Saving Grace



FIELD TRIP-November/December 2010

by Veronique McAree | Photography Amanda Kowalski

Need a claw-foot bathtub? French doors? A marble sink? Take a field trip to Portland Architectural Salvage, a store that specializes in the exotic, hard-to-find details that will make your home unique.

Behind the large entranceway to Portland Architectural Salvage, owner Alice Dunn is busy helping a customer find just the right bath fixture—no small task, considering there are hundreds of items spanning time periods, styles, and prices. Dunn stocks reclaimed house, building, church, and garden elements in her four-story, 20,000-square-foot building that was once home to a pine-coffin company. And she’s been doing so for nearly two decades, which makes her, along with the crystal chandeliers and seaside shutters, an indelible fixture in the world of architecture and design in Maine.

On any given day, it’s possible to stop by Dunn’s Preble Street store and find clawfoot tubs, stained-glass windows, doors, vintage lights, plumbing fixtures, arbors, trellises, tables, fountains, mantels, and porcelain and cast-iron pedestal sinks, not to mention all the hardware you will need to piece it all together. She also has a seemingly endless array of decorative and not-so-decorative items, from glass orbs and wooden games (which can be repurposed as wall art) to vintage bikes and metal lockers that beckon visitors to keep on looking.

Dunn culls her merchandise from various sources throughout Maine (and beyond), but she always keeps in close contact with local contractors who let her know when good materials can be salvaged from old buildings. In fact, she claims to know every building going down within a ninety-mile radius. bottles

“It’s pure upcyling,” says Dunn. “When a period building goes down, hearts grow a little heavy, but the greatest appeal of salvaging is the opportunity to acquire architectural elements with a pedigree. Customers love the story and the history behind the pieces—and that they’re not going end up in the landfill.”

Along with her ever-evolving selection, Dunn’s customers have changed over the years. When she started the business, she catered mostly to old-house restorers. But in recent years, there’s an entirely new breed of “salvagers,” including suburbanites and urbanites looking to add architectural and industrial detailing to their houses or businesses. Some of her customers even fly in to Portland at 11:00 a.m. and leave by 3:00 p.m. (the less-avid out-of-town customers will phone in their list of items). But no matter who the customer is—whether they are designers or architects, apartment owners or cottage dwellers—they all share Dunn’s love of restoring, reclaiming, and repurposing. “Architectural elements lend depth and texture to any project,” says Dunn. “And the excitement always comes from seeing things as something else, something entirely yours.”

Dunn’s Salvage Tips: 

…and you shall find the right piece for any project. Just come by with your imagination ready to think about new uses for old things. A garden trellis can be transformed into a headboard, an old discarded window makes a stunning mirror, and a piece of grillwork can be revamped into a decorative element.  

Mix it Up.
Pick architectural elements and items in eye-catching colors and unique shapes to create instant visual interest. “I love going into a new home and seeing cool industrial old school lockers or a table made from reclaimed barn board.”

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