Green Ideas: Sources for Historic Restoration and Re-Purposing in Chicago

Whether you are restoring a period home, have an affinity for the aesthetics of a certain decade, or are looking for unique materials to bring character to your living space, Chicago has some great options for finding vintage fixtures and materials. And re-using salvaged items is environmentally friendly to boot. While eBay has myriad salvage items, shipping larger pieces can be an issue, and sometimes you just need to see something with your own eyes to know if it’s right for your home. Here are some great places to start:

Located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, Architectural Artifacts is the largest salvage warehouse in the city (80,000 sf). Over the years it has grown from merely an oversized salvage emporium into an impressive complex that’s now part museum and banquet room. You could easily spend an entire weekend here and still not get through all of their offerings. They import containers from all over the world–with items from pretty much any era you can imagine, and also various interesting parts and pieces just waiting to become part of a DIY project.

If the massiveness of Architectural Artifacts brings on sensory overload, there are some smaller salvage companies that are well worth a visit:

Salvage One—Chicago’s oldest salvage retail warehouse, and 2nd largest (60,000 sf)

Urban Artifacts—they have both a warehouse location and a showroom of select pieces, with an emphasis towards industrial furniture and fixtures and straight-up oddities

Jan’s Antiques—18,000 sf antiques and salvage warehouse

The Penn Dutchman—decent selection of vintage door hardware and light fixtures, 1890’s-1950’s

The re-purposing movement has opened up a whole world of possibilities for interior installations and furnishings, limited only by one’s imagination. Countertops made from a maple bowling alley lane? It can be done. Tables or paneling made from ornately carved doors? You bet. Reclaimed materials can bring a look and feel to your surroundings that just can’t be replicated with a trip to a big box home improvement store.

The epitome of the re-purposing movement is the tiny but impeccably stylish antique shop Scout in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. In addition to selling “as-is” antiques, they create modern home furnishings from interesting objects that would otherwise be obsolete in today’s world. The owners are at least partly responsible for the interiors of the Smart Home exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, and a trip to the shop up north will engage your imagination, if not your wallet.

In addition to their retail warehouse of reclaimed building materials for enterprising DIYers, the Rebuilding Exchange also offers workshops and tutorials, and has employment programs for creating sustainable business in the Great Lakes region.

Really want to roll up your sleeves? While infrequent, on-site salvage auctions do occur in the Chicago area, where the high bidder can dismantle and remove the components they want. Bring your pry bar, protective gear, muscle, a truck, and your cash. Care should be taken, however, as lead paint or other hazardous materials may be present. Also, be sure not to let the excitement of bidding outstrip your budget—you could end up paying more than the materials are worth.

Finally, for those on a tight budget, it doesn’t get any cheaper than free. The Free section of Craigslist Chicago can turn up anything from brick pavers and steppingstones for your garden to scrap lumber and vintage plumbing fixtures. Check often and act fast, but be aware that some posts may require you to take the entirety of an offering–so read carefully and make sure you don’t end up having to take more than you need or can handle.

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