Salvaged materials can add character to a building project, but you’ll need a good nose to track down the best products.
Whether it’s the beautiful patina of old brickwork or a science-lab bench reborn as a kitchen worktop, salvaged materials that have a story to tell capture the imagination. Salvaged materials go hand-in-hand with restoring a historic property – reinstating charming period details, such as fireplaces and plasterwork – but they also have a place in new-builds, making an exciting contrast with the crisp lines and perfect finishes of modern architecture. Choosing reclaimed items can also make sense from a sustainability perspective for your building project.
Always use a reputable source, ideally a seller that follows the Salvo Code (see need to know); ask about guarantees and returns policies, because mistakes could be expensive if you buy something that’s not fit for the rigours of modern building work.
Old brickwork has a unique patina that is hard to replicate; reclaimed masonry is often used for repairing old buildings, and for extensions where there is a requirement for the new addition to match the existing home (although thanks to brick-sourcing services, it is not hard to find new). Many types of brick are particular to their area, so local salvage yards can often be a good place to start, and sourcing products from a single batch is essential if you want to achieve uniformity across your project – make sure your builder also matches the style and colour of the mortar.
Reclaimed bricks are more expensive than new equivalents because of their rarity, and the time it takes to sort them and remove the old mortar. This is especially true for handmade blocks (pre-1900), which were formed in a mould and have a more textured look, as opposed to later, wire-cut examples.
Be aware that all building products have a lifespan; using salvaged materials such as roof tiles that are already 30 years old, for example, is not a good idea. They will fail more quickly than a new product, so you’ll end up re-roofing sooner than you would like. Old windows and doors are simply not energy-effcient enough to be reused, but that’s not to say they couldn’t be employed in a more decorative way indoors.
Elements such as fireplaces, flooring (timber, stone or tiles) and radiators all have a strong second-hand market due to their durability and character. As with structural elements, ensure that they are fit for purpose, or be aware of the work it will take to make them so. There’s a big difference between the unrestored radiators that you might find lurking in a salvage yard and a restored one from the likes of The Old Radiator Company (01233 850 082; theoldradiatorcompany.co.uk), which will have been ushed to remove any debris inside, sand-blasted, refurnished, tested and updated with metric fittings to be compatible with modern pipework. Ask about the provenance of goods, which can give an indication of their quality and present condition, and examine everything carefully. If you want to play it safe, go to a firm that specialises in restored products, such as Eco Flooring (01757 700 170; ecoflooringuk.com), which will be more expensive, but will guarantee quality.
Having a one-of-a-kind item in your home can certainly give it a wow factor, but it’s also a challenge. You may not be able to find what you want in the quantity you need, so have an open mind, or be prepared to wait.
Using salvaged materials is often about celebrating age, character and pleasing imperfection, and a creative approach to reuse enhances that. Mismatched reclaimed floor tiles can get around the problem of finding large enough batches of a single pattern, for example.
Furniture & Accessories
Rethinking the way old, sometimes obsolete, items can be used also works brilliantly for finishing touches and can result in unexpected, unique interiors – try old barn cladding to make a rustic-looking oversized headboard; bakery racks as bookshelves, or agricultural feeding troughs as garden planters. Look for furniture makers creating pieces with salvaged timber such as scaffold board or driftwood.
Industrial-style enamelled pendant lights that look as though they were salvaged from a factory are easy to come by – but the real deal is often far better made, and comes with that impossible-to-replicate patina of age, and a backstory. All old lights will need rewiring by someone qualifed to do so, but if you buy from a reclaimed lighting specialist such as Trainspotters or Skin flint, this will usually have been done for you.
Period sanitaryware can stand the test of time very well, and even with a vast array of antique-style baths, basins and taps available brand new, some types can be found only by going for a reclaimed model. Ask the seller whether taps have been restored and tested; and when plumbing them in you’ll need special adaptors to connect to modern pipe sizes. Bear in mind that if you’re not buying a restored bath from a specialist, such as Antique Bathrooms (01672 511 620; antiquebaths.com), you may need to have the enamel redone.
Need to know:
- Salvo (salvo.co.uk) should be your first port of call. Search for a dealer near you, or browse items for sale.
- Look for dealers signed up to the Salvo Code, a voluntary protocol to give buyers peace of mind that items have not been stolen or removed from protected buildings.
- Visit the annual Salvo Fair (salvo-fair.com).
- Arthur Swallow Fairs (asfairs.com) runs four Decorative Home & Salvage Shows at venues around the country over the summer.
Words: Emily Brooks, Photography: Simon Kennedy