Once a year I try to find time to do something related to the windows in my own house. This year I rejuvenated my front door and side window.
It was not just new paint. Look closely at the glass in the “before” photo. Three of the panes in the door and one in the side window were modern versions of flemish but I was able to have those replaced with original large flemish – it’s handy when you have your own supply! To me this was the most satisfying part of the project. Some people might refer to this glass as “deep flemish” and it can be identified by a characteristic “two finger” partial imprint.
As always I was meticulous with my paintwork method but preparation for glazing is important as well. I got a professional glazier to replace the glass. He spent at least an hour properly hacking/grinding out the old putty. This enables an easier fit. You might be surprised to know I’ve rarely done any of my own glazing. I like everything to be done properly which means if I start learning the associated techniques of a craft I start obsessing and spend far too long on the job – so I have stayed well clear of glazing!
I very much appreciate interesting textured glass regardless of whether it is stained – partly because I know how difficult it is to source the original in a decent cut size!
This is what Jody did with a pair of sunbursts I sent to her in Lake Bruin, Louisiana. What I like about her photo is the “round” theme. Jody has changed the orientation from their original horizontal in situ…
It never ceases to amaze me what ideas customers will come up with and is one of the reasons why I trade in this “junk”. These sunrays were very popular. You might want to look in my art deco category for more sunrays.
Mimi recently bought some leaded lights from me, and sent me photos of their new location.
This is my favourite customer photo of those I’ve received so far this year. While I like all the photos people send me demonstrating how they use my glass in their homes (click here for the gallery), I appreciate these as they show it being reused in a public space. I particularly like this one as it captures movement in more ways than one.
Mimi bought all of these, frameless, from my 201mm – 499mm length (8 inch – 19 inch) category and her husband made the frames. The sleek white outlines sure do stand-out to attract passing trade. This is a new business idea which the couple are exploring. You can buy these as well as coffee at Cafe Leila!
I get bored sitting in cafes and restaurants which only have expensive paintings on the walls whether classical or abstract. It frustrates me that more people don’t have the imagination to use architectural salvage as art.
Incidentally I still have two more of the purple background leaded lights from the same set as featured in Mimi’s photos.
In the first week of December 2021 I went to Los Angeles. For the last two years there has never seemed like a good time so I thought what the hell!
For the last 6 years I have felt a stronger connection to the USA as about half of my sales are to that country. This trip was mainly to see family but I never travel far without including some business. I met with one of my trade customers. It was somewhat of a surreal experience to physically see my stock for sale in another country. It gives me so much pleasure to know I have rescued something and sent it to the other side of the world where I can be sure there are people who care enough to reuse it.
I am already scheming another trip to the USA for the autumn (fall!) of 2022 which will primarily be to meet customers; in doing so I am interested to visit parts of the USA I have never been to before. Nothing is set in stone but I am thinking of arriving east coast, possibly Philadelphia. I have a customer in New Jersey so I plan to drive there from PA.
Let me know if you’re interested in a USA meeting? Perhaps you have already bought from me but thinking of buying in bulk, commissioning a bespoke piece or have not bought anything. Whatever you are looking for, sometimes its good to meet in person as I appreciate ordering valuable glass from across the Atlantic is not something you consider lightly!
I have never acquired so many large cuts of hammered from one set before! While hammered glass was commonly used, finding it in a “decent cut size” is another matter. It’s finds like this which remind me why I get a buzz out of this trade. Most people would look at old windows like these and assume no value given there’s no stained glass. It’s like a well kept secret.
One of my regular trade customers from the USA recently confirmed safe delivery of another big shipment. It was for 57 framed leaded lights and 24 frameless. I will always give a discount if someone is buying in this sort of quantity. On this occasion the treasure was sent in three crates. Here I will explain how such a shipment is put together. First I have to work out the size of the crate(s) before I can obtain a price from the manufacturer and the cost of carriage from the shipping company.
Whether the customer has selected individual items or a set from my trade category, I will provide a fully itemised packing list. Not only does this assist me and the buyer but it can be used should customs take an interest or in the unlikely event there is an insurance claim. There is a column for “condition” so that there can be no misunderstanding, given that the item listing on my website may be deleted after purchase.
All that involves a fair bit of time before I physically start the packaging process. Once the crates arrive I will pad with 50mm thick polysterene all round.
The great thing about buying toplights is that they are roughly the same size, which helps for streamlining the packaging. As they are already framed there is already some protection and so they don’t need padding in addition to the lining of the crate.
