Using Antique & Vintage Parts

For restorers, salvaged material is often just what's needed.
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Taking the place of local classified ads: Facebook Marketplace, where you can find a revolving inventory of everything from free cast-offs to the occasional treasure—locally. Pick it up and save on freight cost. You might find a bargain, like an antique, mahogany display case with glass doors for $90, sold fast and cheap because the family was moving across country. In a recent visit, ‘Today’s Picks” included a 1959 Corvette, an active bee hive, window sash from a demolished farmhouse, and a Limbert sideboard. Find your location at FacebookMarketplace.com, then filter by distance from your town, price range, and category.

Salvaged doors and stair parts

Salvaged doors and stair parts suggest antiquity in a newly built cottage.

Other sources, tried and true, include salvage yards and antiques emporia, ebay, nonprofit architectural recycling centers, big flea markets, and even yard sales. Salvage dealers often arrange finds by type: porch parts, plumbing fixtures, lighting. Many (if not most) dealers post inventory online. The good news is, you can probably find whatever you’re looking for. The bad news is, so can the collectors, interior decorators, architects, and prop masters who will bid against you.

Keep in mind that most architectural salvage dealers have a far greater (and changing) inventory than what they show online. Call or email dealers with specific requests. Send pictures of items you seek, especially if looking for multiples.

Although many dealers give you the option of buying an item in as-is condition, others offer refurbishment services. Light fixtures, hardware, bath fixtures and fittings, grilles and other metalwork, fancier doors and windows, and smaller items such as medicine cabinets are all candidates for their makeovers. And some dealers create entirely new work from old parts.

Another tack entirely: buying salvage rights to a building about to be demolished. Dealers do that. Buying the rights to an entire demolition, however, would be too expensive if you’re only looking for a few things. Still, you can talk to the property owner or demolition contractor about removing particular items, say, a mantel. You will probably have to remove the item yourself, on short notice. Keep an eye out for abandoned houses, redevelopment plans, and demolition permits. In some places, salvage companies hold public auctions, selling architectural elements to individual buyers after the demolition.

architectural salvage collage

 While some people use salvage as found art, restorers tend to reuse pieces as intended.

Before you go salvage shopping, make an inventory of what’s missing (or beyond saving) in your house. Then do a thorough search of your attic, basement, and cubbyholes, where parts earlier removed may have been hidden. OHJ readers have found 1910 kitchen cabinets, 19th-century chestnut flooring, stained-glass windows, pocket doors nailed inside walls, and light fixtures—all stashed away back when no one ever threw out anything of value.

You will need a few simple tools when you shop. Always carry a tape measure—an 8’ steel tape like the ones carpenters use is a practical size—along with measurements for the areas you’re trying to fit. If you’re shopping for metal items, a magnet helps you determine if there’s any iron content under that peeling paint. (Magnets don’t stick to brass, bronze, tin, zinc, copper, lead, nickel, or aluminum.) If you want to incorporate salvage into an entire room or addition, bring your architectural drawings or room measurements, along with photographs.

If you’ll be working with a designer or general contractor, try to find someone experienced in using historic building materials as part of the work. These pros are often gifted at incorporating “found” period materials such as art glass, original doors, and beams and flooring, as part of the renovation or restoration.

Remember that your own original fixtures, cabinetry, hardware, and other built-ins in good condition should never be demolished or thrown away. If you really must remove something, try to reuse it elsewhere, store it for future owners, or sell or donate it to a reputable salvage dealer or reuse center.

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