Established in 2003 by Carolyn Moser, the nonprofit originally focused on architectural preservation. After Moser died, the second executive director refocused the nonprofit’s mission on employment and job training. Today, all of those priorities, plus the ecological angle, are key elements of Architectural Salvage’s mission.
Current Executive Director Chris Rutherford took over in 2013, having previously founded a nonprofit with a similar vision, Reclaim Detroit.
Rutherford’s background is in interior design, and when he first started looking at blighted properties, he saw many possibilities for the wood and thought there were many opportunities to reuse that lumber.
Before Rutherford came on board at Architectural Salvage, the nonprofit focused more on removing kitchens and bathrooms and re-selling cabinets and appliances and less on lumber and other building materials.
“When I took over, we started focusing on full building removal again,” Rutherford said.
The nonprofit now sells lumber, joists and timbers from deconstructed houses that can be made into decorative features or re-manufactured into furniture or wall finish.
“We work with architects and designers to make sure our materials meet their specifications and that there’s a big enough supply to meet their needs,” he said. “Our goal is to divert waste from landfills, create jobs, do job training and create economic opportunities.”
Rutherford gave an example of a building being deconstructed and its materials reused.
“There’s a beer store that’s based in Ferndale and expanding into Detroit. We salvaged the old bar from the Agave restaurant that’s now HopCat, and rebuilt it into a new bar for the 8 Degrees Plato beer store. The whole cash register area is built out of old doors,” he said.
Rutherford referred to Architectural Salvage as “a lot of businesses under one roof,” combining a retail sales component, a wholesale component, custom millwork, construction and fabrication of new furniture and materials from old wood, and a deconstruction and removal team.
“When you demolish a house, it takes two guys half a day. With deconstruction, you employ six guys for six weeks. Then there’s the warehouse where the materials are processed and maybe built into furniture and re-sold from the furniture sales room. That’s more employment and more economic multipliers,” Rutherford said.
He said local leaders had a hard time seeing the value in deconstruction as opposed to demolition when the nonprofit was established, but now there’s a “robust market” for these second-hand materials.
“It was crazy to us in the beginning how much resistance there was to being able to deconstruct rather than demolish a building,” Ruther ford said. “It boiled down to misunderstandings by decision-makers.”
The nonprofit held a deconstruction summit, invited architects, politicians and other important people from different municipalities, found out what their objections were and addressed them.
“We had to get across the message that we were professionals doing a professional job, that we could handle the abatement work and utility clearances,” Ruther ford said. “We showed them our credentials and our expertise and how it could be accomplished in a reasonable timeline. We certainly started to change their perspectives.”
Rutherford said that once people really understand the deconstruction process, it’s an easy sell.
“Say a homeowner is taking down a house to build a new one. Instead of all the material being crunched up and put into a landfill, they can get a deduction on their taxes, we get to save that material, and everyone wins,” he said.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance editor and writer in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.