An architectural salvage shop, on the other hand, lets your imagination wander. An old red post box might just make a drinks cabinet, Gothic chandeliers could be ideal over that big table in the dining room, and an old marble tub will lend elegance to any bathroom.
There are several companies in London who specialise in garden and domestic furniture rescued from past decades and centuries. Prices do vary, but bargains, rather than rip-offs, are the norm.
D'Agar and Gifford Mead Antiques, 68 Pimlico Rd SW1 (071-730 6233) Mon-Fri 10am-6pm
Every piece in this shop is an original antique with some kind of interesting story attached. 'Everything we sell is well provinenced,' says owner Nick Mead. 'It will have a history to it.'
Consequently the shop caters to the very top end of the market and nothing on display costs less than a few thousand pounds. They do have some very fine English marble and stone fireplaces, as well as odd pieces of marble and statuary for both interiors and exteriors. More lavish are the huge four bronze lions which were once part of a French fountain - a snip at pounds 65,000 - and a 19th century bronze boar which is a copy of the marble boar in the Louvre (pounds 28,000).
Lassco (London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co Ltd), St Michael's Church, Mark St, off Paul St EC2 (071-739 0448) Mon-Sat 10am-5pm
Lassco's is based in an enormous Grade I listed church, which provides an equally impressive backdrop for its plentiful booty. This includes anything and everything from 'Old London' street furniture - benches, lamp posts and telephone booths - to marble baths and cast-iron spiral staircases.
It also has a wide selection of period panelled rooms in oak, mahogany or Art Deco veneer as well as some fine marble, ceramic and antique French chimneys. Prices are reasonable, especially for the street furniture. A lamp post costs from pounds 120 upwards, a lantern pounds 250 and a phone box (which would make a great shower booth) goes from around pounds 200.
Seago, 22 Pimlico Rd SW1 (071-730 7502) Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm
Tim Seago specialises in salvaged antique garden furniture and ornaments, but his small shop in Pimlico is really just a window to his business. Close by is his 'warehouse gallery', a sprawling Aladdin's cave to roam through which is crammed with treasures. These include life-size lichen-covered statues, vases, pedestals, planters, troughs and sundials which come in marble, terracotta, lead and stone.
A wander round will leave you gawping. At present, an allegorical statue of a maiden reclining needs a home as well as a pair of stone dogs covered in moss and a 17th century Charles II lead cistern to put in the garden for flowers. Prices range from the pounds 300-400 for a stone trough to hundreds of thousands of pounds for rare signed statues. On the first visit, leave credit cards at home.
Townsends, 81 Abbey Rd, St John's Wood NW8 (071-624 4756) Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Their glass shop is at 108 Boundary Rd NW8 (071-372 4327) same opening times
Walking into this two-tiered corner shop will stop you in your tracks, for Townsends has an eye-boggling selection of antique fireplaces. About 50 are laid out on display (200 are in stock at all times). Those wanting a unique and friendly old hearth will know they've come to the right place, but are likely to drive themselves to distraction choosing from the huge selection of one-offs made from marble, wood, stone and cast iron.
And that's before choosing matching inserts, surrounds, basket grates and fire screens. In all a salvaged fireplace will cost you between pounds 120 and pounds 2,000.
The company also sells glazed doors and stained glass windows taken from public schools, churches and domestic properties. These range from pounds 45-pounds 100.
Westland and Co, entrance Leonard St EC2 (071-739 8095) Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-5pm
Based in the same listed church as Lassco's, though occupying only half the space, this company also sells a range of architectural salvage prised from the interiors and exteriors of old streets and buildings.
Anything from an old cast-iron cheese press to a skylight can be found among the general rubble of the shop floor. They also regularly stock street furniture, various spiral staircases (ranging from pounds 500-pounds 1,500), some interesting turret clocks (for pointy corners of the house, they cost from pounds 2,500-pounds 3,500), and wonderful old chandeliers. A pair of iron Gothic chandeliers now in stock are a bargain at pounds 450.
While 50 per cent of trade is with foreign customers from America, Japan and Europe, British architects and eccentric domestic buyers also trawl the shop for loot. Faye Dunaway, Lord Owen and (surprise, surprise) Sir Bob Geldof are past customers.
The shop will deliver items to your door for a fee depending how close you are and what the item is.
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