Mother Earth Living

Salvaged Treasures for your Home Renovation

A guide to reusing and recycling salvaged materials.
By Maren Thompson
November/December 1999
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Whether you’re performing a large-scale renovation or assembling a quick craft project, architectural ­salvage yards are a treasure trove of interesting objects awaiting your creative ideas. Salvaged goods are hotter than ever right now, and decorators, renovators, antique dealers, artists, and homeowners are pawing through salvage yards and re-use centers all over the country, looking for everything from hinges to flooring.

Architectural salvage specialists used to exist on the fringe. Many buildings were demolished without a thought for the marble mantelpieces, ornate staircases, and copper pipes remaining within. Now, although salvaging building materials and architectural features is much more time-consuming than full-scale demolition, the growing market for these goods makes salvage financially rewarding as well as environmentally responsible. Salvaged materials have the panache of the past and that solid, well-made feel that many of us are looking for as an antidote to today’s mass-produced goods.

Finding just the right object is half the fun, because turnover of materials is so rapid. And you never know what unexpected item may catch your eye! Don’t limit yourself to the obvious—challenge yourself to think of purposes for the charming objects you can’t resist. Brass keys and small escutcheons make a lovely windchime. Corbels and brackets work well as doorstops, bookends, or shelving brackets. Newel posts find new life as plant stands or table legs. Wrought iron fencing can become a decorative garden trellis or a unique wall hanging. A stone garden urn can be topped with glass to make a formal coffee table. Mantels or doors are great headboards for beds, and shutters or framed windows are easily transformed into a room divider (using decorative old hinges as well!). Here’s a small project to help get your creative juices flowing.

Salvaging Tips

Amazingly, in the world of architectural features, the “real thing” is often less costly than a reproduction. And you can usually bargain with the seller since there’s not a standard market price for most goods. The downside is that you have to take what is available. Some things to bear in mind:

ENERGY EFFICIENCY. Old plumbing fixtures or exterior windows may not meet your needs.

BUILDING CODES. Features such as staircases and mantels sometimes don’t meet current ­standards.

GOOD FIT. Take measurements before leaving home and while shopping.

SAFETY HAZARDS. Watch out for lead paint, asbestos, hidden or rusty nails, etc. Used lumber, in particular, should be inspected closely. Used lumber is not graded, and is best for secondary re-use projects like shelving, cabinets, picture frames, and other non-load-bearing uses.

A Holiday Ribbon Dispenser


  • Salvaged key escutcheons
  • Sturdy cardboard box with a lid
  • X-Acto® knife
  • Bonding glue
  • Balloon or plastic bag, filled with sand
  • Variety of decorative ribbons


We selected a creative assortment of keyhole escutcheons from a salvage source and found a decorative cardboard box with a metal lid at a craft store. First, lay the escutcheons on the cardboard box in their desired locations and outline the keyholes with a pencil. Remove the hardware, and cut rectangular holes in the box that will be larger than the keyhole, but smaller than the decorative surrounding plate. Place several drops of bonding glue around each edge of the escutcheons, and press them into place over the holes.

Allow the glue to dry thoroughly. Thread the ends of your favorite ribbons through the keyholes. Use spooled ribbons if possible and place the whole spool in the box to keep things tidy. You may want to put a plastic bag filled with sand inside the box to provide stability when you’re pulling out ribbon.

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