Sarasota Architectural Salvage Turns Trash To Treasure

Iron door knockers, disembodied porcelain mannequin hands and antiquated nautical artifacts are just a few of the bizarre relics -- cast-aside Velveteen Rabbits declared "junk'' and thus discarded from their former homes -- that are reborn as funky, one-of-a-kind treasures in the Sarasota Architectural Salvage warehouse.

The store, known for its extensive collection of oddities and knick-knacks, decorative and functional art, and furniture crafted from found objects and salvage, celebrated its 10th year in business in January. Sarasota Architectural Salvage is aptly located in downtown Sarasota's Rosemary District, a neighborhood recognized for its eclectic art scene.

"This all started out as a combination of my passion for history and a powerful compulsion to keep cool things from ending up in the landfill,'' says owner, Jesse White, who worked as an environmental consultant prior to opening the shop in 2003.

Today, Sarasota Architectural Salvage's 10,000-square-foot warehouse space, as well as its surrounding lot, is filled to the brim with a variety of items ranging from Victorian chandeliers and antiquated farming tools to mid-century appliances, office supplies and vintage circus memorabilia.

White combines a sustainability-oriented philosophy with a keen eye for design and aesthetics, and says that he spends the majority of his time outside the shop, chasing down leads on treasure hunts that take him everywhere from estate sales to demolition sites and salvage yards. He refers to his line of work as "value-added up-cycling.''

"It's about creating re-purposed pieces that have both real function and beauty. Wooden beams removed from old houses can become tables, benches, countertops, bars -- you name it. When we reinvent those pieces and finish them for a new quality, they get a second life.''

Finding Function

Approximately 25 artists, craftsmen and designers work with Sarasota Architectural Salvage to repurpose the material White and his team collect into functional furniture, art and other household items.

"Design is all personal taste, but trained artisans and designers are invaluable,'' White says. "They're the ones who can make order out of the chaos and figure out how an item will work in what space.''

Most recently, White and the Sarasota Architectural Salvage team paid a visit to the downtown Tampa Classic Federal Courthouse renovation site, where they snagged scores of unique items from the historic landmark, including stainless steel benches from the old prisoner holding cells and cell doors from the courthouse jail. These items, which would have been otherwise destined for a junk yard fate, now await their second lease on life as unique conversation pieces in their future homes.

"The story to these pieces is what really makes them so special,'' White says. "Although our prices are competitive, you may be able to find something similar for slightly less on the internet -- but I think a lot of people feel that it's worth spending a little more for the story.''

The Sarasota Architectural Salvage team also collected and restored hand-hewn wooden beams, wall tiles and other architectural elements from the historic Ringling Towers Hotel, a Sarasota landmark that was built in 1926, demolished in 1998 and replaced by the Ritz Carlton Hotel. White says that many of the hand-hewn and stenciled decorative beams from the hotel were sold as is, but that other architectural elements were crafted into unique functional art such as mantle pieces, benches and tables.

White referenced the Ringling Towers materials, as well as a set of Alaskan yellow cedar wood the team salvaged from a local homeowner's deck demolition, to emphasize the one-of-a-kind design aesthetic of Sarasota Architectural Salvage pieces.

"Every year I go to home decor and furnishing shows in Atlanta so that I can stay on top of design trends and apply them to a mission-based business philosophy. First I find out what trends people are into, and then I ask myself, how can we make that with sustainable, recyclable materials? Whereas a lot of design is purely based on the designer’s vision, we're limited by what’s being taken down that day, and when we run out of a material -- that's it. It's done,'' White says.

Upcycling / Recycling Local

In keeping with his sustainability ethic, White says that most of the items collected and purchased by Sarasota Architectural Salvage are attained locally.

"Sustainability means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some people, if something requires a great deal of energy for production or transportation, it isn’t sustainable. The less distance the material has to travel, the lower the environmental impact,'' White says.

In addition to making concentrated efforts toward environmental sustainability, Sarasota Architectural Salvage lends a helping hand to local nonprofit organizations by throwing year-round "Charity Socials'' that transform the warehouse into a party atmosphere geared toward benefitting a specific cause.  Part of ticket sales from each event are donated to a nonprofit organization.

The most recent event, "A Nautical Night at the Salvage Yard'' on March 21, featured music, dancing and complimentary hors d’oeurves from a variety of local restaurants to support the marine animal hospital at Mote Aquarium. Other recent events include a charity social to benefit the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota and a holiday party and toy drive to benefit Sarasota’s Child Protection Center in December.

"This business was built on sweat, love and tears -- and a very supportive community.  My parents were both social workers, so it's always felt like community building was in my blood, and I've found that many hands make the work light. I started doing charity events as early on as I could, and it’s been a great way for Sarasota Architectural Salvage to be involved in this community; to give back,'' White said.

Whether it means giving fresh, new life to a forgotten relic from the past or providing support for a local nonprofit organization, the idea of "giving back'' is the foundation upon which Sarasota Architectural Salvage is built. It may look like a junkyard from the outside -- but every diamond in the rough is worth a little digging.

Jessi Smith, a native Floridian, is a freelance writer who lives and works in downtown Sarasota. When she isn't writing about local arts and culture, she can generally be found practicing yoga or drinking craft beers and talking about her magnificent cat. Jessi received her bachelor's degree in art history from Florida International University and, predictably, perpetually smells of patchouli.. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.