Salvage Hunter

Kit will tell you that I am relentlessly dogged in my determination to get minute details right whether it be for our house, my job, or graphic design. If I set my mind to something, or become interested in a particular type of building material, I will completely dive down the rabbit hole learning everything I can and digging up any old documentation possible. This has manifested itself in many ways when it comes to our perfect little money pit.

My first obsession with our house was finding every last shred of newspaper, magazine, or otherwise documentation from its stint as a demonstration house and beyond…including this cute brief article on Frederick Stadtmueller the second “longterm” owner (sorry Ellen Lynch, but retaining the house for less than 3 years and renting it the majority of that time does not count). We have plans to make a bound book to stay with the house that includes all of this information for future owners but have not gotten around to formatting it yet.

Did I mention that we called the Stadtmueller’s only daughter this past fall to talk to her about the house???

While the unique history of our house continues to be interesting and rewarding, most of Kit and I’s dogged salvage/antique hunting efforts have been directed at tracking down the few missing pieces that were original to the house as well furnishing the house over the past several years.

We employ a multi-faceted approach of reviewing all upcoming estate sale listings in the area, surveying several local antique shops, frequenting a handful of architectural salvage businesses in both Rochester and Buffalo, ogling vintage shops on Etsy, and scanning several saved eBay searches on a weekly basis. Everything from our furniture like the two bedroom sets to the J. M. Young mission style pieces in the living room; decorative items like two large matching sets of 1920s curtain hardware and our myriad array of period and vintage pottery; small finishing details like the matching set of period brass light switch and outlet covers for the whole house (complete with 80+ years of patina) and 1920s shower curtain rings, and ephemera like out-of-print local history texts and period product catalogues of nearly everything installed in the house has been tracked down at one or more of these above sources.

The most extreme example of this dedication to the hunt (and reason for writing this blog post) has been my obsession over restoring the few damaged and missing light fixtures in the house. When we bought the house in 2014 it was missing all four of its exterior lights (3 wall sconces and one garage lantern), four interior ceiling lights (2 of which were found hidden in the attic and basement…thank you Kathy!), and had five damaged or heavily overpainted ceiling lights on the second floor. So, in the end, we were really only missing two light fixtures on the interior if you didn’t count the damaged ones on the second floor…not too shabby by any measure. The two interior lights that we were actually missing were the main kitchen ceiling light and task light over the kitchen sink. Both had been replaced with displeasing and bland modern pieces. Early on in 2014, we spotted the kitchen light hanging in a Syracuse antique shop. It had come out of a beautiful craftsman style home in that city when the new owners wanted to “update” the interior. It sat in storage for nearly 3 years before being installed. Although it is an anachronistic piece (it definitely predates the house by about 10 years) we are both big fans of the craftsman style and decided to bend the rules a bit. The over-sink light had been one of those standard Home-Depot porcelain fixtures with the built-in outlet. After looking through hundreds of possible candidates on eBay we found a just perfect 1920s Alabax pull chain porcelain light that had just the right amount of style to draw attention to itself.

A more lengthy hunt was begun in the search to find period wall sconces for our exterior porch. During our crazy summer of stripping the front of the house and repainting it, we revealed the shadows of the original sconces which confirmed my suspicions from squinting at historic photographs…that our porch sconces were flush mount lanterns, instead of the more common lantern held out by an arm and backplate.

This gave us something to go on, but it didn’t make it any less difficult to find an appropriate light.

I continued to keep my eye on eBay listings hoping for something closer to that Cephas Rogers example we saw…and finally I found one (but only one, not a pair). The price was too good to pass up and it had that beautiful caramel colored slag glass, so I snatched it up. Usually, this is a really bad idea…what are the chances of ever finding another one to actually make a pair of an obscure porch light? Well, with blind optimism I continued to check my saved eBay searches week after week for nearly two years…and then? Lightning struck!

Not to mention that the glass panels were even an exact match.

Not that doubling down of this type of magical thinking is a healthy choice for one’s sanity, but we attempted to aim just a bit higher, with restoring the original finish of the three original bedroom ceiling lights. Unlike the rest of the house, the bedroom ceiling lights and sconces are more Art Nouveau with stylized flowers and polychrome colors instead of the heavier hammered iron-esqe Tudor Revival style of the rest of the house.

Yes…Mr. Rogers patented his light fixture designs! This is the patent filing for our bedroom ceiling lights.

Ours were unfortunately completely covered in paint…in fact the previous painter was careless enough that there was paint on the light bulbs. We tried to carefully remove the paint from the light fixtures but were never able to do it without about a 20% loss of the original polychrome color. Luckily, the remove did reveal a clue about the original color scheme of our lights. The main body of the light had been finished in a reddish copper with blue highlights. I had already begun hunting eBay and antique stores looking for an unadulterated light (perhaps we could have a nice one in the master and just repaint the two in the lesser bedrooms?). We found a gold with black highlights version, a very beautiful black enamel with gold, green, and pink highlights…and then when perusing the maze-like arrangement of an architectural salvage yard in Buffalo I saw a glint of a copper colored light fixture hidden beneath some other house parts. I dug it out…and there it was. We asked if they had any others but were told no…however our spirits were not fully dampened as this same salvage yard trip produced the matching set of antique heavy brass light switch and outlet cover plates (some 20+ pieces).

Nevertheless, I persisted with obsessive determination to search eBay and the vast void of the internet to find two more beauties to make a perfect trio. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, months turned to years…and then, lightning struck twice. An unsuspecting seller listed a matched pair of “C B Rogers” ceiling lights in copper and blue that they had salvaged from a family home…a perfect match. I cannot tell you how childishly gleeful I was that this search paid off! (Of course, the longterm effects of my obsessive-compulsive behavior being rewarded like this have done nothing but ad further fuel to the fire…1920s curtain/draper hardware anyone?)

The beauty installed, complete with LED filament bulbs (in the period correct bulb shape of course).

We have since rewired and hung two out of the three fixtures, the third is still waiting on me to get my act together.

We are still searching for a third exterior sconce and a lantern for the garage, but it is so satisfying to have gotten this far…as such it should not surprise you that I continue to check my saved searches on eBay and elsewhere, at least once a week. God only knows what I will do with myself after all of the salvage hunting is completed…

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