23 Ways Decorating With Salvaged Items Can Add Character

Rustic barn wood centerpiece by Lenny and Jenny Designs

Salvaged items add character to your home and provide an eco-friendly alternative to building and decorating with new materials. Many people prefer to re-purpose materials from architectural salvage into unique and interesting home furnishings and accents.

Reclaimed Wood

Recycled or reclaimed wood comes from the deconstruction of old barns and out buildings, cabins, warehouses, mills, boatyards and fences. Wood exposed to outdoor elements weathers to a natural gray patina. Interior recycled wood retains its natural color but with a deeper, richer patina and character that cannot be reproduced with new lumber. Reclaimed wood is often used for:

Reclaimed Pallet and Barn Wood Hutch by New Antiquity
  • Flooring
  • Exposed beams
  • Paneling and planking
  • Mantels and corbels
  • Shelves
  • Doors
  • Cabinets
  • Furniture

Most salvaged lumber companies provide custom millwork and welcome custom orders to have your reclaimed lumber built specifically to fit within the parameters of your project.

Salvaged Doors

Old doors can be re-purposed into practically anything with a little creative imagination:

Table made from door
  • Table - Attach some salvaged legs underneath or buy them from a home improvement store.
  • Rustic headboard - Mount the door vertically for a narrow twin bed or horizontally for a larger queen or king size bed.
  • Coat rack - Mount the door horizontally on the wall and use vintage glass door knobs or wrought iron hooks.
  • Shelving - Make a stand for the bottom of the door for freestanding shelves or mount it to the wall and add shelves.
  • Wall organizer- Mount the door horizontally on the wall and apply magnetic chalkboard paint to the recessed sections.
  • Room divider - Three old doors hinged together create a rustic room divider. Before attaching them, paint them different colors with a distressed finish.

Architectural Salvage Windows

Old window frames make interesting décor items, adding a touch of antique or vintage charm wherever you put them:

Miniature greenhouses made from old windows
  • Photo frames - Display individual family photos behind each glass pane or have a photo enlarged to fit the size of the entire window frame. Display vintage postcards, old black and white photos, old-fashioned wallpaper or scrapbook paper inside the glass panes.
  • Display case - Use an old window sash to create a coffee table display case.
  • Miniature greenhouse - Use several window frames to create a miniature greenhouse. Global Garden Friends provides the list of tools and instructions needed to make it yourself.
  • Rustic wall art - If the glass panes are missing, just hang the frame as a rustic accent. Other materials can also be used inside the panes, such as mirrors, corkboard or small, decorative items hung from the muntins.

Other ways to decorate the glass panes of old windows include lettering applied with paint and stencils or vinyl lettering applied with transfer tape. Royal Design Studios has an example of a stenciled design that can also be used on salvaged mirrors.

If you own a personal die cutting machine, you can create an inspirational message and program the machine to cut the lettering out on vinyl material. Practically Functional provides some helpful tips for the process.

Repurposing Shutters to Decorate

Old shutters add personality to your home, whether you refinish them or leave them as shabby as you found them.

shutter headboard
  • Window frame embellishment - Add character to an existing window in any room with old shutters mounted on the interior. Use them to accent an old window frame mounted as wall art.
  • Rustic headboard - Mount old shutters above the head of the bed for a rustic headboard. Paint them to coordinate with your bedding colors or as a bold, contrasting accent.
  • Swinging doors - Attach old shudders to a pantry opening or the entry way to a laundry room for old-fashioned, saloon-style swinging doors.
  • Bookcase - With a few pieces of extra lumber for the top and shelves, you can create a custom designed bookcase for a bedroom, living room or home office with old shutters. Use a high gloss paint finish for a modern look or use milk paint to give it a country chic finish.
  • Wall organizer - Give an old shutter new life with a fresh coat of paint. Mount it on a wall in the kitchen, in a foyer or in a home office. Add a few C hooks or S hooks to hang items such as keys. Use the slats to hold mail or attach clothespins to hold postcards or photos.

Other Trends for Salvaged Décor

Detailing a home with architectural salvage provides a custom look that is gaining popularity through trends of green living, recycling, and home restoration. Transitional styles often include a mix of vintage and antique elements with new construction and modern décor.


Industrial pendants such as porcelain barn lights, vintage factory and warehouse wire cage fixtures, metal dome pendants, and classic schoolhouse style pendants are trending styles for interior lighting. Antique chandeliers and wall sconces add one-of-a-kind style to a home.

Architectural Details

Architectural remnants add refined character, such as:

garden statue
  • Wood and stone mantels - You don't even need a fireplace to decorate with a salvaged mantel. Create a faux fireplace by mounting it to the wall and display decorative items on the mantel shelf.
  • Columns - Add a couple of columns as decorative décor in a living room or bedroom. They don't have to support anything; use them as Old World style pillar accents or repurpose them into floor lamps, plant stands, cut them down into sturdy table legs or turn one into a coat tree.
  • Corbels - Enhance a kitchen island or fireplace mantel with salvaged corbels.
  • Ornamental plaster - A salvaged ceiling medallion brings focus to a chandelier or can be used as interesting wall décor.
  • Crown molding - Use a piece of crown molding to create an ornamental wall shelf or to embellish a headboard.
  • Garden statuary - Add a statement piece to your yard, patio, or courtyard with a salvaged stone fountain or antique stone statue.

Iron and Hardware

Antique Door Knocker

Rustic wrought iron grills, gates, railings, door, and window panels can be reused as architectural elements or displayed as wall art. Glass and ceramic door knobs make unique coat rack or wall hook hardware. Embellish right angles on walls with cast iron brackets. Use a pair of wrought iron curtain rod finials as rustic book ends. Add personality to a door with an antique door knocker.

Claim Your Treasure

Architectural salvage companies are located all over the country and many of them sell items online. Visit Old Houses Online for a comprehensive guide for architectural salvage vendors. However, if you spot something you like, be prepared to purchase it right away. Salvaged items are not reproduced or restocked.

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23 Ways Decorating With Salvaged Items Can Add Character