Once Upon a Cabinet

(23 hours in Indiana, +759 miles, give or take)

It all started with a semi-boring weekend afternoon about a month ago. Scrolling through Instagram I came across a massive cabinet. It was perfect for our new kitchen (the one that we’ve been talking about for ages but have not done a thing about). It was beautiful. I had to have it (impulse control is not my strong suit). I sent a message to the shop who had the posting and eventually bought it. It was waiting for us in Franklin, Indiana. 759 miles away, door to door.

IG Cabinet.png

Wouldn’t you drive 12+ hours for this beauty?

The shop, Madison Street Salvage, is a non-profit that supports the restoration of the Artcraft Theater, a historic 1922 Art Deco movie house. Not only that, but the first weekend we could make the trip, the Artcraft would be screening Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the formative films from my childhood; one that made we want to go into filmmaking. A film I’ve never seen on the big screen. That’s it: Indiana, here we come!

Cashing in on some frequent flier miles, we got ourselves to Indianapolis. From there, we rented a 12′ box truck (turns out you can’t rent a cargo van one way – because of course!). That means driving back in the (dis)comfort and full color smell-o-vision of the junkiest rental truck ever (because of course you’re not getting their best truck to drive it one-way to Brooklyn).

No matter, we got to the shop and the folks at the at Madison Street Salvage couldn’t be nicer. And they have a ton of great stuff. Tons of gorgeous light fixtures too, many restored by Amy, the person behind #52WeeksOfHome. Also? Someone who couldn’t possibly be lovelier and made a point to come say hello while we were at the shop. I mean, what are the odds? How does this happen?

On Friday night, we checked out the the movie. It was nearly sold out and we didn’t even win the contest of who traveled the farthest for the screening. There were people there from Germany and Puerto Rico. How cool is that?


The trip also included deep fried ravioli (don’t knock it till you try it) at Shale Creek Brewing, and a stay at the The Flying Frog Bed and Breakfast. The breakfast  was crazy good – like insanely, ridiculous, absolutely bonkers good.  I don’t have any photos because I was too busy eating a 3-course breakfast. There was breakfast dessert. And breakfast appetizer.  Who does that? (although now that I’ve experienced it, I think everyone should).  The innkeepers, Warren and Sharon cooked up some of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a while or ever – and I’m one of those people who “worships at the church of brunch,” if you  know what I mean.

The following morning the truck was all loaded up and it was time to make the long drive back, but not before we met Dennis, the cabinet maker who made our cabinet using doors and drawers saved from a house in a neighborhood that was demolished after the devastating flood of 2008. We learned how hard it was to match the stain between the salvage pieces and the new lumber, and the many many many times it was sanded to get it just so. The finish on that cabinet is like buttah (that’s butter in Brooklyn).


That’s Dennis, on the right.


The stamp at the back of the cabinet.

And with that, it was goodbye to Madison Street Salvage.


Then it was a lot of this:


And eventually we made it home. The cabinet is in place. Some minor surgery had to be performed to the surrounding trim (not to worry, it’s going to be put back).

The Cabinet

The fireplace will get re-finished at some point (it was poorly stripped by the previous owner). Thinking we might go with a super dark stain. Yes, that’s the world’s biggest shim. Our floors are far from level.

So all in all, it was an amazing weekend. We took a leap of faith and bought a cabinet we thought looked cool. What we found was a well crafted piece of furniture with a great backstory, the sale of which helps support the restoration of the local movie theater. We met a ton of great people united in their love of old houses and old things. It was a great weekend, the kind you don’t have all that often. Sometimes you just have to put logic and common sense to the side and go with your gut. It might be fun.

9 Billionty Nails (and a quandry)

All the salvage accumulating in our cellar comes infested with nails. Lots and lots of freaking nails. It seems that no job was too small for a 3-inch nail; nor, it seems, were nails in short supply: better secure that little strip of trim with as many (gigantic) nails as humanly possible. So yes, 9 billionty nails pulled, or approximately a little less than half of the pile.

(9 billionty nails = 6 blisters)

(The nails win. For now.)

Anyway, while I was toiling way with the stupid nails in the cellar, the hubs was surprising me with a new (old) light fixture.

victorian light fixture

This purdy little thing was a salvage find from a couple of years ago, on a trip to Detroit. It was in need of a good cleaning and some new sockets and wires.

It is going in the bedroom, where it will be replacing the cheap and generic Ikea fixture that was there before. (one day we’ll be living in a house that doesn’t rely so heavily on blah-Ikea… Oh, I kid. That will never happen.)

victorian light fixture detail3

After a good cleaning, what looked like a gray rusty fixture, turned out like this:

victorian light fixture detail2

I like the subtle hints of green, gold and red, so I think we’ll keep it like this (rather than restore to full color).

victorian light fixture detail3

However, as you might have noticed in some of the photos, at some point someone was less than neat with their ceiling pant job and got a big slop of institutional beige on  the side (beige, the color of boring).

victorian light fixture detail

As someone who is fascinated with all manners of paint removal, I’m stumped by this one: how am I going to remove the ugly and keep the pretty?




Kilian Brothers part 2 (the updated version)

I found these ads in the Real Estate Record and Guide. A quick check of some of my neighbors fireplaces, and it seems that the Kilians’ were the go-to purveyors of fireplace surrounds of the late 1880s and early to mid 1890s.

