Erin Watkinson from Old House Parts Co. in Kennebunk offers ideas for giving new life to old pieces
Employee Erin Watkinson was moving a dirty piece of wood from inside The Old House Parts Co. to an outside heap one day when owner Mike Thompson stopped her in her tracks.
With 17 years of salvaging all kinds of materials under his belt, he—unlike most people who would understandably mistake it for junk wood—could see that it was a piece of valuable cypress.
With a little sanding and light coat of varnish, Thompson knew it would be perfect for using in the finish carpentry on a boat that the company’s previous owner is building. Honey-hued cypress is durable, resistant to the elements and has a beautiful, unusual grain—when cleaned up.
With some things like this that come into The Old House Parts in Kennebunk, a little knowledge is required to see potential. But with most other items there—many of which you might also have stored in your very own garage or attic—just a little dose of imagination easily could make something old “new again.”
Watkinson has imagination to spare when it comes to seeing the possibilities brimming over in the store.
That big bowl full of colorful old spigots over there? Eight of those would be way more interesting drawer pulls on a dresser than the standard ones, don’t you think? Or, like the countless glass and metal door knobs around the store, maybe they could be screwed into a strip of wood to make a decorative hook system for a wall. Or used as finials on a curtain rod.
Watkinson—whose charming bed was created from porch rafters—tossed out repurposing ideas galore during a recent tour of the sprawling salvage store.
Watkinson noted that repurposing doesn’t necessarily mean converting something to another use. Sometimes it’s just a matter of subbing something old and unusual for something standard, with no craftiness or labor required.
Try using a fire-extinguisher cabinet as a display case for special items instead of purchasing an ordinary wooden shadow box, or hang a stunning stained-glass window in a window—you don’t need to spend the energy and money to replace the whole window, she says.
The possibilities are fun and endless, say both Watkinson and Thompson, who just bought The Old House Parts Co. in early September. He has no plans to change what’s been working well for so long on site, but said he is focusing on engaging more with social media and the community.
After so long in town, merchandise mainly comes to them, Thompson notes, from demolitions, downsizing, people emptying their basements, estate sales and the like. But occasionally, he and colleagues head to a church that’s going to be torn down—“a sure bet for good quality, unique and beautiful stuff—or out of state when a mansion’s contents are up for grabs.
Thompson first went to work at the store as a 22-year-old laborer when it was located right down the street from him—it’s been in the present location at 1 Trackside Drive for about 13 years.
“Obviously, I love this stuff. I love the old craftsmanship, the way they used to make things. I like stuff that was made to last forever,” he said. “I’m also handy, so I like being in the woodshop, making things. I like the physicality—not sitting behind a desk. Yeah, I think it’s a pretty cool business.”
Here are some suggestions that could cool-up your space:
• Evenly space a few ceramic electrical insulators—typically used to safely string wire through—into a wall above a window, and thread a fabric swag through for an unexpected touch.
• Have a beat-up billiards table in your basement that has intricately carved legs? Remove the top, replace it with a sanded-smooth door and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind dining room table. The right door also could be your ideal desktop. Or a bar.
• Fashion an abandoned mantel into a unique bed headboard. Or make your climbing plants happy by using a rusting metal filigree headboard as a fancy trellis.
• Want a special centerpiece? Poke flower stems through an old grater set in a pretty bowl full of water.
• An ancient metal laundry sink could make a pretty outdoor installation for displaying pumpkins and flowers next to your garden.
• Inlay a metal porthole into a bathroom wall and add a mirror. You’ve got a nonstandard medicine cabinet that’s fun and functional.
• A whiskey barrel turned vanity. Just find the right sized sink to lay into the top of it.
• A found, round mitten holder easily could be converted to a clock with character.
• That old wooden fire ladder in your attic could be an excellent place to hang herbs for drying. Leaned against a wall, it also might be a fun place to display kids’ artwork—clip pieces onto pants hangers and hang on the rungs.
• Turn an ornate chandelier on its side—it could incredibly spruce up an otherwise dull wall space.
• Pop a nautical map behind an atypically shaped window frame. Far from the usual framing method, but oh so interesting!
Old House Parts Co.
1 Trackside Dr., Kennebunk
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Patricia McCarthy is a longtime writer and editor. She has three daughters, lives in Portland, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).