If you are still reading, here comes the really interesting bit! Despite all my planning it usually happens that there will be some empty space. I then offer to sell more to the customer. I will already have discounted for the original selection, I don’t offer a discount on any additional items but do not charge anything extra for the shipping. It will typically be small frameless pieces as these fit into the various nooks and crannies between the framed pieces.
Everything is double-checked. First when it is retrieved from storage and then when put in the crate.
Just in case the external address labels become detached there is another inside.
Many people assume that I have an abundance of space. That is understandable given the quantity of stock listed on my website – some even ask if they can visit a “yard” which I don’t have. I thought here I would explain the realities of dealing architectural salvage in one of the world’s most expensive cities for real estate. Also why I operate exclusively as an internet order business offering only delivery or “click and collect”.
Like in any of the London Boroughs, whenever I see an empty old industrial building in Harrow, which I think would be suitable for my business (and possibly affordable), it is soon replaced with flats.
People admire my range of stock but few appreciate how much space is needed for storage let alone suitable space to offer a browsing experience. I am often given the helpful suggestion that I should build a shed at the bottom of my garden. Of course I am lucky to have a garden but even if I were to let the public wonder into the back of my house it would not be big enough.
I understand that with the demise of the high street and online shopping being the default there is a demand for consumers to have an “experience”. Unfortunately there is no way I can afford to hire a modern industrial warehouse in Harrow to accommodate this. As you can see from the above photo of one of my storage rooms, for health and safety reasons these spaces are not appropriate for visitors.
Classic TV comedy
A romantic perception of Londoners dealing in salvage is derived through television. This starts with the 1960s – 70s BBC sitcom Steptoe & Son in which, an eccentric father and son double-act live at their yard making a living as a rag-and-bone-man business. The perfect device for farce as situations arise from their dealing in unusual items. How wonderful to have a “yard” that big in the suburbs of West London where members of the public can just turn up. They do so unannounced which is of course a dramatic tool but not practical when operating a modern business staffed by one person. I need an Albert Steptoe but my father, while supportive, does not share a passion for dealing in other people’s rubbish.
Harrow is a bit further out from where Steptoe was fictitiously set in Shepherd’s Bush. I think it ironic that the old BBC Television Centre has been converted mostly into luxury flats as Steptoe & Son lived nearby and the episodes were recorded at those studios.
In the 1980s Only Fools and Horses depicted another pair of London traders who lived close to the breadline. One of the comic principles is that they have even less space than me. Trotters Independent Traders (TIT) was based in a high rise council flat. With no internet this would have made the logistics of trade completely unviable but this vital aspect of a small business operation is glossed over. As a long-term fan I cannot recall a scene where someone actually buys a physical product within the flat! I can relate to the absurdity as a trader having stock in your lounge. There are times when it is not funny as we all need to be able to switch off from work. Recently many more people are working from home but at least they can put their work away by merely folding down the laptop.
Getting around London
Like all London based wheeler-dealers one must have an iconic form of transport. I have a 25 year old Japanese import Toyota Lucida which I bought years ago for £900. It is starting to look odd among other vehicles. But I don’t care. It is fantastic for zipping around London and large enough to collect whatever I want in one day’s travel. Suffice to say it is not ULEZ compliant so that’s another cost I have to absorb given I am in London. I hire vans for occasional collection trips across Britain. Even if I could afford a new large van, where would I park it? There is no way I am discarding a reliable automatic vehicle of this size but its full merits are probably the topic of another post.
My internet research leads me to conclude there are no generic architectural salvage “yards” in London where you can just turn up and rummage through a pile of unsorted “stuff”. No one in this city has time or space to hold onto a variety of goods which come under this generic term. Even if they did I don’t know how this model would be financially viable. A Google search will direct you to interesting looking London businesses which make reference to the key words “architectural salvage” but looking past the glossy homepage photos they, like me, tend to specialise. Doors, flooring and furniture being the main offerings. They tend to offer a service in addition to products, examples being fireplace restoration and interior design. They lure people in with fantastic photos of architectural salvage but, like me, also offer a bespoke service as the reality is you will not find what you are looking for if you cannot be flexible with size.
I just deal in window glass partly since people know to come to me for that. It has always appealed to me because, while it can be large and extravagant, it is a compact product and thus relatively easy to package (see my examples). The storage of items such as cast iron bath tubs, furniture, shop fittings, flooring, railings, etc is one thing – it also requires at least two people to handle. Obviously staffing is the greatest cost for any small business.
All the large antique and collectible dealers I know of are based somewhere rural where space is affordable. In a post Covid e-commerce world it does not matter where in Britain you are based just so long as the major parcel courier companies are prepared to collect from you. Another traditional format of British architectural salvage trade is (was?) the huge international fairs. I have only been to one in my life. The idea of paying astronomical pitch fees to lug a van load of goods to a wet field for a 5am start never appealed to me. How are the international buyers going to buy now? It will be interesting to see.
