“As I found pieces of furniture, it sculpted my plans,” she says of the variety of “finds” she made at salvage yards and shops around the state that molded her home into the jewel it is today. “It drives your colors and all of your decisions.”
But where do you go to find such important pieces of inspiration? A friend recommended Joe's Old House Salvage in Piedmont, SC, which proved to be a huge treasure trove. One of Ms. Craven’s early tasks was sourcing wood for the home’s interior. At Joe’s, Ms. Craven sorted through piles upon piles of salvage, discovering sturdy 14-foot boards. In a true labor of love, she hauled them up to Caesars Head and began thoroughly cleaning them, stripping away the years of dirt and grime. Gleaming, they are now the wallboards in her cozy kitchen and den. All of her floors are also salvage. For the floorboards, Ms. Craven thoroughly cleaned more of her stock, but stopped short of stripping off all of the old paint. The colorful remnants seem to literally ground the home in its history. “They are all so old – they came out of homes all over the place,” says Ms. Craven. Today, however, in their patchwork design, they seem serendipitously meant to be. Their remnants of paint even guided many of the colors in the home – taupe, yellow, okra, dark salmon and chocolate brown.
And what about mixing in new materials - such as wood - with the old? Ms. Craven has a tip. “We found that if you take vinegar and steel wool to a new board and rub it on and off, it will look old.” With this trick, new beams blend seamlessly with the patina of the old in Ms. Craven’s mountain abode.
One of Ms. Craven’s other most successful salvage endeavors was sourcing nearly all of her interior and exterior doors. An old screen door found new life as the door for her kitchen pantry. Upstairs, barn doors were used in place of pocket doors, which not only is adds visual appeal and interest, but is more convenient, as they do not interfere with electrical wiring in the way that pocket doors do. There are also several old pine doors upstairs.
Outside, all of Ms. Craven’s exterior doors are salvage except for one new set of French doors. She was able to find a set of three matching doors at Carolina Salvage in Charleston – each was cleaned up and refitted with new glass and weatherstripping, making them completely airtight. One of the three is even a Dutch door, which is sentimental for the homeowner, and now opens onto the side porch.
All of the doorframes, inside and out, were also custom built around each door for a perfect, tight fit. It’s just another example of the unparalleled customization found in Ms. Craven’s home.
Wood, however, is not the only treasure to be unearthed at salvage yards. At Joe’s Old House Salvage, Ms. Craven also found a variety of items including a claw foot tub, door hardware and an old chicken haul that was transformed into a powder room vanity. Old furniture was cleaned and outfitted with new gleaming sinks and fixtures. Old Charleston ceiling tiles, hanging on the walls as the backsplash, bring a touch of Ms. Craven’s Lowcountry home to the Upstate. In the kitchen, instead of kitchen cabinets, Ms. Craven utilizes a collection of old furniture pieces. With each find that was cleaned up and installed, the house became an increasingly customized piece of art.
Another advantage of the finds is that many carry stories with them as old as their bones. Outside, a charming lamppost with a glitzy past heralds visitors to the home. “My dad found it 35 years ago,” says Ms. Craven, “and it’s from the Plantation Supper Club in Greensboro.” After its time at the famed Supper Club, visited by the likes of Tony Curtis, now it’s a sentinel affixed with a daylight photosensor, watching over curious bears roaming about at night. “Most builders would not figure out how to rework this,” applauds Ms. Craven, but fortunately hers did.
When building a home that requires this much customization and ingenuity, putting together a team of like-minded individuals – of problem solvers – is key. After purchasing the homesite, Ms. Craven set to work with her architect and friend, Beau Clowney. Finding the right builder proved a little more difficult. “In life if you are pushing, pushing and pushing and getting resistance, then you need to make a change,” Ms. Craven advises, remembering her search for the perfect builder. Fortunately, patience prevailed, and she finally found Mark Tooley of Mountain Place Builders. He was excited and enthusiastic about the project, and proved to be the perfect team player. “Everything was serendipitous, says Ms. Craven. “You need artisans that can build and see your vision, so that your ideas are not lost in translation.”
Despite the precise customization and extensive craftsmanship, Ms. Craven found that the entire construction endeavor was no more expensive than a typical home. The money she saved buying salvage and antiques easily compensated for the additional labor that was required to rework them. “I believe more people would build this way if they were aware of the products and affordable artisans that actually have the skills to do the work and do it well,” she says. “They did an amazing job using a variety of materials that on the surface did not look as if they should go together and created a real wonderful finished product.”
It’s important to note that Ms. Craven’s support of local artisans and shops is an integral part of green building. Her ingenious shopping and sourcing, which took place primarily in the Upstate near her new home, prevented the environmental toll of shipping in building supplies and furniture from across the country.
Additionally, with all of the scavenging through shops and yards and collections of furniture that were gathered, Ms. Craven still succeeded in having practically no scrap leftover at the end of the project. “We were very conservative, and in the whole house there was very little waste,” claims Ms. Craven. What was left was shared with workers, or crafted into a woodpile house, which Ms. Craven notably undertook all by herself.
Also outside, rain barrels capture rainwater to irrigate the yard. Faced with low water levels in the area, Ms. Craven has even used the rainwater to flush her toilets. Next up is a compost pile.
While Ms. Craven did not put her home through the LEED certification process, when she sat down with her builder, Mr. Tooley, to review the qualifications, they figured the home would have ranked as Silver in the LEED hierarchy. What cannot be disputed, however, is that this talented team created a charming and sustainable home that truly celebrates local craftsmanship. “I was so blessed to have them doing this,” says Ms. Craven. The hundreds of rescued home remnants that found new life in her home are no doubt just as fortunate.