April 3, 2020

The Carmel Pine Cone

Recycled Treasures and CharacterBy Don McBride

“Careful use of an architectural antique or simply a unique piece personalizes a home, surprising the eye and delighting the artist in everyone.”

The moment I saw it in the back corner of a salvage yard, I knew I had to buy it. For over 20 years I toted
it around, waiting for the right place and time to use it.

My prize relic? A beautiful bronze porthole.



Perhaps, there have been times in your life that you’ve come across a unique and discarded treasure that you instinctively were drawn too. You want to possess it, but in reality had no specific place for it, nor the extra room. While the item greatly appealed to you it didn’t actually fit in with your current decor or lifestyle. Yet, there was a sense or rightness about it.

Invariably there are the pieces that can become special focal points in a remodel, adding personal and expressive touches to a room. It might be an antique farmhouse window that transforms a breakfast nook,
a picturesquely battered old dresser that is re-fashioned into a bathroom vanity, a pair of rustic shutters
that get a second life as linen cupboard doors…or finding the right spot for a discarded porthole, which I
was finally able to do in a house in Carmel.

As soon as I walked into the house, I knew this was the home for my treasure. Although it was just a ’60s tract house with little architectural detail, I saw that by freshening up the interior and exterior spaces, I
could create a house with every bit as much charm as the surrounding Carmel neighborhood.

So, rather than ripping apart the entire floor plan and beginning completely anew, I vaulted the ceiling, added skylights and French doors, replaced bland aluminum windows and boring old doors.

To update the exterior, the stucco finish was replaced with board-and-batten siding; new trim and porch support posts were added as well as window boxes. All of these created immediate character.

Of course, my favored porthole found a key spot in the living room wall. Now that window becomes the lens of a camera, its view focuses on a lovely tree in the front yard.



Incorporating a fine old piece during a remodel always delights the artist in me. The houses that I’m working on become a canvas for these on-of-a-kind finds. In fact, over a period of time using portholes has become a signature of mine.

When working on a remodel, view the space and the recycled piece. Look beyond their current condition and visualize their ultimate potential. Then pair them in a way that exploits the singular characteristics of each, and shows both to best advantage.

This process involves taking a creative step beyond what remodels are generally about — adding space, fixing trouble spots or bringing an older house up to code. There’s not doubt that these practical aspects are important and such problem-solving is certainly creative in its own way. But careful use of an architectural antique or simply a unique piece personalizes a home, surprising the eye and delighting the artist in everyone.

Keep an open mind next time you’re in an antique shop or at a garage sale. If you see an item that particularly strikes your fancy, go ahead and buy it. Take it home and look carefully with new vision at how that piece could become part of your decor.

Perhaps it won’t fit in right now, but eventually the right place will surface. You may have to store it awhile, or lug it around as I did my prized porthole, but sooner or later it will fine a perfect parking spot.

Remember, recycled items you love add your character to the home.