Blog, book review, Book Reviews

Reclaiming Style –using Salvage materials to create an elegant home

By Maria Speake & Adam Hills of Retrouvious. Words by  Hettie Judah and photography by Debbie Treloar Published by Rylands Peters and Small

Retrouvious was founded twenty years ago by partners Adam Hills and Maria Speake when they were studying architecture in Glasgow, it began as a way to help conserve the Victorian tenement buildings in the city’s reinvigorated West End. “My first eureka moment was when I realized that, because the West End of Glasgow is very homogenous architecturally, you could remove the doors and shutters and fireplaces from a building that Glasgow University was demolishing and use them in a building two or three streets away and they would fit, physically and historically,” explains Adam.

At the heart of the company is the belief that good materials and well-made things are precious; whether quarried stone or a piece of expert joinery, these objects were hard won and have an intrinsic value that argues for them to be reconditioned and intelligently reused. This book, so relevant to our time,  illustrates the principals on which the company was founded. That is to see the potential in things that might otherwise be discarded.

         Adam explains how important it is to choose the right builders to work on a job using salvaged materials. “Sometimes clients will come in wanting to use old wood, for example, then phone up sheepishly a week later saying that they can’t buy it

because their builder refuses to touch it. You definitely have to find someone who’s sympathetic to using it. Salvage is much harder work than just bunging in new stuff, and it’s not necessarily cheaper.”

Adam now takes on just about any good material that could be used in making a building, as well as all manner of apparently random oddments that he thinks might appeal to his clientele. “Once you’ve got your mind tuned to saving stuff, and to

salvage and materials and quality, you are always thinking laterally – it’s just a case of seeing what’s there and putting it in a new context,” he explains.

 “You always approach a building with first principles, by asking what it’s made out of. A lot of people would look at something like HeathrowAirport’s Terminal 2 and think that, because it’s a hideous building, there can’t be anything valuable inside it. Whereas in fact you can go inside a bit of Brutalist architecture and look up the stairs and realize that the handrail is made out of a solid piece of hardwood, or that there’s an incredible floor or interesting light fittings. You have to ignore the hideous surroundings and think of these things in a different environment. The whole principle of antiques dealing is to take something from where it’s not appreciated to somewhere that it is.”

The book is divided into particular projects and styles put together for clients of Retrouvious. Starting with Barbican Modern

‘Situated within a landmark development in central London, the corridor-style format of this 1970s apartment made for a tricky living space. The redesign focused on generating warmth and atmosphere while creating a stylish interior that nodded both to the clients’ Italian roots and the cultural significance of the building itself.’

There are chapters on lighting, stone, wood and fabric and a stockists and suppliers section. The book features the following styles of architecture, Canal side house, Garden cabin, Lakeside house, City terrace, Medieval priory, Family townhouse, Victorian villa, High rise Home, Refurbished barn and a Georgian farmhouse. An excellent and informative book.