How To : Decorating

Using Architectural Salvage in Your Home

When old buildings such as houses, hotels, churches or commercial spaces get demolished or renovated, there are companies that go in to “save” interesting or useful elements before the wrecking ball arrives. These companies salvage things like windows, doors, hardware, radiators, floor grates, stair parts, lighting, fencing, lumber, ceiling tiles, fireplace mantels, bathtubs, flooring and more.

Whether you live in a quaint century home, a huge modern loft or a tiny condo, using salvaged architectural pieces can be a unique and environmentally-friendly way to decorate.

Why use old building elements instead of buying new?

  1. They don’t make things like they used to. When you install a sturdy old oak door, for example, you’re getting quality materials and excellent craftsmanship — at far less than a new, and sometimes inferior quality, door would cost.
  2. It’s “green.” You’re not sending a viable item to landfill, or using resources to create a new one. You’re being environmentally responsible and preserving a piece of the past.
  3. It’s unique. In an era of cookie-cutter homes and mass-produced furnishings, distinctive elements will always make a statement.

Ideas for your home

Architectural salvage works in any space, from antique-filled to ultra-modern. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Replace boring doorknobs with lovely brass, porcelain or cut glass knobs.
  • Old tin ceiling tiles make great wall hangings. Use them rust and all, or take four tiles with the same pattern, paint each one a different colour, and hang them as a grouping.
  • Replace the bathtub in your modern space with a deep, elegant clawfoot soaker.
  • Install a row of crystal doorknobs in the bathroom to hang towels, or use them as pretty drapery tie-backs.
  • Replace a standard floor grate with a lovely iron one, or hang one on your wall as art.
  • Use a piece of wrought-iron fencing as a headboard.
  • Use beautiful old hinges on your doors — you can find some really ornate ones that would look equally good in a period home or a contemporary space.
  • Thinking about installing hardwood floors? Reclaimed wood flooring is great quality, and it’s less expensive and more environmentally-friendly than buying new.
  • Install old stained glass or leaded glass windows into non-load-bearing internal walls to allow light to shine through.
  • If you’re restoring an old home, architectural salvage centres are a valuable resource for staying true to the style and period of the house. The people who work there tend to be very knowledgeable.

Where to find salvaged items

  • Architectural salvage stores have the best selection. Look up “architectural salvage” online or in the yellow pages, or try “building materials — used,” “salvage and surplus” or “antiques.” Talk to demolition contractors and ask them where they take their salvaged building materials.
  • Estate auctions are another great source — anything from windows and decorations to entire houses can come up at auction. Check your local paper, or search online for auctions in your area.
  • Don’t discount flea markets, garage sales and other sources of used goods.
  • Call your local historical restoration or preservation society.
  • Shop online — you can find anything on eBay.

Using architectural salvage in your home is an affordable and environmentally-friendly way to add originality and a bit of history when you decorate or renovate your space.

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