The website experience
Browsing a website might be a static experience but it is a practical way of finding things quickly and Ebay is another reason why there are no one stop-shop “architectural salvage yards” in London. I still try to offer an experience through my website. It is not just about selling. There is this blog, an ever growing gallery of customer reuse ideas and in my listings I try to tell a story of the item’s past (see this example). The website also has a basic archive of sold items. In time I intend to develop this as a resource for 20th century domestic stained glass history as certain patterns and glass were uniquely used in particular areas of England. If I have bought directly from a homeowner then I have logged the address – in time it could be a proper archive searchable by geography as well as pattern and glass type.
Why don’t I sell up and move away?
There are of course advantages to being in London. There is the customer footfall. I am a very short walk from an underground station but for many items I advise people not to collect using public transport. Again people have a misconception of how large and heavy architectural salvage is (and glass is fragile!).
I would love to sell up and move to an old farm which I can repurpose somewhere near the M25 or M1 but I stumbled upon this trade by accident. With a still young family there is no way we can uproot and I don’t want to commute.
Of course there is speculation that with the sudden decrease in the use of central London office space these buildings will need to be repurposed. That is the same for my local high street, but anyone dealing in architectural salvage needs parking space for themselves and their customers. London is not motorist friendly (not that I am saying it should be). As pretty as my stock is I need people to be able to take it away!
I have not written this blog post as a complaint. I am simply trying to explain why I operate the way I do. Since the pandemic I have set up a “click and collect” procedure which means customers don’t have contact with anyone at the place of pick-up. It seems to work conveniently given the restrictions on my time, so I am doing that permanently. But who can tell what will happen in the future. I am going to finish with some wise words from Steptoe & Son. I was partly prompted to write this post as one of my regular customers referred to himself as Albert Steptoe but declined to provide a photo of himself in costume! In researching I have started watching every episode from the beginning with my eleven year old son who, I was surprised to find, enjoys it. I noted this bit of transcript from episode 5, “The Diploma” first broadcast on 5th July 1962:
Harold: What you don’t realise is that the future of the rag and bone businessis dependent on the total economy of the overall condition of the country as a whole.
Harold: You didn’t realise that, did you? I mean, you don’t read the Financial Times.
Albert: What’s that got to do with it?
Harold: You’ve got to know what it’s all about, you’ve got to keep abreastof current events, you’ve got to know what’s going on in this world.I mean what do you know about the Common Market?
Albert: Well, it ain’t around here, I can tell you that!I know all the markets around here and it ain’t around here.
Harold: Oh, you ignorant old man!Oh, it makes you want to weep, straight it does.It’s been in the papers every day, they’re going to ask you to vote as to whether we go in or not.What’s the point of them asking you, you think it’s a row of stalls up and alleyway.
Albert: What is it, if you’re so clever?
Harold: I’ll tell you what it is, the Common Market is Europeall getting together and flogging things to each other.
Albert: We do that now.What about that bloke that comes round every week with the onions?
Harold: That’s different!You mark my words, the Common Market’s going tomake a great deal of difference to the totting business.
Albert: How? Harold: Well, they can come and go as they please. you wait till they build this tunnel under the Channel, that’s what you’ve got to worry about…all them foreign rag and bone men, a great queue of horses and carts stretching under the Channel, pouring out at Dover, stripping the country of its junk!
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Sometimes when I’ve finished packaging an order for shipment I think to myself, this packaging is as much a work of art as the stained glass! This one I packaged for shipping to Ireland. I did have four of these multicoloured windows, there are two remaining. To view these please click here. For more examples […]
Once a year I try to find time to do something related to the windows in my own house. This year I rejuvenated my front door and side window. It was not just new paint. Look closely at the glass in the “before” photo. Three of the panes in the door and one in the […]
This is what Jody did with a pair of sunbursts I sent to her in Lake Bruin, Louisiana. What I like about her photo is the “round” theme. Jody has changed the orientation from their original horizontal in situ… It never ceases to amaze me what ideas customers will come up with and is one […]
Mimi recently bought some leaded lights from me, and sent me photos of their new location. This is my favourite customer photo of those I’ve received so far this year. While I like all the photos people send me demonstrating how they use my glass in their homes (click here for the gallery), I appreciate […]
In the first week of December 2021 I went to Los Angeles. For the last two years there has never seemed like a good time so I thought what the hell! For the last 6 years I have felt a stronger connection to the USA as about half of my sales are to that country. […]