Seasoned salvage hunter Liz Dwyer divulges her shopping tips and opens her little black book on the best yards in Ireland
Love shopping for your home but find your default is always department stores or out of town retail parks when it comes to looking for something new? There is another way: salvage. Differing from the brocantes and vintage furniture shops that have begun to appear in Ireland where you can buy more rarefied furniture pieces, salvage yards are piled high with the fascinating spoils of estate sales, liquidation hauls as well as various building materials, endless bric a brac and everything you didn’t know you needed.
And here’s the real clincher: decorating and refurbishing your home with salvaged materials and finds is more eco-friendy than buying new, because you’re re-using something that others might junk, therefore you’re not adding to landfill.
It’s also typically more purse friendly too – and it makes for a completely unique interior scheme.
Shopping smarts - Your need-to-knows for getting a brilliant bargain
When salvage shopping at any time of year – other than in the midst of a heatwave – wear thermals as these yards are perpetually cold places. Arm yourself with gloves and hats and robust footwear, as you will actually be tyre – or sleeper - kicking. And pee before you go, most of their customer facilities are not exactly female-friendly.
Bring cash and barter
Although most yards now accept cards, cash is handy for bartering and seems to help secure a better bargain. The owners will engage in a bit of haggling but don’t expect them to take too much off the original or marked price, especially with one-off or unusual pieces.
Measure twice buy once
Even if you’re not planning on buying anything for, let’s say the kitchen, it’s prudent to always have the exact measurements of all of your rooms, including window and door heights, noted somewhere on your phone and have a few images of all the rooms stored on the camera roll also.
In my experience of salvage yards, you always find something absolutely amazing for a space you hadn’t set out to fill, so if you have the dimensions to hand you know if it will fit or not.
Don’t go away and think about it
Well, at least not for too long. If you come across an item you love, but need a bit of cooling-off time to consider the purchase, ask the yard owner if they will hold it for a few days or hours. As many of the items are unique or once-offs, it’s sods law they won’t still be there when you go back a week later.
Befriend the owners
If you’re hunting for something specific and can’t find it, talk to the yard owners as there is a large salvage community in Ireland and Europe and they all seem happy to refer you onto pals with businesses elsewhere.
Sometimes they can order an item in from abroad and owners are a wealth of knowledge on upcoming auctions or liquidation hauls where you might get lucky. Also, if you talk them through your ultimate plans for your home and show them Pinterest or moodboards, they may call when they encounter a piece you might like. I’ve received WhatsApp pics from a yard owner who came across a small cherub statue in France he knew I’d love. He was right – and had it shipped home for me.
What to buy at a salvage yard
Many of the yards have brand new or refurbished modern radiators in stock at a snip of the cost compared to DIY or plumbing stores (I picked up four brand new, six-foot towel radiators for €40 each in Mac’s Warehouse – whereas they normally retail around €120).
If you’re hunting down antique radiators, take heed as many of those beautiful cast iron originals don’t actually work once plumbed in and cost a fortune to refurbish, so talk to the yard owner in dept about their efficiency and what type of pipes and plumbing systems they may require before purchasing. Some yards, like Kilkenny Architect Salvage and Antiques, make modern replicas of cast iron Victorian radiators, so you don’t have to compromise on form or function.
Wood and floorboards
Most salvage yards have vast stocks of reclaimed wood. Expect to find beautiful timber trusses, piles of Provençal shutters, cross beams and floorboards aplenty, both in their original state or restored to perfection. If looking at old floorboards, ask do they have a polished version of the timber or ask to bring a few small samples home to see how they will look once sanded, stained or varnished.
A word of warning about old sleepers – their patina and gnarled texture is undoubtedly beautiful, but most old railway planks were coated in a creosote coal tar to protect the integrity of the wood, which is notorious for seeping out over time and discolouring flowerbeds and patios.
The tar is almost impossible to remove – so depending on where you are planning to use sleepers, purchasing new ones from garden centres and staining for an aged effect, may be more prudent.
