This issue is heavy with salvaging: besides the rescued phone nooks, we tour two houses filled with salvaged parts. Most of the time, “salvage” means finding something old for reuse—a mantel, say. OHJ folks would use it as, well, a mantel, while crafty folks might turn it into a headboard. The ultimate salvage is, of course, the house itself. When an old house is kept from demolition or even extensive remodeling, it’s not only history that is salvaged. From a practical standpoint, salvage addresses the financial and environmental advantages of keeping embodied energy intact, and materials out of the landfill.
Not every old house salvaged was or is a showpiece. Sometimes a building facing demolition must be moved; sometimes taking a grant or a tax break means following all sorts of code regulations, which can include installing new windows or a visually jarring porch railing. Salvage is very often a budget affair. It brings up a conundrum that has surfaced regularly in all of my years at Old-House Journal: “Is OHJ written for rich people, or is it for DIYers?”
That’s a false equivalence. When we show large houses beautifully restored by an army of designers and contractors, we’re showcasing inspirational and aspirational work, not
suggesting that restoration belongs only to the wealthy. And when we publish the story of a dilapidated cottage saved from the wrecking ball, we’re celebrating reuse through blood, sweat, and tears—not necessarily condoning every DIY decision. Still the letters come in: “How about the rest of us working stiffs?” vs. “They shouldn’t have used that material” and “Conjectural design by the masses usually fails.”
I like the Before pictures, it’s true. They are all about potential, before money is spent and decisions are made. Eventually, though, a building either will be salvaged or demolished. I think old houses make room for everyone.
~ Patricia Poore, Editorial Director of Old House Journal
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