Salvaged Materials: Something Old With Something New

Prior to our project taking shape we watched our architect, Jason McLennan, build his home Heron Hall (visit heronhall.com) using a number of beautiful salvaged items ranging from stained glass windows to reclaimed doors. We learned the term salvage modernism that he coined and saw the impact that these salvaged pieces had in Heron Hall, allowing a natural celebration of age within a newly constructed house. This inspired us to find unique salvage pieces for Silver Rock…

Over the past year we have collected:

  • 5 enormous old-growth fir beams that will act as structural beams within the house (the beams were originally part of a demolished building at the Peter Pan Fish Factory up in Alaska)
  • 12 knotty alder doors from a salvage warehouse in Portland
  • 2 Solid Marble Counter tops from a demolition site brought to Earthwise Salvage in Seattle
  • A slab of Pental quartz stone from Second Use Salvage in Seattle
  • Several large, old and funky second hand mirrors…to name a few!
Pental Quartz for the mudroom
Solid Marble Counter top that weighs a ton! Enough to complete counter tops in powder room and kids bath

While is is technically not salvage modernism, another way we have sought to use salvage materials is in the area of home furnishings. Ten years ago we started a quest to buy as few “new” things as possible and only after significant efforts to find used or salvage items instead. One of our purchases was a set of oversized roll arm chairs and a matching sofa from craigslist. The fabric was barley intact (and likely contained flame retardants), the cushions were made of polyurethane/synthetic foam, BUT the frames were quality, solid hardwood and the size and style were what we wanted.

To eliminate the toxicity of these furnishings (carcinogenic flame retardants in the foam, off gassing chemicals in foam and fabric) we took them to Ecobalanza in Seattle. Ecobalanza is one of those companies whose mission to create clean, artisan furnishings pulled hard at our heart strings. After spending a small fortune on organic mattresses from Soaring Heart Natural Beds  for our entire family already, we knew the investment in non-toxic sofas and chairs was worth it. So, we had the sofa and chairs completely deconstructed, stripped down to the solid hardwood wood frames, and cleaned. They were then rebuilt using 100% organic and non-toxic materials including organic latex foam cushions, organic cotton ticking, kapok fill, and wool wrapping. We selected hemp and organic cotton twill fabrics for the upholstery.

In the end, we were so pleased with the results that we subsequently took several other family furniture “hand-me-downs” to Ecobalanza for refurbishing (J’s grandmothers 1970’s living room sofa with enlarged pink and mauve floral print fabric (the only sofa J has ever professed to love more than anything in the world), a 1970’s claw foot blue corduroy arm chair (the same chair in the 1977 photograph showing baby J being held by his two wide eyed older siblings), two slipper chairs from my parents…all too sentimental and beloved to pitch).

We have also sought to acquire other furnishings via the used/salvage route. Today, it is difficult to find affordable quality furnishings that are not made of particle board or MDF, two materials that off gas harmful chemicals have negative impacts on indoor air quality and health. Many modern day pieces are manufactured to be affordable, but are not made to last, contributing more waste material to the waste stream. Also, the problem of flame retardant chemicals being added to most furnishings these days deserves another post entirely. We can do our small part…Here is an example of what one can acquired over the years:

A 96 x 40 inch Solid Cherry Dining table, 6 Windsor Chairs from the 1990’s (thanks to Madame Knell, my high school french teacher), an antique quartersawn oak sideboard (Second Use Architectural salvage), a Solid Maple bookshelf (thanks so some downsizing neighbors), a Solid Maple storage cabinet (sold off a facebook yard sale site, refinished by us), a contemporary solid wood queen bed frame (off craigslist for 200, retails for 2000), a solid wood 6-drawer dresser (from a yard sale website), our sofa and chairs mentioned above…to name a few.

It takes time and effort to refinish/refurbish salvaged items (it took 8 hours to sand down and refinish the windsor chairs in a contemporary black milk paint and Vermont Natural Coatings Polywhey sealer, we cleaned the dust caked antique sideboard with q-tips and non toxic oil soap for what felt like 8 hours, removing at least 75 years of dirt, dust, and grime). But when all is said and done we are surrounded by furnishings that we love for the story they tell and for their unique utility.

Our goal for Silver Rock is to have our interior furnishings be 100% free of bio-toxins known to accumulate in human tissues, chemical flame retardants, other carcinogenic chemicals, and VOC’s that will impact air quality… simultaneously, these pieces will help to imbue Silver Rock with some of that good-ol’ farmhouse char

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