News & Observer, By Emily Matchar
“In this fast-paced world we live in, where everything can feel so superficial sometimes, I think people begin to long for things from the past,” said Rex Bost, striding through the basement of his almost-finished home in Morrisville’s Preston golf community.
As a builder with more than 23 years experience constructing high-end houses in the Raleigh area, Bost is familiar with the latest trends in home design. One of the things that people are looking for now, he said, is the charm and detail of an old home with the modern layout and conveniences of a new one.
One increasingly popular way to add a sense of age and permanence to a new home is to incorporate architectural salvage directly into its construction. Architectural salvage, or antique home items, comprises doors, mantels, ironwork, columns, plumbing, lighting fixtures and glass removed from old houses.
Bost has incorporated a number of salvaged items and materials into his own house, a 7,429-square-foot Mediterranean-style villa that he and his family plan to move into following its appearance in the Wake County Parade of Homes.
In the home’s sun-drenched back living room, a pair of 200-year-old Asian teak doors conceals a wine closet. Bost designed the high-ceiling room to the scale of the doors, with a two-story window wall and hand-painted ceiling. He shored up the fragile doors with 1890s-era timber recovered from a Wilmington home destined for demolition.
The same timber, a deep brown wood known as heart pine, was used throughout the house, for display shelves, chair rails and a fireplace mantel.
In a guest bathroom, a hand-carved antique cabinet has been turned into a vanity by carving out a space for a bowl and running plumbing through the bottom. The whole cabinet was attached to a built-in backing made of similar-looking, but new wood.
To make the two pieces look like one, Bost called on Michelle Ishihara, a local painter who specializes in faux-finishes. Ishihara used several layers and colors of paint to make the wood appear aged, blending perfectly with the worn cabinet.
“That’s probably the origin of faux-finishing, trying to make something new match something old,” Ishihara said.
In Cary, antiques dealer Dori Witek was still putting the finishing touches on the décor of her new home. Also built by Bost, the Georgian-style house that she shares with her husband and two children is filled with antique architectural touches that reflect Witek’s affinity for all things old-fashioned.
“When you put old pieces into your home it’s one-of-a-kind,” she said. They have character and history… it adds a quality to a home.”
Witek had the door frame to the potting shed built to the specifications of a pair of green painted doors salvaged from a Virginia plantation. Discovered at the Raleigh flea market, the doors’ original hand-blown glass panes made them an especially unique find.
Also in the potting shed, an old French metal farm trough had been refashioned as a sink, with antiqued copper plumbing and a backsplash made from vintage tiles that Witek had collected over the years. An antique wooden drying rack hung from the ceiling, which Witek plans to use for drying herbs, completes the old-fashioned feel.
A pair of tall mahogany doors leading to the library was rescued from the back of a stranger’s pickup truck on the way to the dump. Witek bought the doors and had them refurbished with antique glass panels.
Antique glass is one of Witek’s favorite touches. She collects pieces of old leaded glass, which she used as interior windows throughout the house. “You can really enjoy it from both sides,” she said, of the intricately-patterned panes.
In the master bedroom, a built-in headboard had a former life as a fireplace mantle in a Pennsylvania farmhouse. Among the 200-year-old mantles’ many nicks and scrapes is an old bullet hold, which Witek had filled in.
“I love the uniqueness of it,” she said. “I think it’s because you can’t go in the furniture store and see three of these. It’s one of a kind.”
The closet doors in the bedroom were built of stripped pine from an old home in Raleigh’s Hayes Barton Historic District. “The warmth of the old wood makes the whole room feel antique,” Witek said.
Like Bost, Witek has strived to create an atmosphere where antique pieces blend in with the new. When choosing paint, she gravitated towards colors with names like “ancient marble” and “antique white.”
Touches of white headboard, used as the base for the kitchen island and as wainscoting in the bonus room, give a Victorian feel. Antique light fixtures are mixed with reproductions; only the most thorough examination would reveal which is which. A reproduction pedestal tub sits next to what looks like a boarded-over fireplace in the upstairs guest bathroom.
The “fireplace” is merely a whimsical touch, built to make the room look “like an added-on bathroom in an old house,” Witek said.
A history major in college, Witek loves to imagine what kind of past her antiques might have had. “You can sure make up some wonderful stories,” she said.
She feels that the trend of adding historical pieces to a home is a reaction to “a mass produced society.”
“It’s finding the simpler joy in something that was handmade long ago with a certain amount of pride.”