Sanitary ware and taps
Coloured sanitary wear is making a big comeback in interiors trends, as are ornate china basins and details like china flush hand pulls. Buying into this trend is not cheap via the usual retail routes, but you can pick up retro coloured (think peach, avocado or pink) toilets and skinks from around €30, and there are lots of bargain antique basins to be found.
If period-style cast iron baths and old-fashioned loos are on the list, salvage yards are brimming with antique options but, check if they’ll need to be resurfaced, as the enamel can become porous with age and stain like mad.
While hunting for bathroom furniture, be sure to ask if there are any other faucets and hardware in the yard not clearly out on display. There are often some gems to be found in the bottom of a tap box.
Accessories and curios
This is the fun part, and you literally never know what you’ll find. Most yard owners are stockpiling items driven by interior trends – there is taxidermy aplenty to be found and not just native Irish animals, but tropical birds, crocodiles and grizzly bears can be snapped up too, plus plenty of mid-century curios, art deco furniture and industrial item.
There are also lots of ecclesiastical finds to be had such as church pews, altars and confession boxes. In one yard, I spotted an entire antique courtroom. Last but not least, salvage yards are always brimming with mirrors packed with personality. Don’t let tarnished frames turn you off, they are easy to repaint or pimp up with some spray paint or gloss and right now, even a little discoloration on the glass – or foxing – is en vogue.
Must visit salvage yards
5 places to pin on the map...
1. The lady-like destination
The Store Yard in Portlaoise has spoils ranging from rails of period curtains and carpets, to piles of louvre shutters and retro furniture. There’s also a vintage clothing concession, a French furniture wing, a period lighting collection, walls of antique crates and travel trunks and it’s easy to see why set designers from Hollywood flock here to loot the lot.
The Store Yard, Mountrath Road, Portlaoise, Co. Laois, 057 868 0088, Thestoreyard.ie
2. The professional pitstop
Wilson’s Yard, just off the M1, is the go-to destination for most interior and industrial designers, assigned with renovating bars, restaurants and hotels. It’s got a great selection of timer, a full custom carpentry service and have an inspiring showroom of kitchens made from materials like rare African oak or old tea chests. There are also rows of original lighting, chairs, windows and lots of quirky finds form the industrial revolution era.
Wilsons Yard, 123 Hillborough Road, Dromore, Co Down, Northern Ireland. 048 92692304; Wilsonsyard.com
3. The restoration mecca
One of the main suppliers for the National Trust, Killkenny Architect Salvage, boats an abundance of both original and replica pieces for period projects here from gutters to gates, baths to brassware. There’s plenty of mid-century curios, art deco furniture, industrial items and the odd eclectic collection like the 25 different colored loos that were just acquired for a hotel refurb.
Killkenny Architect Salvage and Antiques, The Old Wollen Mills, Bleach Road, Killkenny, 056 776 4434; Eurosalve.com
4. The gardeners go-to
Full of gems from grand old estates like limestone gazebos, granite gargoyles, cast iron benches, marble maidens and everything you need to embellish their grounds. For those not in the market for al fresco adornment, there’s a serious stove and ornate fireplace remit and a very cool bathroom section too.
Architectural Salvage, Kingswood Cross, Naas Road, Dublin 22, 01 459 5492; Architecturalsalvage.ie
5. The old reliable
If you’re refurbing an old or modern home, Mac’s Warehouse has aisles full of doors and windows, in wood, PVC and composite finishes, at far keener prices than regular retail outlets and every other building supply needed for a full fit out too. On a given day you can find staircases and sinks, confession boxes and antique toys and a bric-a-brac section which can be hit-or-miss. They get mind-blowing liquidation hauls in from hotels and estate homes throughout the year too.
Mac’s Warehouse, 749 South Circular Road, Islandbridge, Dublin 8, 01 679 2110; Macswarehouse.ie