How to Create Vintage Flair Décor by Using Architectural Salvage

Updated on May 13, 2019
Dolores Monet profile image

A long-time crafter, Dolores has created sewing projects for private clients, including pillow covers, linen pillow cases, and sink skirts.

Using salvaged materials is a great way to make unique, sustainable décor.
Using salvaged materials is a great way to make unique, sustainable décor. | Source

The reuse of old materials to make decorating accents and garden ornaments is a sustainable practice, cutting down on waste while producing unique and artistic items in an environmentally friendly fashion. Creating art has become a lot more fun due to the increased availability of architectural salvage.

Older homes, barns, and other buildings slated for demolition are often filled with beautiful antique ornamentation, fixtures, and interesting hardware. Old tin ceiling panels, stair rails, metal fixtures, and ceramic tiles can be recycled as artistic decorative accessories. I'll show you a few things that you can make with old, salvaged material.

In the late 1800s, as America experienced a rise in the middle class, people became interested in home design. Due to the availability of mass-produced goods, middle-class people were suddenly able to create attractive home environments that mimicked the Victorian decorating flair of the wealthy. Many of these goods are still available today thanks to the interest in architectural salvage.

Use caution when working on projects that reuse old materials. Much of the paint used in the old days was lead-based. Lead-based paint is toxic, so follow safety precautions when stripping or working with recycled items.

Old Tin Ceiling

The production of embossed sheet metal offered the middle class an alternative to expensive ornamental plasterwork once only seen in the homes of the wealthy. Stamped designs in sheet metal were used on ceilings in kitchens and restaurants. While we often refer to those charming old ceilings as tin ceilings, they were usually made from a combination of iron and zinc or steel.

Today, sections of antique ceiling tin are available at architectural salvage shops for a relatively low price. And you don't have to be an artist or metal worker to create decorative elements for your home with antique tin ceiling panels. Tin ceiling tile is easy to cut and work with.

Here are some tips for working with old tin ceilings:

  • Make a wall hanging by framing a section of tin ceiling tin by cutting it with a pair of tin snips and wrapping it around a frame. Leave the tin as is or paint it a color that matches your décor.
  • Create a planter or box with ceiling tin to hold pens, pencils, or other small items.
  • Since ceiling tin is easy to bend, wrapping it around a board for an interesting shelf is not at all difficult.
  • Birdhouses take on a rustic flair with a roof made of old ceiling tin.

Tin ceiling panel wall hanging.
Tin ceiling panel wall hanging. | Source
I painted this landscape on a salvaged door panel.
I painted this landscape on a salvaged door panel. | Source

Old Door and Cabinet Panels

I found a stack of old door or cabinet panels in the basement of a wonderful shop that I love to visit in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I purchased a few and used them to try my hand at painting. The funky charm of these old pieces of wood offer a surface that seems to welcome an unprofessional hand.

The rough wood sometimes creates a crackled effect that shows through the paint and gives the finished product a look of age. And when I screw up a painting or don't like the result, it's easy to sand it all off (outside, wearing a mask) and start a new one.

Many of these old wooden panels are quite long, so they seem perfect for landscape paintings. It's wonderful to attempt to paint my favorite places, and the old panels seem to accentuate the idea of memory, adding a particular charm to my amateur attempts at art. And the edges of the panels stand in as frames!

This salvaged board creates a crackled effect for my painting.
This salvaged board creates a crackled effect for my painting. | Source

Rusty Metal and Old Tile Flooring—A Garden Ornament

A young friend of mine created this original piece of garden décor (pictured below) with junk that he found at the site of a building demolition. He has a garage full of salvaged material too. (What a guy!)

Ted thought that the chunks of tile from an old bathroom would look cool framed with some rusted chains he had on hand. He knows how to weld, so he made me this beautiful piece of "junk art" and suspended it from two pieces of re-bar. The long re-bar was shoved down into the ground, and the piece has stood fast for several years.

"Junk art" with rusty metal chain and tile flooring.
"Junk art" with rusty metal chain and tile flooring. | Source

Antique Hardware

I love antique hardware: coat hooks, door knobs, hinges, tools, handles, etc. Two shops that I like to visit offer shelves and bins of various pieces of old metal hardware. The stuff was relatively inexpensive, so I bought some, not really knowing what I would do with it.

As I had amassed a nice pile of old wooden panels and woodwork, I thought I would use it to feature some of the antique hardware in a whimsical display to be used as a wall hanging in a narrow space between two doors.

Old woodwork decorated with salvaged hardware.
Old woodwork decorated with salvaged hardware.

Recycle Old Marble

At another demolition site, I found stacks of broken marble and granite. I love polished stone and certainly can not afford a granite counter. But I merely plopped a hunk of granite on top of a small table (also salvage) to create an attractive side table.

This beautiful old marble step was used as a hearth stone in front of my fireplace. It was rescued from the front of an old grocery store slated for demolition. Just think—it could have wound up at the dump! What a waste that would have been.

Salvaged marble from an old store as hearth stone.
Salvaged marble from an old store as hearth stone. | Source

Old Hooks on Salvaged Board

It was easy to make this attractive coat hanger! I found some old coat hooks at a salvage yard and attached them to a piece of an old door panel.

For a rustic look, you can hang something like this in the bathroom for your robe or by the front door for your favorite hats or jackets.

Salvaged door panel with old coat hooks.
Salvaged door panel with old coat hooks. | Source
Salvaged antique ceramic tile.
Salvaged antique ceramic tile. | Source

Recycle Old Tile to Create Mosaics

My friend, Leola, was attracted to old pieces of tile. Not only was the ceramic tile beautiful and sometimes slightly crackled, but they recalled the old row houses from which they came.

We both remembered how many of the older homes in the city had vestibules walled with ceramic tile. How sad it seemed that these lovely old homes were being demolished! Of course, they had fallen into disrepair.

Leola purchased pieces of these tiles over some time and decided to create mosaic table tops. For the base, she found old tables (both wood and metal) at thrift shops and salvage yards.

Over the years, Leola has created many beautiful mosaic table tops out of the salvaged tiles, interspersing them with new tile, marbles, broken china, and glass.

My friend Leola made this mosaic table top using old tiles.
My friend Leola made this mosaic table top using old tiles. | Source

There is no end to the lovely things that you can create with salvaged materials. Junk art can add a vintage feel to country décor or inject a note of whimsy into a minimalist style. As people now decorate their homes with the green movement in mind, architectural salvage makes a statement that is not only sustainable, but practical and attractive.

You are only limited by your imagination!

© 2010 Dolores Monet


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