To some, “God is in the details.” To others, “The devil is in the details.” To those of us who have renovated an old house, it’s the details that make the difference. Think about it: What would an 1800s gingerbread cottage look like without those whimsical decorative brackets? Or a grand double parlor without those wide bargeboard floors and massive pocket doors? Or a living room hearth without a wonderful antique cypress mantel?
It is details that give a home character. Shiny brass hardware, preferably old and polished, gives a room its own patina. Carved molding and heavy paneled doors give a finished touch. Handsome doorways give an entrance substance. Throw in some gingerbread gris gris, and well,
a New Orleans home has a personality all its own.
Now, where does a homeowner find these little pieces of architectural history?
Fortunately, New Orleans is blessed with some very good resources in which to find these treasures, and if you are willing to go on a patient hunt, you can find the most obscure and elegant details for your home.
Begin your search at The Bank Architectural Antiques, located in Central City. Inside this 48,000-square-foot warehouse is an incredible assortment of restored doors, antique flooring, mantelpieces, shutters, cabinets and bold stained-glass windows. Owners Sean and Kelly Wilkerson, a brother-and-sister team, are second-generation owners of the establishment who learned the business from their father, Mike. The elder Wilkerson developed the formula and techniques for stripping and preserving antique cypress architectural details, a process used today.
“We are the ultimate recyclers,” Sean says. “We travel all over the country to find items. We know homes in St. Louis have awesome terra cotta, stone and iron. New Jersey has outstanding auctions. We’ll import entire storefronts from France.”
Likewise, Ricca’s in Mid City is a virtual catacomb of old cypress and pine doors and molding. Walking through Ricca’s many rooms is like excavating for gems — antique chandeliers and stained-glass windows hang from rafters; display cases feature old brass doorknobs, light switch plates and keys, some restored, some not. Doors and shutters are stacked in neat rows in the back rooms. Occasionally a church pew or antique wooden spice rack will appear.
Unlike The Bank, Ricca’s also offers new doors and architectural details, such as cast-iron vents, along with the antiques, and many are good reproductions. Additionally, antique copper weather vanes, garden benches and mailboxes can often be found.
For more the more frugal renovator, there are three great resources: the Preservation Resource Center’s Rebuilding Together Salvage Store, The Green Project and Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat ReStore, and all are located within blocks of one another. The three stores are hit-or-miss in terms of finding items, and unlike The Bank or Ricca’s, none of the items are stripped, sanded and ready to go. If you are willing to do some work yourself, though, you can save a bundle.
For as low as $30 to $250, a fraction of what The Bank and Ricca’s charge, the PRC’s Salvage Store features a good assortment of decorative brackets, some wonderful fan windows and mantelpieces desperately in need of some TLC. There are often some very interesting chandeliers that with some artistry and cleanup could brighten any room. Go into the backyard where there are stacks of old shutters and doors, iron fences and gates and those hard-to-find terra cotta roof tiles.
Next to the PRC store is The Green Project, the grandmother of nonprofit architectural recycling. Begun 15 years ago as a paint recycler, The Green Project now boasts 22,000 square feet of old doors and windows, stained-glass windows and pews from a local church, large doors and transoms from a local school that was demolished, chandeliers and boxes of old hardware. On one afternoon when I was scouting, I found a large, handsome piece of black granite, 18 square feet, for $54. I had no use for it, but I was tempted to buy it just for the heck of it.
Across the street is The Green Project’s large yard filled with old porcelain footed tubs, pedestal sinks and assorted bathroom fixtures that are longing for restoration and a new home. Vintage colors of pink, cocoa-brown and blue — and, of course, lots of white — fill the large lot.
Habitat’s ReStore is more modest than the Salvage Store and The Green Project, but it’s still a good place to find solid wood antique doors for as little as $25 and shutters for $5.
Because all items at the three nonprofit stores are donated, the inventory is unpredictable.