Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Architectural salvage: Adding value

Some architectural salvage outlets look a bit like a junk yard. Everything's piled up in a haphazard way and it can take customers a long time to find the hidden treasures among the heaps of what may look like worthless rubbish. Most items are just as they were when they first came into the yard - and some that have been there a good while may even have deteriorated!

Other outlets feel more like an upmarket antique shop, with a few expensive pieces carefully displayed and other stock neatly stored and catalogued. Most items have been cleaned and restored and look fantastic - usually with a price tag to match.

There's no right or wrong way to go about selling building salvage - the best way for your business will depend on things like the types of client you want to attract and the sort of things you want to sell. However, you may find that a relatively small amount of effort on your part can add a good deal of value to the goods you sell.

Cleaning, stripping and preparation

Much of the stock that you buy in will be dirty and stained from years of use and, perhaps, neglect. Using the right tools, materials and a few tricks of the trade, you'll usually be able to clean them up and make them look much more presentable quite quickly. Needless to say this can add pounds to the price when it comes to selling them.

Some items, like old doors, can be transformed by stripping off the old layers of paint. This is quite a messy and time consuming task, but if you've got a caustic tank then it can be well worth it - top quality antique doors, for example, sell for hundreds of pounds. Alternatively, you could pass the work on to a specialist.

Timber joinery can often be improved by staining, waxing and polishing. Once again, this can be time consuming - but on an item that you hope to sell for hundreds or even thousands of pounds well worth it. Things like reclaimed floorboards generally benefit from being de-nailed and sanded or planed.

Some items, like old reclaimed bricks, may be more or less unsaleable until they've had some work done on them - in this case removing old mortar.

Repairs, renovation and upcycling

Some items will be in less than perfect condition after years of use. If you've got the skills, or you know someone who has, it can be well worth making the effort to repair them before you put them on sale. Try to use old and compatible materials wherever possible and carry out the repair using sympathetic techniques. Sometimes it'll just be a matter of doing a small repair - in other cases it may be worth carrying out a full restoration. And sometimes it may be better to 'upcycle' an item to create something fresh and different - for example by giving it the 'shabby chic' look. Always be honest with customers about items that have been restored - don't pass them off as 'mint' items in original condition. You might decide to offer repair and restoration services to customers only once they've agreed to purchase an un-restored item.

Recraft - making new items out of old materials

Sometimes there just aren't enough genuine old items to go around. When that's the case prices usually shoot up and, if you've got the skills, it can be well worth making some 'new old' items to meet demand. It might just be a case of making quite a simple alteration - for example swapping a clear glass panel in an old door for an attractive etched one. Or it could involve actually making something from scratch out of old reclaimed timber. Of course, it goes without saying that you should be honest about the provenance of newly made or altered items.

Putting complementary items together

Often, just your specialist knowledge and a little imagination can be enough to increase the value of an item considerably, or to sell several things where you'd otherwise have just sold one. For example, matching a period fire surround with a suitable cast iron insert, or adding appropriate vintage fittings to an antique bath, can create a very attractive package. It could even be as simple as planting something eye-catching in a vintage garden urn. Depending on your range of stock it might be worth displaying items in room settings to show customers how they might be used.


Some things may be a lot more saleable if customers know that they're safe and in good working order. For example, all vintage electrical items like lighting should be properly tested to ensure they're safe to use. Similarly, antique cast iron radiators can be pressure tested to check for leaks (it may be worth stripping and priming these too).

Other added value services

There are other ways of making things more attractive and saleable. There are also other services you could offer that complement the business of buying and selling salvage. Some will earn you extra income. Examples include:

  • stripping, repairing, restoring and maintaining items for other people (including private individuals and other businesses)
  • delivering and installing fittings and fixtures for customers
  • carrying out specialist demolition, dismantling and salvage removal work
  • sourcing specific items to customers' requirements
  • displaying goods imaginatively and accessibly in your outlet
  • giving dimensions in both metric and imperial units and possibly displaying prices in several currencies
  • sending non-local buyers detailed descriptions and photographs of an item - using email is ideal for this. Alternatively you could display pictures and descriptions of your stock on your website
  • letting customers take goods home to try them in-situ before they buy
  • storing customers' goods until they're ready to pick them up
  • packaging items up properly for shipping and export
  • design, architectural and structural consultancy, including interior design, garden design and landscaping
  • stonemasonry
  • general carpentry and joinery
  • general building services, including specialist techniques like lime rendering and cob repairs