Welcome to The Hot Seat, where we talk with folks involved in Brooklyn architecture, design, real estate and the like. Introducing Amy Hughes, the author of a new book, This Old House: Salvage Style Projects. Amy is also the features editor and salvage expert over at This Old House.
Brownstoner: Have you seen a rise in the DIY, salvage-style aesthetic? Why do you think that is?
AH: Absolutely. I think it has a lot to do with the green movement. I, for one, hate to see so many vintage building materials end up as landfill. Cast brass doorknobs, slate roof shingles, carved wood door casing—these things all have so much character and potential for re-use. The more people see these old parts repurposed into imaginative décor, the more popular salvage will become. It’s not just about saving stuff from the trash heap, it’s about reinterpreting it, and making it work for your home and your style.
BS: What’s your favorite home in Brooklyn that puts architectural salvage into good use?
AH: My coworkers at This Old House TV did a fantastic restoration of a rowhouse in Prospect Heights a couple of years ago. The homeowners were lucky because the majority of their home’s original details were intact. They didn’t bring in much salvage aside from a vintage wrought-iron spiral staircase that they actually found via the Brownstoner classifieds. Everything just needed TLC. My favorite piece was a built-in pier mirror in the parlor. I actually made my own version using an entablature from a Victorian-era door casing for the top of the mirror frame, and new pilasters from the lumberyard for the sides and bottom. It can be seen on page 60 in Salvage-Style Projects. Sometimes the only inspiration you need for a creative re-use project is to tour a great old house and admire what the craftsmen before you dreamed up.
After the jump, click through for some pictures of the Prospect Heights reno, tips for navigating flea markets, and Amy’s favorite destination antique shop…
BS: For those of us who don’t feel totally ready to embark on a large-scale DIY project, what advice do you have? Where’s a good place to start as a salvage newbie?
AH: Maybe try something simple like using a pair of heavy, cast iron ball-and-claw feet as bookends. You can find these feet, which used to support those old freestanding rolled-top bathtubs, at most salvage yards for about $50 a pair, maybe less for a simple design. Just be sure to adhere felt to the bottoms to protect the surface of your desk or tabletop.
BS: How best to navigate a flea market when all the options can seem overwhelming?
AH: I usually shop with a mission. Make a list of a few things you want, and stay focused. Dress comfortably, be prepared to dig, and bring a sturdy shoulder bag to stash your finds in. If you’re hunting for something big, like a mantel or a wood interior door, be sure to plan how you’ll get it home. This can be tricky in NYC, but there’s always Zipcar. You’d be surprised what you can fit in one of those Honda Elements.
BS: What are your favorite destination antique stores/flea markets, in NY but outside the city?
I’m a big fan of Zaborski Emporium—a salvage yard in Kingston. The owners are really cool, and the prices are more reasonable than they are in the city. If you visit during the colder months, be sure to bundle up because there’s no heat in that place. I also love wandering around the commercial strip in Beacon. Stores seem to come and go, but there’s always a handful of places to find cool housewares and furniture, mostly Mid-Century stuff. There are also yummy restaurants there. And Dia:Beacon, where you can cap off your shopping trip by checking out some amazing art by one of my favorite recyclers, John Chamberlain.
BS: Finally, your faves: top Brooklyn neighborhood and favorite interior (commercial or residential) in BK.
AH: I spend most of my time in Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill because it’s where my sister-in-law and her family live. When you have a toddler, you tend to gravitate to places where you can set up a home base for the day. I love all the shops, cafes, and old-school businesses like Vinnie’s Italian Art Iron Works, yet the neighborhood still feels very homey. We always get take-out from Ted & Honey and jockey for a spot at one of the picnic tables in Cobble Hill Park. And I cannot wait to check out the indoor digs of the Brooklyn Flea at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank in Fort Greene. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen photos of the old banking floor with its vaulted ceiling, and it looks amazing.
Amy’s headshot, photo credit Sarah Wilson.