Auctions, dealers and luck all part of the historical hunt
By Wesley Mufford
Remodelling a heritage home usually presents greater challenges than your average renovation. Hurdles such as dry rot and water damage can all be overcome, but the biggest obstacle most people encounter is sourcing the historical materials.
With a little bit of hard work, a lot of perseverance and sometimes a touch of luck, your search for heritage items can be rewarding.
From my years of experience I have found the following to be the best sources for materials.
Antique auctions are often a cheap and fun way to acquire heritage building materials. The down side is that it takes a lot of time to preview and purchase supplies, and you can easily get caught up in bidding wars. You need to be organized and disciplined to be an auction shopper.
Examples of the finds we have discovered at antique auctions are period light fixtures. I once designed a living room around a Delftware blue and white chandelier. Old cabinetry can be purchased at auctions to be converted into vanities. Stained-glass windows and period hardware are can also be found at antique auctions.
Antique stores are great places for searching out period pieces in a more leisurely shopping environment. The prices may be a little higher, but you can put down a deposit and come back later when you’re sure it fits your décor, plus items are generally returnable. A brass and crystal chandelier that we used in a dining room reno came from a store in Fort Langley. There is a shop in New Westminster that sells refurbished light fixtures. They will even rewire your fixtures. Antique stores are also a good source for used door and window hardware.
Used building supply stores
Used building supply stores are probably our main source for basic hardware and accent pieces. Used wood flooring is getting hard to find. You need to give yourself a lot of time. This means you have to be persistent in checking your local used supply stores. A few years ago we converted a bread factory in Mission to a loft residence. After an extensive search across the Lower Mainland, we finally found the maple hardwood flooring in Chilliwack. For the commercial area of the same building, I acquired fir wood flooring from a used building supply store on Vancouver Island.
From time to time, we are lucky enough to acquire the salvage rights on older buildings slated for demolition. This can be a gold mine. We once pulled up the entire 3,000 square feet of maple floor from Milner Community Hall (circa 1912). It has now been installed and refinished in a new Queen Anne-style home in Langley. The same flooring has walnut inlays that were salvaged and remilled from an office renovation done. Teak panelling from the same job was reused in a friend’s boat.
It is often possible to reuse materials from a remodel in different parts of the same project. In the spirit of “building green” it is preferable to reuse as many of a projects original materials as possible. We are currently working on a craftsman-style home from the 1920s. We have managed to salvage and reuse the fir floors and the decorative brackets on the exterior of the home. On the Matheson House (circa 1880), we removed the fir tongue-and-groove ceiling boards, stripped and refinished them, and are currently reinstalling them. We’ve managed to strip and restore the original millwork and baseboards almost entirely.
Although we try our best to reuse as much as we can, it is often not possible. In these situations, we turn to our local building supply stores.
When we restored Milner Chapel (circa 1886), the dimensionally oversized fir floors were specially milled for us on Vancouver Island. Old damaged windows can be shipped to Victoria where a company replicates the original windows.
We have a supplier in Surrey that will replicate doors for us. Most plumbing wholesalers have a good supply of replica hardware, but it is not advisable to reuse most plumbing fixtures due to health issues and backflow problems. The Internet is also becoming an invaluable source for unique replica hardware. I am currently working on a project where the client acquired all of her replica door hardware off the Internet.
Wesley Mufford is a certified journeyman carpenter and president of Heritage Restorations Inc. of Langley, which restores and renovates heritage homes all over British Columbia. Mufford served as a heritage commissioner with the Township of Langley and is currently a member of Langley Township’s Heritage Land Use and Planning Committee. The Mufford family has resided in Langley since 1886. Phone Heritage Restorations at 604-880-0210.
Reprinted from: Home Makeover April 2008