Many people look at an old, wooden door and can’t see past the chipped paint and broken window panes. But a growing number of salvagers and artisans see that same door for what it can become; a cabinet, a coffee table or a headboard. Decades ago, anyone who picked through the landfill (called “the dump”) in search of tossed away treasures was looked upon with a mixture of pity and confusion. That kind of recreation was outlawed long ago, and modern day pickers are much more sophisticated. They seek out demolished century houses and flea markets to liberate discarded items they can turn into something chic and desirable.
For Scott Little, the salvage bug bit as he watched a century home fall to a wrecking ball despite his offer to purchase some of the items within to use in his own 1920’s home. Scott and Chris Blott run Artefacts on the edge of the village of St. Jacobs, Ontario. They stock everything from tiles to doorknobs to iron gates to gothic stained glass to, you name it. If it’s old and useful, they’ve harvested it, brought it home and put it up for sale or transformed it into a custom piece. Blott says they never get tired of the hunt.
“We hear of demolitions from our connections but often get no more than an address and a day or two’s notice. We drive hundreds of kilometers dreaming about the house to come and it’s not until we pull into the driveway that we get an idea of what we’re up for. Sometimes, it’s a glorious Victorian with oodles of goodies and sometimes, it’s a wreck hardly worth looking at. One place looked like the worst 1970’s split level only to turn out to have a 1840s original home hidden inside.”
For Sue and Dean Bedell in Dorchester, Ontario, it began when Sue’s grandmother’s farmhouse was being torn down and she decided to save all she could.
“We ripped out baseboards and everything that was unusual before the house came down. Then we had all of this stuff and we started seeing the possibilities.”
That was six years ago and now the Bedells’ Second Bloom Design creates furniture and furnishings for residential and commercial clients who appreciate what time has done to pine planks and other woods. Dean builds to order while Sue puts a finish on the pieces by hand in addition to running their retail store.
“We find that people love the look and they know they want something but they don’t always know what. That’s why we have custom pieces in the shop and lots of photos for inspiration. Sometimes people have their own unique ideas, too. One customer is bringing in their family crib for us to make into memory boxes.”
Having been in business for 25 years and grown to a 9,000 square foot location, Artefacts’ owners have seen a lot of changes to the salvaging trade. And with growth, comes opportunity.
“One of the disadvantages of an increased market is that the number of players dilutes the pool of supply. But a broader market means more dealers which mean more supply is needed. More people start selling their house parts instead of bulldozing them to the ground. This can only be good for the business as a whole. If every house coming down were salvaged, as it should be, there would be more than enough for everyone.”
Sue Bedell is always looking out for the next trend in custom designs.
“At a trade show we saw a table made of wood that was so wavy, I don’t know how you would set anything on it. One of our customers said, “I want that!” So we’re making one for her.”
To paraphrase an old cliché, one woman’s wavy table-top is another woman’s treasure.