Architectural salvage stores—venues that specialize in reselling hardware, windows, doors, and other home details you won’t often find in big-box home improvement stores—are known for peddling history. Unlike antiques shops and flea markets, these stores and warehouses focus on building materials as opposed to home decor items like vintage lamps (though you will likely find some of those too.)

If you’re building a house or restoring a historical home, shopping at an architectural salvage store is a no-brainer, as the pieces you’ll find will have a surplus of character when compared to basic builder-grade products. Some items may have even originated in grand homes abroad. “The ways of incorporating architectural salvage in your home are truly endless, from salvaged knobs on dressers to installing entire wood paneled walls or refurbished wood planks for a floor,” says Kate Reggev, an architect and preservationist based in New York City. “The best part is that each item is unique, has a history, and is staying out of a landfill thanks to you and your project.” 

Here is everything you need to know before you step foot into the treasure trove that is an architectural salvage hub.

1. Go early and focus 

While most architectural salvage stores don’t advertise, there is likely one in your area. To search, type in “your city + architectural salvage” into the search bar. Now you can begin your hunt. Start early (and maybe even eat a good breakfast) as these spaces can be a bit overwhelming. It helps if you have some items that you want to zero in on, but if not, break up the store into sections and peruse carefully. It helps to snap photos of the “maybe” items as you browse, then loop back for the final selection. 

If you’re restoring a historic home, bring photos of what you need to replace. “Do some research about your home to see what would have been the original details for the year and style of house you have,” says Wendy Chambers of Pasadena Architectural Salvage, which specializes in vintage and reproduction building materials from 1880 to 1960. “Bring pictures of original hardware you may want to match,” Chambers says.

2. Bring specs

To get the most out of your shopping trip, come prepared. Looking to replace a simple door with a Craftsman-style oak door, or seeking a claw-foot tub for your bathroom? You’ll need to have the measurements to make sure the product of your choosing will actually fit in your home. This is especially important with doors, as older homes used larger or more narrow doors than most modern houses. And don’t forget to measure your home’s entrances so you can actually get the items inside. For this shopping trip, measuring tape is a must-have item to have on hand.

3. Pay attention to the materials

Before you buy an old door or window, find out what it’s made of. Some pieces like these could have lead paint, especially doors painted before the 1970s, and others might be made of wood, such as yellow pine, that can be appealing to termites. If you’re buying a lock, make sure you have the key or that it can be adapted to fit a standard key. 

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