Salvage operations

Treasures: Rescued from demolition in old buildings, they are finding new life in new construction.

September 23, 2001|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Saddened when a local lumberyard went out of business after more than 100 years, Brian Sandberg, a home improvement contractor in Elkridge, thought of a way that would bring new life to the old place.

Sandberg, knowing the piles of left-over scrap lumber would likely end up in a landfill, made an offer to purchase the salvage rights to the lumberyard. With the truckloads of salvaged materials, he constructed a 40-by-28-foot, two-story garage on his property. Using just about every salvaged sliver, Sandberg built the garage of redwood, cedar, oak and knotty pine.

The second floor boasts four, 12-foot open-frame dormers and an observatory. The lumber was also used to make hardwood floors, cedar ceilings, boxed beams and built-in cabinetry with false walls. The smaller pieces of wood he used by cutting and pasting designs into the cabinetry and walls.

"I could not have purchased a lot of this wood on the market today, and even if I could, I wouldn't have been able to afford it," he said. "I used it down to the last tiny pieces because I couldn't see it going to waste or throwing it away. I hope this will stand for generations."

The materials Sandberg didn't use, which included doors, trim, lumber and tar, he donated to organizations such as the Boy Scouts, a nearby therapeutic riding center and the Loading Dock, a Baltimore nonprofit that distributes reusable building materials.

"These materials had a large impact not just for myself, but for the entire community," Sandberg said.

When Light Street Housing, an organization that provides affordable housing to low-income people, began to construct a house on Patapsco Avenue in south Baltimore, it ran into a special problem.

One of the occupants who would soon be living in the house had severe asthma. So carpet wasn't a flooring option because it would exacerbate the problem. The group soon discovered that a local high school had donated an old, solid maple gymnasium floor to the Loading Dock. This allowed it to purchase the wood at a minimal cost and install the hardwood floors throughout the house.

"We would never have been able to afford to go out on the market and purchase hardwood flooring," said David Dittman, president of the board of directors for Light Street Housing. "We were able to not only do this house, but the floors of two to three other homes as well."

For years only die-hard renovators, those committed to historic preservation and interior designers were hip to the treasures found among salvaged materials. But today, many homeowners are catching on to opportunities available in the reuse market. With the idea that everything old is new again, homeowners are finding unique ways to incorporate items to fit their needs.

"We have items you can't find in a store," said Jen Shtab, director of communications for the Loading Dock.

Started in 1984, the member-based reuse center maintains a huge assortment of building materials that would be in the junkyard had it not been salvaged. The items stocked in the 21,000-square-foot warehouse include cabinets, windows, moldings, plumbing fixtures and doors.

The idea of reusing old materials in homes is not a new one but it is certainly becoming a popular one, said Mindy Higgins, the executive director of Historic York Inc. The preservation organization located in York, Pa., operates the Architectural Warehouse, a retail store open to the public and offering salvaged building parts for sale.

In recent years, as the salvage industry has grown, the organization has had to compete for donated materials and salvage rights for buildings that were targeted for demolition.

"We're happy architectural parts are in such demand right now," Higgins said. "Everyone's using them. Not just to restore old houses, but many times to add something interesting to their new house."

The warehouse, filled with doors, mantels, hardware, door-knockers, trim and shutters, opened in 1985 and has gone through a number of stages.

"When we first opened, we were desperate to get items," Higgins said. "People didn't even think and just tossed things away. Then we were in a period where we were the only ones around that took in salvaged parts. Now we've found almost any antique shop you walk into carries at least some salvaged architectural parts."

This adaptive reuse of materials appeals to homeowners who want something that is unique or lends instant history to their homes. Higgins even recalled a woman who bought an old, wooden jail door and turned it into the door to her wine cellar.

Jeff and Sharon Dillon have spent many weekends rummaging through local salvage spots such as the Architectural Warehouse to find period pieces as they restore their 150-year-old house in Long Green in northern Baltimore County.

"You can get items new, but we looked at it from a recycling standpoint," said Sharon Dillon. "Why not use something that is there and in good condition?"

Key finds include a claw-foot tub, pedestal sink and shutter hinges in addition to many odds and ends.

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