Architectural Antiques

Men laying new hardwood flooring

Photo courtesy of SUN-DOR-CO

When it comes to introducing architectural antiques to a home, everything old is new again. Homeowners are looking to enliven their houses with antique details that are eye-catching, nostalgic, even comforting. There is a movement toward preserving and embracing past design to enhance the beauty of todays homes. And architectural antiques can be the perfect way to bring added character and distinct detail into a home.

Drama in the details
I think people who are looking at historic homes in historic neighborhoods are looking for some drama. Those houses have built-in drama, says Atlanta real-estate investor Michaela Graham, who over the years has bought and renovated about a dozen homes, adding architectural elements whether they match the homes age or not. Sometimes going for perfection is costly. Im not a stickler for that, she says. Its kind of hard to find something exactly in the same time period. But thats not a problem, because in her homes, the bones and the historic stuff, such as pocket doors, high ceilings and trim are there from the start. Graham often likes to open up a home by taking down some walls, and she adds classic details such as columns.

One step at a time
There are myriad ways to add charming architectural elements, and they dont have to be expensive or done all at the same time, says interior designer Julie Silber of Metropolitan Artifacts. Its better to pace yourself. Certain things take time, she says. When you get started learning about architectural antiques, it kind of takes you time to cultivate your eye, so you want to take things a few steps at a time.

For example, you can dress up a door with antique knobs or pulls, add iron urns to a front entry, bring in antique fire screens and fireplace mantels or change out wooden spindles on a staircase with decorative iron, she says. Antique door jewelry can start at $45 for knobs and go as high as $250, and from $800 to $1,500 for door pulls.

Removing walls and adding
classic columns can open up
a home while enhancing
its beauty.

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Artifacts

Elegance in the everyday
Architectural antiques can jazz up the most practical aspects of a home. For people who are interested in having antique-looking floors, for example, theres the expensive route, such as inlay, and then there are alternatives that offer the same type of look for less. There are a lot of engineered products that do have an older look and feel to them, says Michael Purser, owner of the Rosebud Co. Examples in Atlanta of Pursers floor restoration work can be seen at St. Lukes Episcopal Church on Peachtree Street, Rhodes Hall of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and Bulloch Hall in Roswell.

Antique mantels are another great choice for adding old-fashioned elegance to your home. Available in a huge supply of shapes, sizes and materials, mantels can easily stand alone as the only architectural antique element in a room, and most combine well with modern furniture and accessories. Fireplace mantels start at $750 and go up into the $10,000 range for a fine antique mantel.

For a really dramatic change in a larger home, an antique staircase may be just what youre looking for. With a few adjustments to make sure its up to code and structurally sound, it can bring a piece of history into your home. Even a utilitarian home elevator can become a work of art. A lot of people who are building homes they wish to retire in are equipping them with ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] standards, and that would include elevators, Silber says. She suggests using an antique door for the fa??ade of an elevator door to make it more attractive.

If you have a large entryway or a fence outside your house, an antique iron gate will give arriving guests a dramatic first impression of your home. For added outdoor appeal, try an antique streetlight in the yard or a pair of antique corbels above the front door.

Also, keep in mind that not every antique has to serve its original purpose. Bruce Cusamo, owner of Metropolitan Artifacts, often helps clients choose certain antique elements to be repurposed in their homes. A set of antique corbels from Paris may become legs for a glass-top table, a symmetrical iron door can be used as a headboard for a bed and a question-mark-shaped lamppost that used to light the streets of Chicago can be used simply as a fun, interesting conversation piece. Always keep an open mind when youre looking at any antique piece, Cusamo says.


Dress up a door witth antique
knobs or pulls. Knobs can start
at $45 and go as high as
$250 each, and door pulls run
from $800 to $1,500.

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Artifacts

Built-in beauty
Antiques can be brought into any home, but incorporating them into the architectural structure can be a little tricky. Many architectural antiques, such as doors and mantels, have to be just the right size to fit the structure of your home, limiting your options and making you work a little harder to find the perfect piece. But dont give uptons of antique elements were made before dimensions in many homes were standardized, so with all the different shapes and sizes out there, you may be able to track down just the right piece.

While most architectural antique companies are reluctant to modify antiques, they may be able to alter a specific piece to fit into your home, as long as the original structure and design of the piece are not drastically changed. Its also a good idea to have the antique company prepare each item to be installed; they should know what to do to make sure your new item is ready to become part of your design.

Of course, if youre planning on building a new home, it will be much easier to incorporate any elements that you like. With a new home, the skys the limit, Cusamo says. From the beginning, make sure to involve your architect, designer and builder as you select antique elements. Youll want to be sure that every piece you choose is structurally sound and can be incorporated easily into the home. For example, many antique doors are much heavier than standard ones, so the structures supporting them must be able to bear the weight.

Dont feel left out if you live in a smaller or rented space. Even if you cant incorporate antiques into the actual architecture of the home, you can bring in a few less dramatic elements, like furniture and accessories. Lofts, which are so popular in Atlanta right now, are great for incorporating a few special pieces. Lofts are perfect for antiques, Cusamo says. The high ceilings leave a lot of room for incorporating all of the large-scale pieces, like streetlights, mirrors and chandeliers.

Antique mantels are available
in a huge supply of shapes,
sizes and materials, and can
easily stand alone as the only architectural antique
element in a room.

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Artifacts

Know what you want
Before incorporating architectural elements, its important for homeowners to prepare themselves with knowledge. Its OK if you dont know exactly what you want right away. Renovation and antique professionals have more than enough photos, catalogs and examples in their stores to help narrow the search. These days, many people are interested in the clean-lined Shaker style, says Donald Grabendike of SUN-DOR-CO, a custom door manufacturer. He says custom doors can cost from $500 to $20,000. Silber encourages her clients to take photos of the space to which they are interested in adding old details, so she has a better idea of what theyre working with.

Grabendike says he isnt daunted when people bring him rough sketches they come up with on a dinner napkin. He says some people are surprised when they find out their dream door can be a reality. Our limitations are only bound by your imagination. Send us your napkin, he says, adding that customers should be as specific as they can. Weve had people say we want something out of the 30s. Well, the 30s in Chicago were different from the 30s in Atlanta, Grabendike says. There will be some subtle differences between the two.

Antique ironwork can be used for anything from a headboard to stairway spindles.

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Artifacts

Handle with care
For work that requires professional installation, dont be shy asking about the companys credentials and verifying them as well, says Purser. After all, its your investment. I think the main thing is looking at the persons track record and where theyve worked, he says. Knowing their experience, expertise and customer satisfaction is key, because (especially when dealing with floors) inconsistency throughout the home in style and quality is noticeablesometimes embarrassingly so.

Often the homeowner will end up living with it or having to explain the variation, Purser says. Once the right person is on the job, both parties should keep communication strong so that there will be no misunderstandings. And the professional has to know just what questions to ask to get to the heart of the clients wishes.

The No. 1 question is, What do you not want to see? Purser says. He recalls someone telling him, I dont want a lot of red in my floor. What I finally figured out was they didnt want their floors to look like red mahogany. The stain they ended up choosing actually had a ton of red in it, but not in the way they disliked, he says. Also, measurements for items such as doors need to be exact, so its best to have a professional measure them.

For the many people infusing their homes with architectural elements, its a process of bringing, or even preserving, a refreshing elegance to their homes. Architectural antiques are not your grandparents antiques, Silber says. When done right, they dont have to feel old and tired. They become art in your home. Architectural antiques should be looked at not necessarily as salvage, but as art investments.

And remember, when you purchase any antique piece, make sure to ask about its backgroundevery antique has a story to tell!

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