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Look no further than your local salvage yard by Arrol Gellner, Inman News

If you’re ever up for a slightly depressing tour of yesterday’s design fads, mosey on over to your local architectural salvage yard. There you’ll find a whole galaxy of onetime architectural must-haves, from stoneware sinks, pinstriped toilets and gold-plated faucets, to rocket-ship fireplaces, wet bar cabinets, and heaven knows what else.

At one time, somebody somewhere paid dearly for each of these moldering castoffs in order to be at the forefront of architectural fashion.

Fast-forward a decade or two: Since the fads that originally impelled homeowners are now stone dead, and since there’s nothing quite as dated as a formerly hot fashion, these once-coveted items are unceremoniously ripped out and demoted to recyclables.

It’s surprising how quickly a design fad can make the transition from emblem of taste to architectural albatross. Case in point: Think back to one of the popular trends of the 1990s: concrete countertops.

Made with indisputable artistry, often with sinks or lavatories beautifully integrated, these were strictly custom items commanding astronomical prices in their heyday. Yet on a recent visit to my local salvage yard, concrete countertops seemed to be lying about in every corner, complete with their $600 faucets.

Granite countertops — ironically just about the most durable items found in the average home — often suffer an equally ignominious fate. The material itself is timeless enough, to be sure, but the favored colors of the moment aren’t. Once those mirror-polished pink slabs have joined the ranks of yesterday’s high-end kitsch, another topnotch product ends up in the salvage yard.

Whirlpool tubs are another architectural fad with a high price tag and a short life. Like so many fashion items, architectural and otherwise, they’re sold using a classic materialist ploy: We’re told that we can’t be truly fulfilled unless we have one, too — hence the romantic advertising images of couples lounging under chest-high bubbles with glasses of white wine perched beside them.

Nowadays tub makers even offer remote controls, so you can turn on your tub before leaving work and have it ready for a steamy rendezvous when you get home.

These are appealing images, yet they fly in the face of how real people actually live. We might well aspire to sitting around soaking and getting plastered, yet how many of us can actually manage this in lives already harried beyond belief?

The manifestly impractical whirlpool tub, like so many architectural fads, owes its success mainly to advertising-induced fantasies of the good life and our cravings for status. All that idyllic marketing is sooner or later exposed as a pipe dream, explaining why countless whirlpool tubs are ripped out and end up you-know-where.

There are two lessons in this unending cycle of aesthetic boom and bust. First, it’s a virtual certainty that the hotter a design trend is, the less real substance there is behind it, and the harder it’s going to fall.

Second, and perhaps more useful: Your local architectural salvage yard is a great place to pick up yesteryear’s most extravagant fads for pennies on the dollar. You just have to wait until the “trendoids” are done with them.
Copyright 2010 Arrol Gellner

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  • Doug Steinschneider

    We renovated a 1930’s house by stripping it down to the studs, new heating, plumbing, electrical, drywall, windows and doors. We preserved the look by replicating the original trim and installing a large traditional kitchen with white drawers, cup handles and glass pane cabinet doors. The kitchen could easily have been featured in a magazine and created quite a buzz the first 10 years. We have managed to rent to people who have taken very good care of the kitchen (a single tenant the last 12 years didn’t cook much) so 23 years later it’s in great shape but trends have changed and the 1980’s version of a 30’s style kitchen is out of favor. This year we got realtor comments about the dated kitchen while showing it although I think they were using it as an excuse to lower the rent.

    A landlord I know responded to the slowdown by ripping out two kitchens and installing this year’s kitchen look (ikea) and immediately was able to lease after many months of vacancy.

    If I replace the kitchen evidence tells me to go trendy and inexpensive.

  • mike

    Your articla”Yesterday’s Home Fads Dirt Cheap “never stated why so many whirlpool tubes ended up in the salvage yard. And were the tubs installed in the back yard (not convienent) or installed in the bathroom (very convienent).Point is if its not convienent ,people are not going to use it. thanks

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