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Discover Mid-America— March 2011

Architectural salvage adds personality to home décor

Gothic Stained Glass Window with arched top, $380 (photo courtesy of Foundation, Kansas City, MO)

Incorporating architectural salvage in today’s home décor has become an increasingly popular way to create a unique and personal look.

“It’s all about using key pieces here and there to achieve an eclectic look. Rarely does anyone decorate all in one period or style,” says Patrick Ottesen, owner of Foundation, a full-service architectural resource center specializing in the reuse of architectural antiques and salvaged building materials from classical to modern, in Kansas City, MO.

Architectural salvage items are antique or vintage materials that have been rescued from demolished older buildings and homes and are sold for reuse or repurpose in today’s homes. This definition, however, has been expanded to include reproductions. Salvage could include doors, windows, fireplace mantles, banisters and railings, columns, statues, lighting, flooring, back bars, mirrors, furnace grates, church pews, kitchen and bathroom sinks, tubs, toilets and hardware.

The growing appeal of architectural salvage can be attributed to its expert craftsmanship, connections to the past, and aesthetically appealing details such as a fine patina, intricate trim work or hand carvings, Ottesen says.

“People can either go to Home Depot to get some new oak or they can go to an architectural salvage place and get some old oak,” he says. “Someone might look at bundles of antique flooring and say its just rubbish, but by using Tung oil finish and polyurethane, we can create something beautiful.”

Formerly an architectural student before opening his own architectural salvage business five years ago, Ottesen hails from Chicago. Interior designer Nate Berkus, of The Nate Berkus Show and Oprah Winfrey’s designer, was one of his customers when he worked at Architectural Artifacts, Inc. in Chicago.

Helping customers define their visions is one of the services Ottesen offers, as well as suggesting ideas on how to reuse or repurpose an item.

“It’s in the detailing and however and how far they wish to take that vision,” he says.

For example, a recent customer of his was in search of material for a countertop. Instead of traditional countertop materials, Ottesen recommended the customer use reclaimed pine flooring for the countertop as well as its sides.

“Wood flooring is popular now. People used to go for the doors, fireplace mantels and the windows and walk off and leave a beautiful floor,” he says, referring to demolition sites.

A shelf of doorknobs and back plates. (photo courtesy of Conner's Architectural Salvage, Lincoln, NE)

In his trendy space, located within the red-bricked walls of a former manufacturing plant in Kansas City’s West Bottoms – an industrial area that’s been reclaimed and transformed by area artists – Ottesen suspends wainscoting, doors and stained glass windows from the ceiling.

“These make wonderful room dividers,” he says. “People live in all different kinds of spaces today. Sometimes they need larger furniture and creative ways to divide space.”

Other architectural elements in his business include a monstrous-sized, red barn door that has been installed as a working door. The floor is laid with glossy, refinished pine. A turn-of-the-century, carved mahogany grand hall mirror, which stands nearly 10 feet, leans against a wall. In another room, Ottesen steps inside of a 19th century bank safe that still clearly bears the name of its maker – Harrison Safe and Iron Works, Kansas City, Missouri.

“This would make a really great wardrobe,” he says, with a sense of glee.

Recycle, Reclaim, Reuse

Another component to using architectural salvage is preservation.

“There’s an interesting fusion now between preservation and architectural salvage,” Ottesen says. “We used to be the enemy. But now, architectural salvage is the key to putting preservationists’ dreams back together.”

Sid Conner, owner of Conner’s Architectural Antiques in Lincoln, NE, agrees.

“In the last four to five years, we’ve seen a move toward more remodeling when previously we’ve seen demolition,” he says.

“We deal with people doing restoration on houses and more than 50 percent of our customers want to take their houses back to their original states. They’re replacing doors or maybe they’re opening up a staircase that’s been closed. Or, people wish to match the hardware in restoration.”

Conner and his wife opened their architectural salvage business in 1974 after they purchased an 1899 Victorian home.

“It was in need of many items for restoration that we found very difficult to find. As a result, a business just naturally grew out of those searches and the networking with others. Some would ask that in our quest if we found such and such to let them know, as they were also trying to restore or refurbish a home,” Conner says.

Customers also are searching for architectural salvage to install in newer homes, Conner adds.

“In kitchens, people are placing decorative eaves brackets below a kitchen bar or using tin ceiling as a backsplash in the kitchen or as a backdrop in cabinets. And we’re selling fireplace mantels to newer homes,” he says. “We’ve also seen an uptake in architectural hardware, especially Victorian hinges, doorknobs, lock sets, back plates in cast brass or cast bronze. People also are interested in ornate, cast bronze mechanical doorbells from the Victorian era and even window sash locks.”

Lighting display at Conner's Architectural Antiques (photo courtesy of owner)

Using architectural salvage in home décor appeals to people, Conner says, “because they’re not looking for run-of-the-mill items. They want things they can’t find now.”

For example, he says there are about 400 to 500 different designs for antique and vintage back plates.

“If a person chooses from reproductions, choices are limited. They maybe get about 10 design choices — two or three designs from each of the periods of Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Mission,” he says.

Lighting also continues to be a popular choice for both restoration and in newer homes.

“I’ve always felt lighting is one of the primary elements to set the right mood for the rest of the décor,” Conner says. “You can either enhance Art Deco, Art Nouveau, or Victorian or destroy the look by using a plastic-plated job.”

Both Ottesen and Conner say that architectural salvage also offers builders and decorators the opportunity to incorporate green values.

“It’s the ultimate in recycling and reusing,” Ottesen says. “It’s especially growing in favor with green builders.”

Like wood flooring, which Conner also says is growing in popularity.

“People want unique grains and a unique style but it’s also a very green type of construction,” he says.

So much so, Conner says, that architectural salvage businesses are harvesting post and beam timber from barns and grain elevators and reselling it for plank flooring or construction of log cabins.

“One thing we’ve seen recently is that many of our customers doing remodeling will contact us about different things that aren’t correct for their homes or will remodel and want to change,” Conner adds.

“Some people may be putting in more efficient heating and taking out radiators or heating grates — just the things we sell to others making restorations — but they want it in the hands of someone who can use them so they get another life.”

Rhiannon Ross can be contacted at