The answer: We want to save old houses

A good friend in Austin recently asked me:

  “Why do you salvage old homes?  I just don’t get it.”

The answer, in a nutshell is:  we want to save them.

The WHY behind the answer?

Well ….. I’ll do my best to answer that question.

roof removed from the back of the house

Reason #1: We want to design, build, and sell homes with vintage character.

The old materials we salvage provide vintage character to the houses we build and remodel.

closeup of rough-sawn walls and old beadboard

We use old materials because, in my opinion, true vintage character cannot be achieved using new materials.  It’s just not possible.  New is new, and old is old.  It’s just that simple.

For example, new wood floors can be pretty, sure, but they don’t look old.    Also, drywalled walls never achieve a vintage look.  Again, my opinion.

The only exception I can think of is using new lumber like new beadboard (and I’m talking about the beadboard planks, not the beadboard paneling.)   If you leave new beadboard unpainted or unstained, it will look like new wood, but if you paint or stain new beadboard, you can get a vintage look.

(That’s what I did in my Austin home, and everyone who saw it thought the beadboard was original to the house.)

However, you will not get the grain and texture of old lumber, as shown by this closeup of some old 1×12’s.    (You can also see the old saw marks inherent in the old wood in the photo above.)

close-up of rough sawn 1x12s_1

Here’s an example.  We salvaged old floors from the very first house we partially dismantled.

The owner told us that his grandmother used to paint the red border you see around the room every year.

old tongue-in-groove floors

After much sanding and cleaning, we installed the floors in our new mudroom.  After a few coats of polyurethane, they looked like this:

the mudroom floors after applying polyurethane

Is that vintage character or what?

reclaimed floors - before and after

Here’s another example.  Check out this room divider made of salvaged wood.

Freakin’ incredible.

Reason #2:  We want to sell reclaimed lumber.

Salvaging, reuse, repurposing.  Stroll around Pinterest for a few hours, and you’ll quickly realize that others want to achieve a vintage look as much as we do.

Salvaged materials are relatively hard to find.  It’s not like you can go to your nearest big box store and find reclaimed lumber.

For that reason, we sell reclaimed building materials to designers, builders, architects, antique dealers, and of course, homeowners.

Lumber storage barns - 1

When we have too much stock, we have also been know to sell to reclaimed building material warehouses.

Reason #3:  We want to do our part to conserve natural resources.

When we first moved to East Texas, it broke my heart to see old homes bulldozed and burned.  I know it’s been happening for centuries, but I never really saw it until I moved here.

Funny how you can ignore what you don’t see.

Why did it bother me so much?

Well, first of all, it’s just sad and wasteful.    All that history and reusable materials … gone forever.

Today’s disposable mindset, this “let’s just throw it away, bury it, and forget about it” attitude … it really upsets me.

It’s not like our tax dollars can’t be used to make a difference.  I mean, geez, if municipalities recycle plastic and newspaper, why do many choose not to recycle old homes in their community?  It is a choice, you know.

Most just bulldoze them (much more often than not), and take them directly to the dump.

Does that make sense to you?  It doesn’t to me.

Cities spend millions on waste management, then turn around and spend millions on affordable housing.  Call me naive, but it seems to me that if those departments partnered together, some of their expenses might be reduced.

Also, there’s a second reason why bulldozing and burning old homes affected me so much.    I knew that many of these old homes were built using heart of pine lumber from old growth trees.

old lumber collage

The thought that those old trees died years ago just to be burned or buried decades later, well it just killed me.

 

Speaking of burying, you don’t want me to get on my soapbox about landfills.  All we’re accomplishing by filling up landfills as fast as we can:  we’re depleting our natural resources at an alarming rate … and waste management companies just keep getting richer and richer.

(By the way, if you haven’t seen the CNBC’s documentary “Trash, Inc“, I highly recommend it.)

So a round of applause goes to companies and municipalities like the City of Austin who are aiming to help the environment.

(The latter is committed to achieving “zero waste” by 90 percent by the year 2040.  90 percent!)

But I have to be clear.    We don’t actually save old houses in a literal sense.

But we do give the old lumber new life by building new homes (or selling the materials).  The old houses live on, so to speak, just in another form.  In that regard, we believe we honor the past, much more so than the alternative.

We’re definitely doing our part to conserve landfill space.

What do you think?

I’ve given three answers to one question:  “Why do you salvage old houses?”.   I hope I’ve cleared that up.

What do you think?  Did I do a good job?

 

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Comments

  1. It’s great that you are saving bits of our history. It saddens me when I see a lovely old building torn down and replaced with another cookie cutter of a building and it happens far to often.
    Keep up the good work,
    Suzanne
    Pieced Pastimes

    • I totally understand. I’m not a fan of cookie cutter houses either. If we sell reclaimed lumber to others, we have no control over that. But, I assure you that if/when we build new homes, they will be anything but cookie cutter.

  2. You did great, hit it right out of the park.
    Diane

  3. It breaks my heart to see beautiful old homes and buildings fall to ruin. I am glad that you are salvaging what can be saved and reused. I have lived in cookie-cutter houses all my life. I would love one day to live in an old vintage home. If I can’t have that, then I would be happy to live in a house that uses charming vintage materials.

