Salvage chic

  • Article by: KIM YEAGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2009 - 5:43 PM

Teresa DeJarlais combined her love of all things French and a reverence for architectural salvage to renovate her Buffalo apartment in a 1902 building.

Teresa DeJarlais sees beauty where others see junk.

French flea-market finds populate her home-furnishings and decor shop in Buffalo, Minn. But she unearthed many of her pieces much closer to home -- from musty estate sales and curbside junk piles. If DeJarlais had a mantra, it would be "Refurbish, reupholster and resurrect." She practices all three in her business, the Porch and Atelier, and at her home.

Both share space on Central Avenue in Buffalo's former post office building, built in 1902.

"I love an unexpected look, and I have a respect for something that has come before us and has some history," DeJarlais said of her apartment, which sits atop her two-story shop. "It's probably not a look for everyone; it's very eclectic. It feels right to me, especially in a setting like this."

DeJarlais began renovating the 1,200-square-foot apartment she shares with her sister Jeanne on Thanksgiving Day of last year. By winter's end, she'd reworked the space from ceiling -- exposing original 13-foot heights -- to floor.

And she reused as much as she could, installing salvage materials wherever possible.

DeJarlais repurposed all two dozen rafters removed from the false ceiling. Two of them -- joined, planed, stained and sealed -- found new life as a kitchen counter. Others were returned to the ceiling as exposed panels above the molding or were used for kitchen cabinets.

Many of DeJarlais' salvage success stories intersect at the apartment's entryway. "These arched pieces around the room are actually some kind of heavy plastic; I think from the '50s or '60s."

She continued, "I bought them in a pile from a shop up in Litchfield and they actually sat in this room, just stacked and waiting, for about two years." She recalled the provenance of each item: Columns from the Medina flea market. A double header from a set of French doors in Duluth. Old trim from a sale in Stillwater. An arched, leaded-glass window, $50, "from an estate sale somewhere in the metro."

The window peers into the living room and floods the entryway with light. DeJarlais called it "one of the must-dos" of the renovation. A similar treatment using a Moroccan gate inspired DeJarlais on her first trip to Angers, France, in 1997.

Better off used

Her aesthetic pays homage not only to her love of the Loire Valley (10 trips in 12 years) but also to the idea that gently used is better than new. If it isn't perfect, she noted, "it can't be ruined."

Expansive, 6 1/2-foot-high living-room windows now reveal their original box trim, although DeJarlais said with a laugh, "everyone wants to know, 'Aren't you going to do something to those?' I think they mean add a cove molding or something, but I love the look of the original boxes with eyebrows." That's also why she's left plaster and lath exposed where the ceilings have been opened.

The furnishings are all salvaged, too, with one exception: The pine entryway cupboard, bought from Gabberts in 1993. "Since then, I've just basically sold things [I had purchased new] as I've collected, and when I look around it's like, 'Wow, everything is secondhand!'" (DeJarlais couldn't leave that cupboard alone, though; she's painted it twice, including in the current Dove Wing, Benjamin Moore, OC-18.)

Her bedroom headboard is built from a sofa back, the bed's bench from a curved footboard. An 18-drawer oak filing case serves as a living room end table. She glued vintage half-inch mirror tiles to form a border in the bathroom. Even her living room daybed, purchased from an upholsterer, was constructed from mix-and-match parts. Most of the kitchen cabinets, pantry and fridge surround are built from salvaged doors. All of the materials on the kitchen island are reclaimed, DeJarlais said, including the granite. The salvaged slab and rebuilt cabinet cost $599, which she said is her most expensive furnishing.

Saving money was important. DeJarlais said she spent $650 on paint and supplies, including a few new pine boards; the only other cost was labor.

DeJarlais worked alongside carpenter Ted Thompson and her nephew, Alan Bialon, both of whom build furniture from salvage for her shop. But help came from many quarters: a cadre of family members; a friend with a heat gun who removed paper linoleum backing on his hands and knees; Thompson's young sons, Gabe and Addison, who hauled out plaster during their winter break.

The snug apartment feels French with nary a fleur de lis in sight: Pots of herbs and boxwood flourish. Textile-lined baskets store spices and other sundries. Supplies are hidden on shelves beneath the kitchen sink and a living-room table, each neatly skirted with folds of hemp-like linen, purchased from another occasional dealer. Much of the cabinet and window hardware is from the Angers market, and DeJarlais has salvaged three different bling-y chandeliers and a lantern.

Piece of history

DeJarlais relishes not only the building's history -- it served as the Purity Dairy and Creamery, among other incarnations -- but that of her journey, as well. DeJarlais fell into the junking business naturally, prowling estate sales and flea markets with another sister, Mary, most Sundays for years. She held annual sales in her former Elk River homes, eventually securing a dealer's spot at Second Hand Rose, Buffalo's founding occasional sale. DeJarlais said owner Rosalie Darden mentored her, encouraging her to locate a shop of her own in the old post office. DeJarlais eventually purchased the building in 2004, blending her business and home with special events on the Atelier level. The annual April in Paris brunch and tea, set for the 18th, this year includes a tour of her renovation. (Tickets are $22; call 763-684-1254.)

DeJarlais savors what she's built, enjoying the views of Buffalo Lake from her third-floor aerie.

She enjoys the sounds, too, she said. "There are times when I actually wake up in the mornings, and it's a busy street out here and I hear the traffic, and it actually reminds me of waking up in France."

Kim Yeager • 612-673-4899

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