Home & Design: Design Professionals

Local Saviors

A father-daughter team endow architectural salvage with a second life
By Sam Wilson - May 14, 2019

If you’ve ever been to the Red Salvage Barn in Jamesport and come away happy, chances are you’re an idealist with an eye for good design, the kind who happily devotes nights and weekends to transforming odd finds into architectural gold. If, on the other hand, having visited the Red Salvage Barn in search of vintage treasure, you can’t see beyond the dust and the dirt and the random eclecticism of it all, you should hightail it to In the Attic Too.

Located in neighboring Laurel, the latter is the Red Salvage Barn’s more refined sibling. Started by Dan and Sue McAllister (the couple behind RSB) the shop is now run by their co-owner and daughter, Heather McAllister. Like the odds and ends that she and her family members rescue from oblivion, Heather, 29, has given In the Attic Too a second life in a way that attracts both millennials and older people.

The younger McAllister’s timing couldn’t have been better. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that designers and homeowners have re-discovered the charm of so-called brown furniture, a once-pejorative term for humble vintage pieces. Inside the rickety old clapboard cottage, you’ll find off-cuts of wood that have been transformed into iron-footed pedestal trays. Scraps from corrugated tin rooftops have been re-fashioned into wall hangings and signs. There are painted wood dressers and cupboards, all tastefully distressed, and paper flowers made from antique sheet music and comic books. And the shop smells good, the air fragrant with the scent of house-made candles.

Armed with a wish list from designers and other loyal customers, father and daughter go out on “picks,” locating raw material at house demolitions and clean-outs. “If you know how and where to look, you can always find something worth saving,” notes McAllister senior. “Often it’s the wood you can’t see that’s the most interesting. An old home that was built in the 1920s or 30s might have crummy windows and sheet rock, but, oh, the framing! That’s the timber we look for.” While the uptick in new property owners who decide to tear down an existing structure has been good for the McAllisters’ business, so has the growing interest in sustainable or reclaimed objects and furniture. “People aren’t so quick to toss things in a Dumpster anymore and call it a day,” says Dan, a retired police officer and reclaimed wood pioneer. “It makes folks feel better to see that we’re able to re-use a building’s remains.” He and his team source all their wood locally, and when hired to do a demolition job, they take pictures and capture the process on video.

For their part, collectors of reclaimed and vintage furniture are attracted to objects made from materials that have been on the East Coast for decades. “Back in the day, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens were big furniture manufacturing centers, and we often find those manufacturing tags on furniture that we acquire,” says Dan. Unlike mass-produced pieces, there is often a story attached to the objects they restore or remake. At a time in which we are over-loaded with ephemera, a vintage item represents a connection with the past.

Which brings us to the McAllister family’s latest vintage venture. In the Attic Too recently began renting out antique French doors, arbors constructed from reclaimed wood, vintage chairs and tables, tiered petit four trays, and other wonderfully romantic artifacts for wedding parties and other milestone occasions. That new aspect of the business was given a jump-start when Heather began planning for her own nuptials. The ceremony will take place this fall at a Christmas tree farm. All of the tables and chairs and place setting will be vintage and none of them will match. By design, of course.

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