Many New Orleanians are lucky enough to call quaint bargeboard shotguns and camelbacks home. But for those of us whose residences were built in this century — or are newly renovated — architectural salvage items offer a way to introduce the character and patina of age.
"[Architectural salvage] gives you a sense of history, a sense of place and a sense of craftsmanship," says Phyllis Jordan, executive director of The Green Project (2831 Marais St., 504-945-0240; www.thegreenproject.org). "It reminds us of a time when people built things from scratch and lots of people had skills."
In addition to serving as a nostalgic nod to the past, salvaged items can distinguish a home from its modern-day peers.
"Most of the places you see in the U.S. are pretty standard — full of Home Depot and Lowe's," says Michiel Dop, owner of Dop Antiques & Architecturals (300 Jefferson Hwy., 504-373-5132; www.dop-antiques.com). "Old houses in New Orleans have a lot of nice, cool elements that they don't make any more because it's too expensive. You can [use salvaged items] to make a statement."
They don't have to be expensive. At Dop Antiques, prices start at $45 for a wine jug or $75 for a fireplace mantel. Because The Green Project salvages everything from two-by-fours to light fixtures from homes slated for demolition or those being renovated, the costs are much lower than for new items.
"We charge less than you would pay for new things, and we do make building materials available at much lower prices," Jordan says. "We take everything that would otherwise go to the dump. Our mission is to create a marketplace for reclaimed materials and cultivate respect for their value."
The Green Project opened in 1994 as a latex paint recycling operation. Though the company still offers this service, it also sells salvaged building materials, including plumbing parts, light fixtures, windows, doors, mantels, hinges and roof tiles. Dop's antiques and salvage items, by contrast, are mostly European, with some local items.
"We go to salvage yards in Europe — that's where we find cool items," Dop says. "A lot of beautiful hand-crafted metal work comes out of Egypt, and the rest is mainly from Europe: etched glass, stained glass, transoms. You can create a lot of things with salvaged materials."
When it comes to reusing salvaged materials, there are two options: use the item as it originally was intended or repurpose it. Some items lend themselves easily to their original use. Doors, for example, can be framed and hung, and medallions can be installed on ceilings. If you go this route, Dop and Jordan advise hiring an experienced craftsperson for the installation. It's also important to keep the home's aesthetic in mind.
"Make sure [the item] goes with the house," Dop says. "For example, you don't want a heavily sculpted medallion in an arts-and-crafts home. But if it's Victorian or Greek Revival, do it — it adds to the style of the home."
For repurposed salvage items, the sky is the limit. "It just takes a lot of imagination," Jordan says. "I have an old space heater, and I took out the ceramic parts and made an altar. It made a very attractive center to put things that are meaningful to me."
The Green Project's yearly Salvations fundraiser competition challenges local artisans to creatively repurpose items. This year, artists created everything from a mantel-turned-bar to a bench made from a Ford bumper. The gallery of projects offers a host of inspiration, as does the "Customer's Corner" of The Green Project's website, where people post photos of their recycled projects.
"People don't like throwing stuff away any more," Jordan says. "They realize these things still have life. It's been a real cultural shift."