Take one part décor, one part recycling, and one part history. Mix them with a dash of storytelling. What do you have? A recipe for a successful salvage shop! Stores that carry secondhand furnishings are busier than ever—especially when each piece has a story to tell.
The salvage business is booming. That’s partly because homeowners love objects with a backstory, says Rich Ellis. He should know; he’s publisher of Architectural Salvage & Antique Lumber News. Reclaimed bathroom tile, old fireplace mantels, and antique light fixtures of interesting provenance (origin or history) are among the wildly popular items one can find in salvage shops.
“When you can point to your floor and say it came from an old shoe factory in Connecticut, for example, that’s a big attraction,” Ellis says.
Lorna Aragon is home editor at Martha Stewart Living. Her customers are designers, architects, and homeowners. These folks want unique décor with a sense of history. Choosing parts or fixtures from a historic building helps make that happen.
Television fixer-upper shows have likely fueled the salvage trend too. Designers like Joanna Gaines and Erin Napier have popularized chippy paint and vintage wood. (There’s not much that can’t be made more appealing by the addition of an antique barn door or some recycled shiplap.)
Reclaiming damaged, worn objects is similar to what Jesus Christ does with shabby, sinful people. The word salvage actually means something saved from destruction. God has made humans part of His redemption-restoration story. Perhaps a love for salvaged goods reflects that aspect of God’s character and purpose.
Madeline Beauchamp works with Olde Good Things, one of the oldest architectural salvage businesses in the country. She says the salvage trend is also about avoiding the draining of natural resources. “The whole ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ aspect of things plays into [the salvage trend],” she says. After all, keeping things out of the landfill is definitely eco-friendly.
Olde Good Things sells everything from vintage doorknobs to huge stained-glass panels that were once part of the American Airlines terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
Other salvaged items find new life as different objects. Paris street lamps end up as large pendant lamps hanging above kitchen islands. Window frames from historical buildings like New York City’s Domino sugar factory are fitted with mirrors for wall decoration. A building’s gargoyle might even appear later as a garden gnome.
According to Ellis, “That desire for elements with a sense of history and a great story behind them is not going away anytime soon.”