Tips for Buying and Refurbishing Salvage and Farmhouse Decor from Leslie Linsley

Posted by on Jul 10, 2017

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Flea market finds and salvage decor furniture pieces always seems so clever and impressive when you see them in someone else's home. Usually the owner has a great story about how he or she found an underpriced treasure or broken down beauty that was snatched up, polished and given new life. But setting out to fill your home with upcycled trinkets or farmhouse decor can be a bit confusing. What's a reasonable price for a clawfoot tub or potbelly stove? Can you save a piece of wood that's covered in decades of dust? 

Leslie Linsley, author of the new book "Country Living Salvage Style: Decorate with Vintage Finds" has plenty of practical advice for amateur interior designers who want to take a spin at antique and upcycled decor.

What are a few surprisingly cheap ways to add farmhouse or salvage style to a house? 

Farmhouse elements often include a deep porcelain drop-in sink, light wood such as oak or scrubbed pine, painted white beadboard walls, stone flooring and industrial lighting fixtures. The sinks can be found in salvage yards, but they’re also available as reproductions and copies of original faucets can be found as well. Soapstone is a good-looking and practical material for countertops. This material was used at the turn of the 18th century. 

Farmhouse staples from pine shelves to grain-sack linens never go out of style. Other farmhouse staples include cedar ceiling beams for instant aging, a pot-bellied stove, scrubbed pine or oak furniture, ironstone pottery, creamware or banded mixing bowls, baskets and vintage galvanized tin boxes - inexpensive for storage. Antique doors and hardware are easy to find in salvage outlets all over the country. Washboards used as wall art can add a farmhouse look to any kitchen.

salvage breakfront
What's the best way to check if a price is a good one for a piece of salvage?
It takes some time to become knowledgeable. To do this, hit your favorite shopping haunts on a regular basis. You’ll get to know the owners who might teach you a thing or two and learn about your taste. Rather than trying to wear dealers down, make one bid. If something is marked 20 dollars, for example, offer 15. If they say “no,” leave it at that. Then you can decide if you want the item badly enough to meet the asking price. 

What questions do you recommend an online salvage shopper ask the seller?
Learn how to use Craigslist to your best advantage. For example, go beyond the obvious keywords such as “kitchen island” to include, say, “industrial” or “school” or “factory.” When it comes to shopping for salvaged furniture know what you want and the size, style and shape. For example, if you’re looking for a dining table, measurements are important. Know where the furniture will be placed and make a paper template to place on the floor so you can see how much space it will take up. Remember, in the world of salvage style, nothing has to match. In fact, mismatched dining or kitchen chairs can be more interesting than a perfectly matched set.
buying a clawfoot tub
Can the cost of shipping a salvage item be more expensive than it's worth?
Oh yes! If you’re looking for big, bulky, heavy items — a claw foot tub, appliances, an armoire — you should start looking as close to home as possible first. When searching on eBay for large, heavy items use their zip code search feature for your area. Shopping locally will cut down on shipping charges. Some items you find might be a good deal but the shipping charges could negate your savings. 

A lot of homeowners love the idea of a salvage or antique stove. What are some warnings and considerations for people who want to get one?
Old fixtures and appliances ay have the look you want for your kitchen, but they may not function as efficiently as new ones. Some companies sell reproductions that look exactly like the originals but are brand new. If you find an early appliance, consider using it for storage or display. Or with some research you might find someone to restore it to working order.

How do you know if a piece of salvage is "too far gone" to fix up?
You really have to do a little research before salvage shopping and it’s a good idea to know your own DIY limitations. For example, old wicker pieces are charming in a Great Gatsby kind of way. However, wicker is difficult and expensive to repair. If a seat is rickety it may not be worth buying. However, if paint is flaking off a lovely old settee or plant stand, it’s easy to sand lightly and spray paint to refurbish. Fabric and paint are the easiest ways to cover-up, fix-up and refurbish. Things like old doorknobs may look good but before buying be sure all parts are intact and will fit the door you have in mind.

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