7-6-1889 Killian Bros

Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide (July 6, 1889)

1-3-1891 Killian Bros

Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide (January 3, 1891)


Another house in my area is getting fully gutted. Hopefully they will keep the fireplaces intact. All the walls, trim, everything: gone. Trying to save what I can, will eventually run out of room to store all this stuff…

Update: they are keeping the fireplaces. Yey! Not only that, they have an intact one in the rear parlor (meaning it has the mirror topper, as pictured above). The demo crew was kind enough to let me peek inside. Befriending demo crews is becoming a skill I get to practice quite a bit as of late.



I totally have a plan and I’m going to – LOOK! SHINY THINGS!

(actually these were painted, dirty and discarded things, but we’ll get to that in a moment)

Ah focus. Some people have it, I don’t. I’m easily distracted by possibilities, by day dreaming and by imagining the worst of the worst case scenarios. Yet, once in a while, I will spring into action at a moment’s notice, after realizing that life cannot continue on in this manner. After having one of those “I cannot stand this room one more minute” moments, I decided to get serious about our dining room. I had already attempted a Style Cure (HA. HA HA HA HA!) that was interrupted by  6 weeks of 14-hour work days, followed by binge holiday cooking baking (not having an oven for 3 years will do that to you), followed by a very sick kitten (who has since recovered, but not before consuming a healthy amount of our home restoration savings). Anyway, time to get this room done!

With newfound enthusiasm, work resumed. I begun skim coating the walls – after a steep learning curve, I’m getting quite good at it. It’s t time-consuming (what else is new?) because I discovered that many thin coats are much better than one or two thicker ones.

Skimcoating in progress

please excuse crappy cell phone photo, which makes the moldings appear bowed. They are not.

So slow we go, that is, until I notice that one of the houses in the back is being renovated. This precipitated a trip around the block and the discovery of a ton of Victorian trim, just tossed in the front yard.

This is a good place to mention that the way I feel about architectural salvage is the way a lot of women feel about shoes: you can never have too much. Like a lot of people who wouldn’t pass up a good shoe sale, I cannot let 120-year old lumber be tossed in a dumpster. It’s against my nature, and it will cause me great intestinal distress to just let it go. After hemming and hawing about whether a pile in the front yard is fair game (I knocked on the door but no one answered), I decided to leave a note asking whether I could come dig through their “trash.” Much to my surprise, the contractor called me back within 30 minutes and said “be my guest.”

What started as a quick peek, stretched over a couple of hours of treasure hunting in sub-zero temperatures. The guys showed me inside and to another pile of “garbage,” far more than what I could take in one day. With a gargantuan dumpster looming over me (and my soon to be) salvage, the nice people said I could come back Saturday morning at 8 am and take anything they didn’t want to keep.

one car load

Long story short, the car was filled 3 4 times (and counting). The overflow (which included two carved fireplace mantels) was walked around the corner. I’m happy I was able to save so much mill work, yet I’m sad for all the other wonderful things I wasn’t able to save. The house was nearly intact before the gut renovation started. I wish I had stopped by earlier. It’s heartbreaking (to me) when people rip out details from old houses. A Brooklyn brownstone is not meant to look like a loft; I have very strong feelings about plaster and the role of bricks in a brownstone (to be hidden by plaster and never seen). I also realize I’m not Queen of the Universe and these are just my opinions (surely this is an oversight due to be corrected any day now). Until then, if detail must be ripped out, then at least it should not go to the dumpster. It should be saved and re-used by those of us who appreciate it.

Now if you please excuse me, I have another carload of stuff to rescue. One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure…

House Parts

While our credit card statements may seem to betray this sentiment, we do have a distaste for cookie cutter, mass-produced house parts. Yes, while we’re at Home Depot, Lowe’s and our neighborhood True Value hardware stores multiple times a week, there are things we need that simple cannot be got there. Like a suitable window. Or a proper door. These items require a bit more digging to find the perfect match.

Last week we took a trip to Albany to check out the salvage at the Architectural Parts Warehouse maintained by the Historic Albany Foundation.


On the shopping list: window, door, door hardware, a claw foot tub and fireplace tile. We have been to a lot of salvage places all over the east coast and midwest, and while this not the largest we’ve ever seen, it’s certainly the most organized. You can easily find what you’re looking for. It’s heaven!



more knobs

Chapel of Hardware


We came home with a door, window and all necessary hardware. No luck with the tub, because we’re looking for the smallest size (which turns out to be nearly impossible to find). Also no individual fireplace tiles, although the had a full tile surround, still attached to its plaster and in great condition.


I love old junk salvage. Love it, love it love it. I don’t know what it is, but the thrill of finding an amazing cast off is the ultimate dopamine boost. It’s way way better than eating your feelings in chocolate ice cream – and not much can match that…  Sadly, pickings are slim in New York City in terms of reasonably priced salvage – but that doesn’t stop me from being constantly on the lookout for something amazing.

Not too long ago, we took a trip to Build It Green in Astoria to look for a powder room sink. The thing with Build It Green is that you never leave with the item you came looking for – but you will certainly find some random wonderful item that you can’t live without any longer. Case in point, this dresser.  I love everything about it, and I’m still haunted by the fact that I didn’t buy it.


We left without buying anything because sinks they had were not what we needed. The inventory changes frequently, and rest assured that if that dresser is still there next time, it will be coming home with me.