) Ask the workers for assistance.
Many know their items very well. Some may even know the story behind what you are looking at. (Which can be a very cool conversation piece when it's in your living room!)

8) Be prepared to take some time to look around.
This usually isn't a quick in-and-out endeavor, so don't go when you are on a tight schedule.

9) Bargain!
Warehouses run by demolition contractors often have overstocks of lavatory sinks and other common items. Go ahead and make an offer!

10) Some salvage centers do not operate 9 to 5 hours. Always call before making the trip.

11) Take a big truck.

If you find something you absolutely have to have, you should take it with you. Most salvage places are first-come, first-served. Some may hold a piece for 24 hours if it is paid for, but you may want to take it then and there.
OR, on the other hand, if you want to make sure that all you do is look, take the smallest vehicle possible. Better yet, ride a bike with no basket.

12) Be prepared to come up empty.
I don't find the perfect piece for the perfect price every time I look for salvage. I'm fortunate enough to live in an area with a lot of salvage choices nearby, so I can check often. Items at salvage locations change all the time. Keep looking, and you're more likely to find what you are looking for.

How to find salvage building materials:

  1. Search online directories for Architectural Salvage in your area- see my list below.
  2. Check the yellow pages of your local telephone directory for Building Materials - Used, or Salvage and Surplus. In the Twin Cities area, my favorite salvage places are here.
  3. Phone Demolition Contractors. Ask where they take their salvaged building materials.
  4. Contact your local historic preservation society. Ask about salvagers who specialize in antique building parts. Some historical societies operate nonprofit salvage warehouses and other services for old-house restoration themselves.
  5. Use the Internet. View photographs and inquire about shipping costs.
  6. Take advantage of online messsage boards and forums for buying, selling and trading.
  7. Keep an eye on garage sales, estate sales and auctions.
Online Salvage Sites:

Architectural Parts Warehouse
You don't have to live in the northeastern USA... You can shop for architectural parts online.
Architectural Salvage, Inc.
Buys, sells, and trades old house parts in New Hampshire, one hour north of Boston. Web site includes catalog of offerings.
Architectural Salvage Warehouse
Buys and sells salvage rights to old buildings. Mantels, doors, windows, hardware, plumbing, and more. Warehouse in Vermont.
Beyond Waste
Buys and sells used building parts, and manufactures flooring, wainscotting, and baseboard from reclaimed lumber. Santa Rosa, California.
Chicago Antique Brick
Original antique Chicago bricks, shipped via truck or rail.
D. Litchfield Demolition
Offers demolition, used building materials, and recycling ideas. Salvage yard and antiquities shop in the Vancouver, British Columbia area.
Historic House Parts
Online store selling architectural salvage and vintage and reproduction building parts. Plumbing fixtures, mantels, lighting, radiators, doors, windows, hardware, and more. Based in Rochester, NY.
Olde Good Things
Original hardware and doorknobs, mantels, doors, iron, lighting, bronze, brass, columns, corbels, stones, stained glass and more. Warehouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Recycler's Exchange
An information exchange for anyone who would like to buy, sell, or trade materials or equipment. Some lumber and building materials are listed.
Whole House Building Supply
California contractor Paul Gardner holds house demolition sales. View photos on the Web, visit the warehouse in Palo Alto, CA, or bring your own tools and take apart buildings scheduled for demolition

Site list from Jackie Craven at

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