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Island Girl Salvage: Rescuing Architecture from the Wrecking Ball

by on Mar 12, 2007

The girls from Island Girl SalvageIt’s 2003; you just got laid off from your job at a telco (not the first time, either), and things are looking prety bleak. What do you do? Well, if you’re like Liz and Tab at Island Girl Salvage in Elk Grove, Illinois, you start prying down all the  barn-doors, windows, and mantels you can find!

The Island Girls got their start by scouring salvage yards and antique store for original accents and details for Tab’s own 126 Cotswold cottage remodel. Before long, they were salvaging more than they could use, and sharing the bounty with other DIYers was a natural progression.

We had a chance to catch up with the Island Girls, here’s their advice on remodeling, DIY and the salvage lifestyle. When you’re done reading, drop them a comment at their Curbly profile!

[Curbly] What are three easy things a do-it-yourselfer can do to incorporate salvaged materials into their home?


  1. Quite a few older homes have elaborate woodwork around the front door entrance or the flat sided columns from a large front porch. Think about bringing them inside. They make for creative dividers between large rooms such as a dining room area and the family room.
  2. Use stained glass as a window treatment for a unique look that lets in light and brilliant colors. Find an old stained glass transom window and hang it in place of a valance or hang a rectangle piece in front of an existing window. You are able to see out but the neighbors won’t see in. If you want to capture the sun felt warmth of stained glass without placing a piece in front of a window, hang it from the ceiling with a light fixture behind it. This looks especially dazzling in a stairway.
  3. Create a screen by hinging three doors together. Bathroom or closet doors work best as they tend to be narrower. Use decorative hinges to complete the look. Doors can also be used as a decorative and creative headboard for a bed.

[Curbly] Why does Island Girl Salvage exist? How did it get started?

[IslandGirls] It all started when Tab was working on restoring her 1920’s English Cotswold home. One of the biggest challenges was finding period specific pieces for a vintage home at a reasonable price.

Along the way she suckered some of her friends and co-workers to spend their weekends salvaging and antiquing. The more we went digging the more we bought. We bought things that were never going to go into Tab’s house, we just liked them. At the same time we felt that we could fill a niche not only for Tab and her own renovating and decorating needs, but also for many residential homeowners looking for that same quality product and individual service.

[Curbly] What do you like best about your job?

[IslandGirls] It is a double edged sword for us. The best part of this job is getting to see inside these great old homes and buildings and imagining the history and people who lived in these rooms. The work it takes to remove and preserve these elements is really what drives us.  At the same time it can be heartbreaking to see that physical history being removed.

[Curbly] What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever salvaged?

[IslandGirls] It was a rainy cold morning early on in our adventures when we looked skyward (third story really) and we saw it, a carved keystone below a window. We had to try.  Well we pried it away from the house without too much trouble and let it fall.  (It was quite muddy from the rain) It did not break, but then it was a 400lb piece of limestone.  At least now it was on the ground. It took about 45 minutes to push pull and otherwise get this to the truck (about 25 feet). Four New tires later we got it to the store and it remained there for 2 years outside our front door.  The keystone photo on the website and blog is that Keystone.

[Curbly] Why should people consider using salvaged materials over new or custom-built materials?

[IslandGirls] There are so many reasons. Think Green. Think quality. Think uniqueness. Tab just replaced an 80’s sink with a refinished 1920’s porcelain over cast iron pedestal. I know it sounds like a gear head statement but she’s that excited about it. It looks like new but the lines are Deco, the finish, perfect. If she hadn’t had the vision her new old sink most likely would have ended up in a landfill. She’s looking for someone that wants that 80’s sink. Anyone have any ideas? There is also the art of saving money. Okay, so you all know the museum type architectural stores and we appreciate them to the end but there is the other school of thought on architectural salvage which is to be able to re-use building materials and embellish existing decor with salvaged items at a lower cost. Our clientele is generally looking to match existing woodwork in an addition or replace items that have been removed over the years.

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