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Restoring Freshwater Cottage V

Have Salvage! Will Travel! (Or, Another Man's Trash)

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Restoring Freshwater Cottage is a series documenting one Architectural Historian’s endeavor to restore his house in Bellevue. 

Since buying Freshwater, I have become a kind of a connoisseur of the finest architectural salvage. [Meaning, I just love other people’s building junk.] It’s actually a bit of an issue. My basement is filled with house parts. Need 47 wood window sashes from a National Register-listed apartment building? I’ve got you covered. How about a Craftsman-style fireplace mantel with leaded glass doors? Free to good home. A wooden screen door (2/3 of screen not included)? Yup. Got it. Oh! Perhaps I can interest you in a fluted wood pilaster from a house in Friendship? No? Anybody?

You get the point. I have a problem. But when you own an old house, you never know when that very specific piece of junk is going to come in handy. Some of this stuff just isn’t made anymore. When you find something, that might just be the last time that you find it.

But not all of my architectural salvage treasures come from my being a human raccoon. Christopher and I also love a good architectural salvage shop. We love us some Construction Junction. But eventually, we exhausted all of the shops in the tri-state area. We’ve since had to travel a little further afield. So every now and then, Christopher and I pack-up my not-so-trusty GMC Terrain and hit the road.

Operation Home Depot Special

Freshwater’s dining room and the Home Depot Special in 2016.

When we bought Freshwater in 2015, the original dining room chandelier was long-gone. What was hanging in that room was something I lovingly called “The Home Depot Special”. All of the light shades were crooked. It looked perpetually filthy. And it had so many bulbs that it turned every meal into a police interrogation. “Pass the bread… and your alibi!” In the grand scheme of home restoration, it was low-hanging fruit. And it had to go.

We scoured Pittsburgh for something that would work. No dice. So, in December 2016, Christopher and I left on a mission: Operation Home Depot Special.

I should mention that Christopher loves to travel. He adores a good road trip. Me? I like to travel, but “love” isn’t exactly the word I’d use. (Let’s be honest, there’s no place like your own porcelain throne, if you catch my drift…) And when it comes to road trips, I’d rather slam my head in a car door. But there’s a middle-ground that we can both agree on: New York City.

Having lived in Manhattan for a few years, impromptu trips to New York happen pretty frequently. No planning. We just go for the weekend. And that’s about as much New York as I can take. Small doses… and with a car stashed nearby as an escape pod. I used to get asked frequently, “What was it like to live in NYC?!” It was like waking up every morning and being punched in the face. Oh, and you’re also stuck on an island with a million people. But there’s, like… really good Thai food and falafel. So, you get used it. I mean, honestly? Just give NYC some time. After a while it won’t even seem weird that you’ve befriended the 157th Street subway station rat — like some sad, pathetic urban Snow White.

Anyway! Christopher and I have a few salvage shops in New York that we always haunt: Demolition Depot, City Foundry, and Olde Good Things are a few. On this particular trip, we were walking down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Whereas a chandelier was top of the list, this particular excursion across the East River was predominantly a quest for Blue Marble ice cream. (Because it was December in New York and this fat kid [read: me] wanted ice cream. Okay?!)

Out of nowhere, Christopher yelled, “There it is!” “There what is?!” I yelled back. “It’s not here! I think Blue Marble moved… again! Can’t anything in this town stay in one place?!” “No. It! The chandelier! Look!” he replied.

And as we pressed our tired, windburned, ice cream-less faces against the shop window, indeed, there it was. 

Turns out the shop-keep was a displaced Pittsburgher, too! No discount, though. Lame!

Photo Credit: Amy Fisher, Pawsburgh Photography
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Justin Greenawalt

Originally from Connellsville, Pennsylvania, Justin relocated to Pittsburgh in 2004. In 2008, he moved to New York City to pursue his M.S. in Historic Preservation. After completing his studies, the allure of the Steel City brought him back. In 2015, Justin discovered Bellevue and decided to call it home, along with his partner Christopher and their menagerie of cats and chickens. Professionally, Justin is an Architectural Historian in the Cultural Resources Department of Michael Baker International, Inc. He is also a Licensed Real Estate Professional with the Sewickley Office of Howard Hanna. Justin also serves as a Director of Preservation Pittsburgh, the President of the East Liberty Valley Historical Society, and a Real Estate Educator with the REALTORS® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

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