Decorating a home with reclaimed materials doesn’t always translate to shabby chic.
Interior designer Joanne Palmisano shows how elegant and eco-friendly go hand in hand.

By Joanne Palmisano
photos by susan teare

salvage-Cabin-KitchenSalvage material goes by many different names. I consider salvage anything that is secondhand: recycled, reclaimed, repurposed, vintage, antique, and even “junk.” If it’s given a chance at a second life, it is all salvage to me.

Many times we may think a piece of wood is too small to save, or that a broken aluminum screen has no value, but I can tell you for a fact—after years of research, traveling, scouting for home décor magazines, and talking to hundreds of people—it isn’t and it does. I’ve seen screens and scraps of plywood transformed into light fixtures, modern sinks, closet-panel art and more. I’ve seen discarded boat planks transformed into an elegant bar, and bed springs made over as candle holders. The possibilities are endless—we just have to know how and where to look for them.

Today, many pieces of salvageable wood, metal, glass—you name it—still end up in the dumpster, burdening our already overtaxed landfills. Whether you use salvage in your design or take the time to drop off your own unwanted materials at a recycling center so someone else can use them, it is a step in the right direction.

A study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders estimates that 8,000 pounds of waste are created from the construction of a 2,000-square-foot home. If we all do our part, we can drastically reduce that number and help create jobs in the salvage, recycling and artisan communities along the way.

I hope this collection of photos and design ideas will help you rethink salvage and get creative.

salvage-Retro-KitchenRetro Kitchen

This kitchen and dining-area remodel involved repainting all the cabinetry, hanging vintage lights over the island and dining table, reupholstering two chairs with secondhand material, and adding a vintage dining table. The retro collection of barware and accessories offers a good pop of color.

With just a few simple changes, including repainting the cabinetry instead of replacing it, this space went from an outdated 1980s look to one that feels modern, hip and happy.



salvage-Baker's-RackBaker’s Rack

Interior designer Teresa Ridlon uses an old baker’s rack for additional storage in her kitchen. Filled with vintage jars and baskets, it’s both useful and visually appealing. The old metal basket on the floor and the vintage sewing table give the kitchen a French-country look.

Seeing the wall through the shelving makes the kitchen seem bigger and more open—a perfect solution for smaller spaces like apartments or cottages.

Bottle Caps Backsplash

Where can you find hundreds of bottle caps? Architect Tim Wybenga and his wife, Susan Lyon, asked their friends to save all their discarded bottle caps. With an eye for design, Tim created a pattern, using clear caulk to adhere the caps to a fiberboard. The clean lines of the cabinetry complement the bright and cheerful recycled backsplash.


Crafted entirely from salvaged material, this romantic gazebo has windows hanging from the ceiling that came from a builder in exchange for other materials. The gingerbread boards and posts are from an old Victorian home in Savannah.

The rest of the salvaged pieces were painted white to match. The vintage chaise lounge was a gift from one of designer Jane Coslick’s clients, and the old table and other accessories are all salvaged or secondhand pieces Jane found.


salvage-Living-RoomLiving Room

Elegant and refined, this New York City apartment is a testament to the fact that salvage doesn’t have to look old or rustic. Homeowner and interior designer Kelly Giesen’s living room chairs and couch are all salvaged pieces she reupholstered in elegant blues and creams, as well as in fun fabrics like silver faux leather.

She loves the curves and sizes of the older pieces, especially the kidney-bean-shaped couch and the barrel-back chairs she found for $68 at an upstate New York antiques shop.

salvage-Bedroom-HeadboardBedroom Headboard

Tricia Rose’s master bedroom headboard is a tour de force of salvaged driftwood. Tricia likes the fact that the old wood has been floating in salt water, which gets rid of any bugs, leaving it thoroughly clean and smooth. The simple, wall-mounted lamps have been given a little extra style with old fishing nets over the shades.


salvage-Cabin-KitchenCabin Kitchen

Before they could move in, Jessica Helgerson and Yianni Doulis needed to winterize this former shipyard worker’s cottage in Sauvie Island, Ore. The couple used shiplapped Douglas fir from one of the barns on the property (the wood had originally been salvaged from a grain building near Portland), and painted it white on the ceiling and side walls but left it natural on the back wall for a stunning visual contrast.

Yianni made the dining table himself from local salvaged walnut, and found the mismatched vintage Paul McCobb chairs through Craigslist and antiques dealers. The vintage stove was also found on Craigslist. Its hood is covered in the same salvaged wood as that on the wall, allowing it to almost disappear visually. A single shelf holds flour and grains in vintage blue Ball jars, and a secondhand metal drawer serves as a breadbox.



salvage-Blue-Stove-KitchenEclectic Kitchen

With its custom-made salvaged shelving, white subway tiles and collection of antique and vintage pieces, Kerri Hoyt-Pack’s kitchen in Portland, Ore., exudes a French-country look. Vintage clocks, baskets, stools, jars and signs all fit nicely in her open-shelving scheme.

Mixing a vintage butcher-block table with a marble-topped table (perfect for rolling dough) with black metal legs works well in a kitchen that has no customary cabinetry.



salvage-Beach-Cottage-BedroomBeachy Cottage

Using part of an antique carousel as a headboard, designer Jane Coslick’s bedroom bursts with pops of color and fun. A secondhand desk and bench are painted blue, with a contrasting zebra pattern on the seat. Sitting on the desk is a vintage three-piece mirror, as well as a repurposed lamp made from an old trophy. A salvaged piece of green board, with old hooks added on, serves as a great place for Jane to hang bags or beach towels.

All the doors in the cottage are antique, and each is painted a different color—this one (reflected in the mirror) is a pretty pink. Old shutters on the inner-wall window allow for ventilation while still giving Jane privacy in the bedroom.

salvage-Blackboard-KitchenBlackboard Kitchen

The open floor plan of Susan and Ryan Hayes’ living and dining room allows the dining table and chairs to be the show-stopping pieces in the space. The table was made by Five Corners Antiques, a local antiques dealer that also builds farmhouse tables with salvaged boards, legs and skirts, in Essex Junction, Vt. Susan collected the mismatched antique chairs over time.

The back wall, painted with chalkboard paint, makes the table and chairs really stand out, and together, all the textures, colors and patina combine for a feeling of pleasant nostalgia. The banister railing and post were salvaged from an old farmhouse in northern Vermont.

Joanne Palmisano is an award-winning interior designer, a stylist for national magazines and catalogs, and author of the acclaimed book Salvage Secrets: Transforming Reclaimed Materials into Design Concepts. Visit her at