It began with the kitchen sink.

In 2002, Carolyn Curtin purchased her first home in Asbury Park.  Almost 100 years old, it was in rough shape and needed TLC.

“The house had beautiful details but the kitchen was non-existent,” said Curtin, founder of Salvage Angel, Central New Jersey’s largest architectural salvage resource.  “I wanted to restore the house to its original glory but I had a strict budget.  So I began searching for salvaged items.”

Etched brass queen-size headboard from Salvage Angel.

Etched brass queen-size headboard available at Salvage Angel.

Curtin visited countless sales, dumpster-dived and became friendly with the demolition crews for the city’s spectacular yet run-down properties.  While on the hunt for that perfect sink, her heart wouldn’t let her pass up many of the amazing architectural items she saw destined for dump yards.

Armed with a flashlight, crowbar, a hypnotizing mane of hair and the property owner’s permission, she scoured every structure within a 20 mile radius that was to be bulldozed.  On a first-name basis with local squatters, Curtin painstakingly removed columns, windows, and her favorite, doors and hardware.  Sixteen months later she found her sink, along the way saving countless architectural details that simply could not be replicated, despite Restoration Hardware, Rejuvenation and other brands’ best attempts.

“Salvage Angel grew from a personal need but I knew there had to be other people like me trying to truly restore their homes built in the early 1900’s,” said Curtin.  “I started getting wish lists from friends and neighbors and my hobby grew from architecture to include vintage furniture and home decor.”

Her work prompted local historian Helen-Chantal Pike to nick-name her “Salvage Angel.”

When the American aesthetic began to revolt against glowing, stark white linoleum contemporary design, a friend suggested she start sharing her artisan finds on Facebook.  With the help of her partner, Curtin’s hobby shifted to another level and businesses like Porta and Anthropologie, set designers and strangers from all over the northeast called for appointments to pursue her collections.

SDFSDF playground ride from Salvage Angel.

One of four Saddle Mates playground rides available at Salvage Angel.

“It’s very nostalgic for people when they come through my space,” said Curtin.  “They see a doorknob or dinette set and say it reminds them of their family or childhood.  It’s a warm, wonderful thing.”

With 7,000 engaged Facebook fans, Curtin is returning to Asbury Park and expanding to a 20,000 square foot former Canada Dry warehouse on the corner of Ridge and Washington Avenues. Consistent to her theme, she is reclaiming that forgotten block.

“We have the opportunity to showcase the best and most beautiful in salvage and vintage design here and promote Asbury while we are doing it,” said Curtin.  “I look at myself as a foster parent to a collection of beautiful pieces handmade by talents decades ago waiting for their forever home.  People come and stay for hours looking for memories and special treasures for their home.”

Her primary criteria for items in her collection are: quality, design and “the patina of time.”  Every curated piece speaks to the history of our country – a symbol of made in America craftsmanship.  Most of the architectural salvage was reclaimed from spectacular old mansions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York where there were a handful of dominant architects and aesthetics in the early 1900’s.

Salvage Angel has hundreds of thousands of pieces that make hearts palpitate like reclaimed lumber, moldings, custom made rugs, stained glass, lighting, plumbing fixtures, tile, furniture, nautical fixtures, art, bathtubs, copper mantles, 1930’s ranges and housewares.  But that list doesn’t nearly include all the surprise objects waiting for a creative brain to repurpose them like the set of perfectly rusted hydrolic car jacks, five-foot long anchor or the industrial scale weighing up to 5,000 pounds she acquired in the past month. Ninety percent of Salvage Angel’s items are pre-1980.

“My favorite pieces right now are the Saddle Mates vintage playground rides in the shapes of a toucan, whale, duck and horse and the Expand-O-Matic table,” said Curtin.  “I also love the metal-framed butcher block tables we saved from demolition.  And the eight foot fiberglass ice cream cone sign makes everyone smile when they walk past it.  The bigger, the chippier the heavier something is, the more excited I am about it.”

But she still can’t refuse a “fantastic” vintage percolator… or kitchen sink.

Salvage Angel is by appointment-only. for more.  To read The Coaster’s 2011 article about Salvage Angel, click here.