It is interesting to note how these antiques became available. There have been times in history when old structures have not been highly valued for their architectural or historical significance. (While every old building may not need to be saved, many excellent examples of their architectural style have been torn down for "progress"). Changing city demographics also contribute to the supply of architecturals. As living, shopping and entertainment districts have shifted from the downtown to suburban areas, many wonderful old theaters, apartment buildings and hotels were left to be torn down or restored for new functions.
One use of architecturals is to incorporate them into new or existing structures. Elements such as carved mantels and doors, iron staircases and balconies, and stained or leaded glass windows are often used as the inspiration for a building design. It is best to consult your builder, architect and/or designer on items where scale and mechanics are crucial to the project. When buying an item, look at the condition and add to the cost any restoration or adaptation that it may require and also any transportation costs.
A second use of architectural antiques is to incorporate them into a piece of furniture. A set of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired elevator grilles makes a dramatic and unique headboard in a master bedroom and become the focal point of the room. To have them newly made would have been cost prohibitive. Balcony grates with gilt accents make a dramatic coffee table when lit from above to cast ornate shadows on the floor. Glazed terra cotta fragments from a building exterior convert into one of a kind lamps.
Simply using fragments as art is another way of enjoying finely crafted and detailed pieces of a building. Using freestanding carved columns to flank a window or a grill hung above a console recognize them as being artfully made. And lighting them is as important as lighting a work of art.
To expand your knowledge of architecturals, there are several museums devoted to this often overlooked art form. Evan Blum in his book Irreplaceable Artifacts lists The Anonymous Arts Museum of Charlottesville, N.Y." as the only museum in the world devoted only to this subject. Most of the pieces are stone carvings rescued from demolished structures" Also, the Brooklyn Museum is "the first museum to actively exhibit exterior architectural details from demolished buildings. The Frienda Schiff Warburg Memorial Sculpture Garden houses over three hundred pieces in a tranquil, leafy environment." So the next time you're walking in downtown Nashville, look up at the details on our fine old buildings-who knows- some day you may have something like them hanging on your wall.
*Published in NFocus magazine in November 1998.