One of the things that we have the privilege of enjoying by owning an old home is the adventure of searching through salvage yards for items that "work" with the age and style of our home. When many people visit salvage yards, they are looking for something cool and old that they can use as a re-purposed decorative piece for their home to become a focal point of a room or provide some unique visual interest. Perhaps an old window sash that can be hung on the wall, an old door that can become a headboard, or door hardware that can turn into something like a towel hook or coat rack. 

(photo credit: Prince of Petworth)

When Alex and I go to salvage yards, we're often looking for old windows, doors, or hardware that match the style of our house. We have a specific age, construction, or look we're trying to establish. We want most of our salvage yard finds to blend in with our house and look like they've been there since the house was built, and sometimes we'll spend years searching for an item before persistence meets luck, and we find it. 

A significant feature of our vestibule/curb appeal overhaul involves the need to reconfigure the entryway doors. When the vestibule was "renovated" in the 1980s, the main entry door was moved to the outside entry of the house, and double doors were placed where the original front door resided. This change caused several problems with our entryway:

  • The loss of a vestibule where you can get out of the weather when keying into the house.
  • The new front door couldn't open fully because it was larger than the vestibule, causing a tight space to be even tighter (we can't even get a pizza box through the front door without turning it a bit on it's side).
  • The loss of visual interest and dimension on the front of the house, hurting the overall curb appeal of our home.

Where there once was a single door on the outer opening, and double doors on the inner opening, we had always hoped to bring back a more functional and more historically appropriate configuration. To accomplish this, we need to reverse what's currently in place. 

Though we could have had doors built to tackle this project, this just isn't the Wendy & Alex way. Instead, we decided to start at our favorite Washington, D.C. salvage yard, The Brass Knob's Back Doors Warehouse. We knew the search could be long, but we hoped the salvage gods might smile upon us.

(photo credit: Prince of Petworth)

Unfortunately for our future salvage yard adventures, the Brass Knob's Back Doors Warehouse closed this spring. We've found so many great doors and architectural items from them over the years, they will surely be missed by many.

The Back Doors Warehouse was always one of the better salvage yards. Typically fairly organized (as far as salvage yards go) and with very helpful staff that were always willing to make a good deal, Alex and I walked in with our game plan. On the day we were searching for our new front doors, we used our typical approach to a salvage situation, sort of a "clueless cop (me), quiet cop (Alex)" approach.

I'm the negotiator in our partnership. I love a bargain and I'm not shy about asking for one. However, Alex doesn't have a poker face or the ability/desire/guts to get a good deal going, but he knows exactly what we are looking for. If we were to leave it up to Alex, he would find what we need, start dancing around, gush to the owner about how long we've been looking for this item, and then blurt out "How much do you want for it??!" I can only imagine that the answer would be "How much ya got?"

Instead, Alex typically searches for and finds what we need, gets my approval on the item, then I take over with my bargain queen negotiating while Alex continues looking for stuff that might interest him in another part of the store. It is an effective tactic that tends to get us what we need while keeping the price as low as possible.

The salvage gods must have been happy on this particular day, as we were quite lucky in our front door search. We walked in, found the exterior doors section of the store, and quickly found a door that looked like it would fit perfectly on our home. The door we found was a thick maple exterior door that was about the right size for the opening and in relatively good shape. The age, style, and construction of the door was probably from the 1880s, and the large orange X spray painted on the front told us that it was most likely removed during a renovation, so there is a good chance it hadn't been sitting and warping in some basement.

With the new entry door established, our focus then turned to the new exterior double doors. We knew we wanted true divided light doors with multiple panes of glass, but the specific size proved difficult to find over the years. While Alex was looking through other doors, I found these two beauties sitting off to the side of the door section.

These "doors" were actually side lights to a house's front door, but the height, width, and thickness were nearly perfect for our needs. Besides, through years of searching, this was the closest we had come to a good set of doors for this application. I talked it over with Alex because he would need to do some serious alterations, but he felt like he could add a little here, remove a little there, replace the glass, fill all of the holes, cuts, and dents, and turn these two side lights into honest to goodness double doors for our house. 

With the items pulled aside, and Alex accepting the challenge to turn these items into our new doors, it was now up to me to get the best bargain possible. Since I'm assuming you are a friend and loyal reader, I'm willing to share my secrets for getting the best deal at salvage yards. 

It's a rather simple process to follow, but you have to follow it through to the end.  

  1. Make a mental note of flaws in the items.
  2. Find at least one other item you want to purchase.
  3. Establish a baseline price for item one.
  4. Ask for a discount on item one due to the flaws.
  5. Walk to item two.
  6. Establish a baseline price for item two.
  7. Ask for a discount due to the flaws.
  8. Act wishy washy on all items.
  9. Ask for a multi item-discount if you buy both items.
  10. Ask for another discount because of the flaws (it never hurts to ask).

For these doors, the whole event went down almost perfectly based on my steps above. 

Although the exterior door we chose was largely in good shape, it wasn't completely square, the joints had begun failing and the side rails of the door were pulling away. Sure, the paint was also peeling, but you can't hold that against a salvage door, that's par for the course. So I noted the problems on door number one.

The double doors were in worse shape and had more obvious issues. Primarily, several of the panes of glass had been smashed or cracked. This didn't really bother us at all because we plan on replacing all of the glass with antique or salvaged wavy, but it was great leverage for bargaining.

