The notion of incorporating existing materials into new construction and renovation projects is about as hot as it gets right now, with restaurant designers leading the charge.
Everything old really is new again when it comes to home and commercial design.
Call it what you like — reclaiming, recycling, architectural salvage. But the notion of incorporating existing materials into new construction and renovation projects is about as hot as it gets right now. As is so often the case, restaurant designers have led the charge, weaving the likes of barn boards, found objects and industrial materials together to create urban chic spaces warmed by a lifetime of past use.
You may not have noticed it, but if you’ve eaten at Bryan Sikora’s lovely La Fia in Wilmington, any of Jose Garces’ spots, Jake’s in Manayunk or Stephen Starr’s Fette Sau, you’ve been in the presence of recycled building materials and rescued architectural finishes. Artists have long been hip to this karmic win/win, using found objects to create jaw-dropping masterpieces of all stripes. Heartwalk, a 30-foot wooden heart sculpture installed in Atlantic City last November, was created by Brooklyn, N.Y., design firm Situ Studio, which used reclaimed wood from Hurricane Sandy-battered boardwalks.
Reusing building materials isn’t just an aesthetic choice, according to Use It Again PA, a statewide recycling site. It’s a way to preserve and connect to “Pennsylvania’s rich tangible history. The salvage and reuse of building materials helps to preserve historic and antique fixtures, furniture and building materials, prevents more waste from entering landfills, reduces the consumption of new resources and opens up new markets and job opportunities.”
Salvaged items can come from buildings slated for demolition, churches and commercial properties. As to what can be recycled, the sky’s the limit — the list can start with aged barn wood flooring, furniture, doors, marble fireplaces, claw-foot tubs, ornate radiators and handcrafted decorative hardware — and continue from there.
Chris Stock has found beauty — and profit — in materials destined for the wrecking ball. The designer/builder opened his company, Philadelphia Salvage, three years ago when the prices of reclaimed materials became prohibitive. Stock loves the contrast created by pairing high-tech materials with vintage goods — say, installing a frameless glass shower and a dual flush toilet with vintage subway tiles and a recycled industrial cast iron sink. His clients range from big names like Ralph Lauren and the Starr Restaurant Group to small restaurants like Earth, Bread and Brewery in Mt. Airy and area homeowners.
He finds treasures in all kinds of unexpected places, including many donated items that local contractors can’t bear to see disappear into the dumpster. “The classic line is, ‘If I bring one more thing home my wife is going to kill me,’ ” said Stock, who tries not to fall in love with any of his inventory despite his passion for American industrial design.
The availability of particular items ebbs and flows — although there is always a glut of something as ever-present as doors of all shapes and sizes. “You need 1,000 doors to sell one,” he said. “But when it’s the right one, that’s when you get your ‘wow’ moment.” He maintains a 25,000 square foot warehouse that also houses a shop for custom furniture making.
“It’s the same principle as buying local, just on a bigger scale,” he said. “You can spend $2,000 at a place like Restoration Hardware and buy a dining room table made by somebody earning $50 a day working in terrible conditions, or you can get a totally custom-made table from salvaged materials made in this country by people buying houses, supporting a family, contributing to our economy. We know where our materials come from. We have 30-foot timbers that can be turned into an amazing conference table. It’s almost always cheaper to make it custom than to buy something you’d find in a catalog.”
Using recycled and reclaimed goods in home and restaurant décor may be at the center of the design zeitgeist but that’s not the reason Mike Supermodel (yes, that’s the name he goes by) opened his first Jinxed store nine years ago. What started as a place to buy eclectic T-shirts, books and toys off of South Street has grown into three locations selling all things vintage and reclaimed, from ’50s chrome tables to shelving, lighting, furniture and more.
Supermodel is understandably reticent to reveal where he finds his goods, now carried in three different locations. His staff uses social media, Instagram in particular, to send virtual shout-outs to a growing legion of followers, a savvy and interesting way to move product.
“Nothing really lasts for too long,” he said. “We turn over most of our stock within three weeks of getting it.”
One of the reasons for that: Jinxed prices are very affordable.
“I like to say we’re the alternative to IKEA,” said Supermodel. “You go to IKEA and you can still get a couch for $400. Ours is maybe $150, and it’s got lots of character.”
Although it’s hot to use reclaimed materials, that’s not why he’s in the business. “I do what I do because I like it. I’m not paying attention to the ‘what’s happening now’ crowd. Before long, the trend will be over and everybody will want new stuff. And I’ll still be around when that happens.”
Recycle, Reclaim, Reuse
Here is a partial list of Philly-area outlets for architectural salvage noted on useitagainpa.org.
Provenance Architecturals (phillyprovenance.com) has an architectural salvage store called Provenance, which includes salvaged items from the historic Divine Lorraine Hotel among other Philadelphia landmarks. 912 Canal St.; 215-236-6677
Architectural Antiques Exchange (architecturalantiques.com) boasts an extensive inventory of artifacts from the 1700s to 1930s from Europe and the Northeast Corridor. 715 N. Second St.; 215-922-3669.
John Dorety Antiques (johndorety.com) sells architectural antiques and manufactures custom pieces such as doors, mantels, columns, corbels, trim and more. 9th and South Sts.; 215-625-2728.
Kevin Brooks Salvage LLC (kevinbrookssalvage.com) is a full-service materials management company that develops innovative and cost-saving opportunities to remove and reuse discarded materials — think sustainable demo. 1320 N. Fifth St.; 215-848-5029
ReStore (re-store-online.com) is a Philly-based architectural salvage clearinghouse. They buy and sell numerous fixtures and accessories, and offer deconstruction services and design consultations. 3016 East Thompson St.; 215-634-3474
The Warehouse at Urban Artifacts (urbanartifactsonline.com) is a 14,000 sq. ft. warehouse filled with all kinds of antique furniture and architectural notables. 2702 Roberts Ave.; 215-951-9343
Beth D’Addono was reclaiming before reclaiming was cool. This article originally appeared in Inside Magazine, a Jewish Exponent publication.