Old Finds, New Style

A creative shop owner shares decorating tips for reusing pieces from the past.

If you have ever rummaged through a salvage shop that deals in old building parts, chances are you've seen things such as stately columns, beautifully crafted metalwork, and stacks of ornate doors and windows. Chances are, as well, that while these fragments caught your eye, you thought to yourself, "What on Earth would I do with them?" Surprisingly, a whole decorating world awaits you among the aisles of such rescued pieces.

Reclaiming Relics
"The trick is to look past an object's original use, and try to envision a new purpose for it," says Roy Morton--and he should know. Roy not only runs his own building salvage business called Architectural Heritage, but he's also filled his Birmingham home with with remnants of dismantled churches, older homes, and other structures that fell to the wrecking ball. All of Roy's finds are repurposed in creative, distinct ways that fit in perfectly with his home decor.

Salvage Buying Tips
Roy encourages his customers to rethink the ordinary when exploring his shop. Whether searching for a specific item or just browsing, even the most discerning client needs pointers.

Freestanding objects--Depending on height, columns make for great display pedestals, plant and fern stands, or dramatic conversation pieces when used alone. Roy even turned an old, distressed column into a base for a distinctive floor lamp. Other items such as individual chimney pots and stone balusters become sturdy supports when used as table bases.

Metal items--Don't let the strong, inflexible nature of ironwork fool you into thinking that reuse is limited. As displayed in Roy and his wife Becky's home, a weathered metal gate now functions as a graceful iron screen, and sections of a wrought iron porch post enhance their master vanity. In both cases, Roy took the pieces to a local welder, who made minor adjustments to adapt the objects for their new roles.

Odds and ends--The possibilities are endless here. Wood brackets take on a new purpose when used as bookends. Decorative medallions and carved building surfaces, such as panels or friezes, transform into instant art when hung on blank walls.

Roy and Becky installed a handsome oak door as the headboard in their bedroom. More antique doors conceal the kitchen pantry, allowing the handiwork of some unknown artisan to live on.

Salvage Shopping Across the South
If Roy's place (Architectural Heritage, (205) 322-3538) is out of your area, the following list highlights other Southern sources for great architectural finds.

  • Adkins Architectural Antiques & Treasures, Houston, 1-800-522-6547
  • Architectural Accents, Atlanta, (404) 266-8700
  • Architectural Antiques, Oklahoma City, (405) 232-0759
  • The Architectural Bank, New Orleans, (504) 523-2702
  • The Brass Knob, Washington, D.C., (202) 332-3370
  • Crosslands Studio, Charlotte, (704) 332-3032
  • Garrett's Salvage, Rome, Georgia, (706) 291-1791
  • Old Theatre Architectural Salvage, Kansas City, Missouri, (816) 283-3740
  • Southern Accents, Cullman, Alabama, (256) 737-0554
  • The Uncommon Market, Dallas, (214) 871-2775
  • The Wrecking Bar, Atlanta, (404) 525-0468