With the flaws noted, we were also fulfilling the multi-item rule by selecting both doors. Although we had to have these doors, I had to approach the store's owner in a way that would make him feel like we were just browsing and could buy the items or leave them, so I began the delicate balance between being nonchalant and  "clueless shopper." I walked up to the cashier/owner and said something like, "I found a door over there that I'd like a little information on, can you take a look at it with me? I think it might look cute in our house, but I'm not totally sure." 

When we got to the door, I had the salesman establish the baseline price for the entry door. This turned out to be $300. At that point, I hemmed and hawed a bit and said, "man, that's a lot given all of the issues I see." Then I pointed out the cracks, seperated joints, and any other flaws or problems I noted earlier. That knocked the price down about $50.

After we had our discounted price, I let them know that I wasn't totally set on this item, but was possibly interested in something else. We started towards the double glass doors we had picked out and I said, "I saw two glass doors over on the other side of the store, can we take a look at those?" On the walk over to the other doors, I let on a bit about the project, but in a very ambiguous way. "We're looking for a new door for our house, but I'm not totally sure about the style or size of door we looking for...Is it hard to put an old door into a different door's opening?" 

By the time we got to the next door, their focus was probably a lot more on why the foolish blonde was trying to buy this door than what sort of price they should be offering. I then repeat the same steps for this item. Baseline price, point out flaws (broken glass), and then act wishy washy on the whole purchase and question if they will even work for our needs (knowing full well they are perfect). Our baseline price for these was $100 per door. That price dropped to $75 per door once I noted all of the broken glass and the extensive need for work.

Also, it doesn't hurt to publicly question your spouse's ability to fix something in such terrible shape. (Luckily Alex is in on my strategy, but to the common observer it may look like a rerun of a bad Jon and Kate Plus 8 episode.) Something along the lines of  "Honey, are you really sure you could make this work? I don't know, they look pretty rough. Shouldn't we just buy a new one?" 

Once we had the basic individual prices defined, I dropped the multi-item line. "Ok, what if I bought both the first door I showed you and these two side lights?" The multiple items typically knocks another 10%-15% off of the total price. In this case, the total original asking price would have been $500 for all three items, but with a damaged aspects pointed out, and the multi-item discount, we were down to $300 total.

Then, in a last ditch effort I said, "That much, even with all of this damage? I mean, the first door is falling apart and the second door's glass is all smashed." In the case of this purchase, they knocked off another $20 to bring our total down to $280. 

The end result of my bargaining-- $220 of savings over an original price of $500. Not too shabby! Including delivery to our house, the total ended up at $330. For a solid front door, and two divided light double doors, there is almost no way to beat it. And the cherry on the sundae that day was that Alex, as I was checking out, spotted a hinge that is a perfect match to those on our front door. I asked if they would throw it in for free, and they nicely obliged. Score!

So, there you have it, the story of our new front door purchase and the secret bargaining techniques for getting the best possible price. Trust me, nothing sweetens a job well done more than knowing that you got the absolute best price on your purchase. We knew we would have our work cut out for us on these doors, but we were off to a great start. 

Over the last several months, Alex has started to take apart the doors while mentally preparing to strip, trim, square, re-glaze, and secure the joints of the doors, and I've been researching paint colors that we will use. But we do this with the knowledge that our cost savings has easily paid for all of the paint stripper and paint for the doors, and maybe even the new hardware. I'm so excited for the day that we'll key into our home's new front doors for the first time. Plus, the new configuration will give me new holiday decorating opportunities come Halloween. Does it get any better than this? 

Do you visit salvage yards and search for good deals? How are your bargaining skills? Have any tips or tricks you use to get the best prices? 

Comments 8


6/21/2011 at 2:27 PM
Oh how I miss the Brass Knob warehouse. Closed right as we were ramping up our work. Any other salvage places you'd recommend, other than Community Forklift? (They ended up with a bunch of the BK stock when they closed — we go there all the time.)
We really like 2nd chance inc up in Baltimore. They have a huge inventory. Beyond that, there are places in Richmond, Leesburg, and lots up in Philly.

We need to swing by Community Forklift to try to find some old growth wood to build out the side of the door a bit. I'll be my first trip to that store.
Kelly Wagner Amen
6/22/2011 at 11:04 AM
You are the master! I will have to take notes, as I'm usually the dummy displaying entirely too much eagerness at the purchase. Someday ask Dave how I almost botched our last car purchase.
6/25/2011 at 12:29 PM
(Sooth from OldHouseWeb)

Loved reading this, and loved the "cluless blonde" act. You are truly an expert haggler *bows before you*

2/5/2012 at 4:02 AM
If all their customers were so good at negotiating, perhaps that's why they closed? :) Seriously, though, our life has been the stairs first, now trying to find period replacements for the hollow core (!) doors that our downstairs is full of.

We found a nice divided light one, but it was two inches too short. Have you successfully been able to add height to a salvaged door?
Hahaha. Yep, maybe that's why they didn't make it. :-)

Yes, we've had great success adding height to a salvaged door. Check out this post where we explain how we "grew" our new front door.
2/5/2012 at 2:13 PM
Thanks - I was up until 3 AM reading all of your posts--my husband thinks I'm crazy; HOWEVER now we will go buy that door that was 2" too short yesterday! My bro-in-law is a fine carpenter so we may outsource the job as all our tools are still in storage.
We're flattered, thank you. Now get some sleep you crazy lady! ;-) Good luck with your door project. Let us know how it goes!
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