There’s nothing quite like finding the perfect scrap of the perfect building.
And finding that perfect piece is something of a feat.
But for architectural salvage specialists, it’s a much harder job than it sounds.
“It’s a bit like the search for a needle in a haystack,” said Chris Denton, an architectural salvage specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Architecture Department.
“You can’t just go looking for one.
It’s going to be a lot of trial and error.”
The difficulty comes from the fact that many structures are structurally sound but are too fragile to salvage.
That’s where the salvage team comes in.
“Architectural salvage has to do with finding a piece that has a certain number of structural features that make it look like it was designed and built by an architect, but not by a professional,” Denton said.
“In the end, that’s going, ‘What was that guy’s vision?
Was that person really in charge of the design?'”
Denton has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including H.M. Gurney and H.R. Giger.
“They’re both extremely skilled, they’re both very talented, and they’re still building buildings,” he said.
But salvage is also about finding the pieces that actually do have architectural value.
“Most of the time, what we’re really looking for is that piece that was designed for a certain purpose,” Dickson said.
When that purpose is a building, that means the original structural elements, like the columns and the rafters.
But it also means the actual wood.
For some buildings, the salvage of the building is a simple matter of removing the wooden panels and trimming the wood.
“If you can just get a couple of salvaged pieces and put them in a crate and ship them off to the salvage center, they’ll get it back,” Dison said.
Denton and his colleagues can sometimes make big, complicated finds that can take weeks or months.
But if they’re able to track down the pieces, the rest of the salvage process is usually just a matter of taking photos, sorting through the photos and then figuring out which of the salvaged items are worth more than others.
And those pieces usually come in a big box.
“Sometimes we’ve got the original floor plan, the original ceiling plan, or the original foundation plan,” Denny said.
The pieces of wood that are salvaged aren’t necessarily the most expensive pieces in the box.
Often, they will fetch between $1,000 and $2,000.
“The big thing is getting a piece and taking it out of the box and putting it in the crate,” Dennys said.
Then the salvage expert is responsible for determining what the value of the piece is.
“What are its original features?
What’s the wood condition?”
“Are there any structural defects?”
In a lot, a lot more of what you’re looking for are the wood’s natural characteristics.
“Like how dense are the branches, what color the wood is, how light it is, are there any marks in the wood, are any marks or other imperfections in the natural wood?”
But even if the original wooden structure looks like it has a lot going for it, it can still be salvaged.
“We tend to salvage for structural integrity, but there are also structural features, like where the wood meets the brick, that can also be a very valuable thing,” Danton said.
If the pieces are too big to fit into a crate, Denny says the best thing to do is to send them to a local home improvement store.
“And you can also get them to the lumber mill and take them out and put it into the building,” he explained.
Then, once the building’s finished, the salvager will take them to an architectural preservation center and the salvaging team will take care of the final cleaning.
But, the most important thing to keep in mind when working with salvaged architectural elements is to make sure the materials are intact and don’t rust.
“There’s no guarantee you’re going to get a piece in the bargain,” Dixie said.