    • I totally get where you’re coming from. I wish they could all be saved but in this area, it’s just not realistic because it costs so much to renovate them and then the owners couldn’t sell them for what they had in the place. If we ever build a new, smaller home one day (and I think we might), it will be a little cottage with a front porch and we’ll use old wood to give it vintage character.

  4. Nice job of explaining. Love seeing what you all are doing as the job goes along.

  5. I’m a big fan of what you do and why you do it. We’re not getting any more old growth lumber in this country, and using what we have is so important.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me that! I totally agree with you. All the old growth trees are pretty much gone … unless we can start harvesting trees in national forests. And that will probably never happen, thank God.

  6. You know I love your blog!!!

  7. Hi Kim,

    First of all, I just wanted to tell you that I absolutely love your mudroom and kitchen. Old signs are absolutely my favorite things to collect and I so enjoyed seeing them in and around your kitchen! We are renovating a historic home in the Dallas area. We are in need of reclaimed wood and other materials. Where can I contact you to learn more about what you sell and your services?

    Thanks,
    Renita

    • Renita, that’s awesome. Feel free to call me on our home office line at 936-858-2875, and we can discuss what you need and what we have. Also, what type of look are you going for? We can discuss all that via phone or email, if you like. My direct email is also kim@livingvintageco.com.

  8. I love your philosophy and what you are doing. And both your kitchens – wow!!! Gorgeous! I want to hone our granite now!
    I honestly didn’t know much about wood until we bought our house and contractors came in and complimented the wood in the upstairs bedrooms – original to the house from the 1960s. But they weren’t fans of the tiger eye oak on the ground floor, added decades later (not by us). If people have chance to see the difference, would they have more value for older things?
    And, your post brings memories of my in-laws in South India who recently demolished a 600 year old temple. We thought they were renovating it. No, they knocked it down -they said it was old and junk. They want to build a new one. If only they had any idea of the value of the old stone carvings that were on the old temple! But they want “new” like we have here. This value for new is spreading. Oh it makes me feel sick.

    • Thank you so much, Deb. I appreciate you taking the time to write your comments. To answer your question, I do agree that people would appreciate the texture and color of old materials if they are exposed to it. I’m seeing it more and more: this turning away from what is not real and plastic to what is authentic.

      Oh, and it makes me so sad to hear what you in-laws did. I can understand that they didn’t like it, but perhaps they could have found someone who would have torn it down and salvaged what could have been re-used.

  9. I think what your doing is great & the projects you’ve shown bring out the beauty of the old. I’ve always been a person to refurbish & reuse, but in a more rustic way & it was out of necessity. However seeing how some of your pictures show, how you can bring out the beauty & still leave a part of the past with it, wow. I am going to start looking at doing alot more to refine my projects.
    I work in the industrial construction industry & it kills me everyday to see all of the blatent waste & the big companies ideas of going green is a joke. I hope in the future more developers will open their eyes to the allowance of people salvaging before they just destroy the past. I’ll be looking forward to more. Thanks

    • Thank you SO much for letting me know how you feel. It’s great to hear from another construction guy. We share your wish that more people would “get it” and not be so eager to destroy the past in order to make something new.

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  11. I am so enjoying reading your blog. I just found it. I have tremendous respect for what you all are doing. I am in love with all things vintage and salvaged, shabby, etc. I love old houses and barns and I agree it is heartbreaking to see them in such a state. I look at them and think what a terrible shame. There’s so much old craftmanship and beauty going to waste and it just isn’t done or even possible anymore. It is my dream to get into this business somehow. I love to be surrounded by the history, the chips and scars, the rust and patina. I love it and want to be a part of helping people find and reuse it. Any thoughts or advice from you would be so greatly appreciated. I just don’t really know where to start. I need to learn about obtaining places, storage, acquiring places, etc. Thank you so much and thanks for what you do. It does my heart good.

  12. Hi Kim, just found you featured at Pieced Pastimes, I LOVE what you are doing, except when I need this salvaged stuff it is priced high. I know it is because of the cost to salvage it! I respect that, I too dreamed of actually buying old homes and restoring them and then selling to someone who appreciated them. We have been blessed with finding a home built in 1900 which was cut in half and the roof removed then relocated from Seguin to Nixon. My blog is about restoring our home, I hope you will check it out. I feel the same way you do , Sick to see these historic homes being wasted, I am grateful for people like you who try to stop this from happening. We have been working on our home for 10 years now and if we ever finish it, I would love to buy another to restore and sell! new follower on FB!
    Cindy@ Glass Slipper Restorations.com

    • Cindy,

      Thanks so much for commenting and introducing yourself. I just strolled on over to your blog and my heart skipped a beat when I saw your photo of your house’s gable with the pretty corbels. (I have this ‘thing’ for corbels!)

      I would love to renovate old homes and re-sell them, but the real estate market in this area is incredibly depressed, and there’s no profit potential here. Salvaging seemed like the next best thing. Now, if we still lived in (or near) Austin like you do, that would be a different matter entirely …

      I found your Facebook page and liked it.

      Kim

  13. Love this post!

  14. It really bothers me in in some of the older neighborhoods in Dallas when they bulldoze a house to put up a bigger “green” house. Um, OK and how many dumpsters were taken to a landfill? Where’s the “green” in that?

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