Owners of new and old houses alike pump up demand for architectural antiques.
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People who buy old houses soon develop a network of sources for mantels, doors, lighting fixtures and other architectural items. But these days, they may well be rubbing shoulders at those shops with owners of high-ceilinged lofts or spanking-new suburban mansions.
Apparently, architectural antiques are for everyone, and rising prices and the growing numbers of reproductions reflect the demand.
"It's turned into a 'look' business, like Martha Stewart," said Michael Bentley, owner of The Chimney Pot Shoppe in Avella, Pa. "I sell English bread bins. Martha offers two knockoffs."
Luckily, Bentley's main business isn't enamel bread bins — it's antique and reproduction chimney pots, the decorative clay caps that sat atop many chimneys in the late 1800s.
Given their history, you'd expect that Bentley would be selling most of his chimney pots to old-house owners. You'd be wrong. Ninety percent of his business is with builders and owners of new homes across the country who want that antique "look."
Donna Ramsey of Ramsey's Blawnox Antiques in Blawnox, Pa., says some builders are sending in clients looking for mantels as accents in their new homes.
Custom-home builder Henry Swierczynski, president of Hendolhurst Homes in Marshall, Pa., said one couple in Marshall wanted two Victorian mantels in their house. And the owners of a new Cape Cod insisted he install a large Victorian door out front, he said.
"It's a nostalgia thing. You see a lot of it on HGTV," Swierczynski said. "You can't replicate something like that."
Don Montgomery, an architect who owns The Building Arts, said interest in some architectural items follows design fads. Current fascination for the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s has heated up the market for Craftsman mantels, hardware and other details.
"I'm my own best customer for Arts and Crafts stuff. The whole market is getting tougher," said Montgomery, who incorporates architectural antiques in many of his projects.
French Country is also big, said Jeff Venturella, owner of Architectural Emporium in Canonsburg, Pa. For two years, he and his wife, Lorraine, have been making buying trips to Europe. They now have a whole room devoted to French antiques.
Joe Ranii is another relative newcomer to the business. After years of working in construction and loft conversion, he and two partners bought out the old Wick Lumber Co. in Mount Washington, Pa., and set up an architectural antique business. In addition to mantels and doors, Ranii's Firehouse Architectural Salvage offers what he calls loft accents — oversize doors, trim and other decor that won't be overwhelmed by 14-foot ceilings.
The growth of home design shows on HGTV and other television channels also has boosted the sale of architectural items, both in found condition and adapted to new uses. Jody Walter, owner of Pittsburgh's Sunshine in the City, says she still occasionally gets the older folks who stare at her tables made from old distressed doors or coat racks made from porch posts. "They say 'I just put something like that out by the curb.'"
Kevin Kirkland writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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