The entrance to his premises in Islington, London N1, is flanked by Neptunes, sitting atop Doric columns on either side of large wooden gates. Inside, the warehouse acts as a sanctuary for the unhinged and the uprooted: doors without walls; baths without taps; fireplaces without chimneys.
This is Architectural Salvage, a scrapyard for buildings, where old fixtures come to die, and to be reborn. Here they are sandblasted, stripped and given a new lease of life - as spare parts for period houses or as accessories for those looking to add a touch of authenticity.
Speed and his partner, Rob Philpin, began selling salvage in smaller premises down the road in Hackney six years ago. But soon their stock outgrew the warehouse and demand outgrew the stock. They moved up the road, upmarket, and into one of the more salubrious pockets of Islington.
They put their success down to the trend towards conservation, away from modernisation. In the late 1980s, it dawned on them that the buildings they were busily demolishing were filled to the brim with things they should be saving. They stopped getting paid for knocking down exteriors and started paying out to rescue the interiors. Before long Speed and Philpin were supplying a stream of property owners who had dispensed with Formica and veneer and were turning the market towards genuine interior features and fittings - roll-top baths, John Boding taps, porcelain sinks and cast-iron fire-places.
"Why buy a door from say Wickes or Texas Homecare when you can buy a pine, panelled door with all the original fittings for the same price?" says Speed. It's not that they're ageist, it's just that they believe in quality. "We'll take anything - as long as it's more than 100-years- old."
Anything. And everything, by the looks of things scattered around the warehouse: timber, iron and glass; the occasional stray lavatory. For newcomers to architectural salvage it can be mind-boggling: Speed points out that what looks like a pile of old wood is in fact a collection of sought-after oak, pine, mahogany and teak. "The mahogany boards were taken from a school's science lab," he says. "Now people are using them for kitchen worktops." He advises that a stack of glass bricks can be used as a shower screen or are simply good for enhancing a bathroom window. As he fires out a string of ideas it's not surprising to be told that the DIY television programme Homefront has already filmed here.
In fact it is commonplace to have television cameramen and theatrical producers wandering around. "Remember the Mercury One-2-One commercial?" asks Speed. "They used all our Royal Doulton sinks and toilets for that." As a sideline the salvage is hired out as stage and film props which are either delivered or used in situ.
Perhaps this is what makes EastEnders' Ricky and Nigel feel at home here: they both come bargain-hunting at Architectural Salvage - as does Seymour Stein (who first signed Madonna to Sire Records) and Princess Michael of Kent's lady-in-waiting.
Business is limitless: behind the scenes they do furniture stripping and sandblast fireplaces, wrought iron tables and chairs. They will even make up mirrors and doors decorated with architrave made from leftovers. They take on private commissions, too. The buyer of the old Russian embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens has recently asked them to restore the dome to its original splendour. "We'll remove the dome and bring it back here to restore the broken sheets of etched glass," says Speed.
The majority of salvage seekers, though, tend to take their pick from the range of 1,200 panelled doors, which cost between pounds 45 and pounds 75 - or select one of the many porcelain sinks, for around the same price.
But those with a bit more to spend - and a vivid imagination - could splash out on a nurses' room, taken from a Victorian hospital ward, featuring a pitch pine desk and large surveillance windows containing old glass: "Perfect for an old-fashioned style conservatory," suggests Speed. But the piece de resistance is a complete mahogany panelled room at a mere pounds 7,500 which in its earlier life was the library of a Hampshire country estate.
And where does it all come from? Here lies the irony: a large proportion of the stock that will be used to refurbish, renovate and restore London homes comes from the hospitals closing around them. "Over the past three or four years, we've collected from more than 40 hospitals in London alone," pitches in Philpin.
"A lot of them are from mental asylums." A recent, large shipment of doors and sinks came from the mental wing of Hackney's Homerton Hospital. "The doors, and fittings that come out of the asylums are so strong it's untrue," says Philpin. "These doors are unbreakable. They had to be, though, didn't they? Because they had to be nutter-proof."
Architectural Salvage: 30-32 Stamford Road, London N1 4JL, Tel: 0171- 923 0783
Panelled Doors ftom pounds 45-pounds 75; Butler's sinks from pounds 45-pounds 75; Cast-iron fire-places from pounds 95-pounds 350; Roll-top baths from pounds 150-pounds 300; Spiral staircases pounds 2,500 (depending on amount of treads); Polished brass door handles, knobs and letter boxes from pounds 4-30; Royal Doulton toilets from pounds 75-pounds 95 (cistern extra).
SALVAGE FACT FILE
Lassco's, St Michael's Church, Mark Street, Off Paul Street, London EC2A 4ER Tel: 0171-739 0448: Upmarket ecclesiastical salvage and reclaimed flooring.
House Hospital, Battersea: 68 Battersea High Street, London SW11 Tel: 0171-223 3179:
Doors, radiators, fireplaces and bathrooms fittings and fixtures.
Holyrood Architectural Salvage, Holyrood Business Park,
Duddingston Road West, Edinburgh E16 0131-661 9305: Specialists in bathroom fittings but also have a good range of pews.
Dyfed Antique and Architectural Salvage, The Wesleyan
Chapel, Perrots Road, Haverfordwest, Dyfed, Wales Tel: 01437 760 496: Three old chapel buildings crammed full of wondrous junk.
R & R Renovations, Canalside Yard, Audlem, Cheshire Tel: 01270 811 310: Reclaimed bricks, oak beams, slates and wooden frames and doors.
Andy Thornton Ltd, Victoria Mills, Stainland Road, Greetland, W. Yorks Tel: 01422 377 314: Specialises more in architectural fittings than reclaimed material.
Pew Corner, Artington Manor Farm, Old Portsmouth Road, Artington, Guildford Surrey Tel: 01483 33337: Ecclesiastical salvage specialising in 120 different types of oak and pine pew ends
Architectural Heritage, Taddington Manor, Taddington, Cutsdean, Nr Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 5RY 01386 584414:
Not strictly salvage. Most of their material comes from auctions and private dealers. But for those with a penchant for the renaissance, they specialise in garden statuary including stone animals (they also do a repro range made from composition stone, lead and bronze), urns, well heads, fountains. Also panelled rooms, fire surrounds and stained glass.
Robert Mills Ltd, Narroways Road, Eastville, Bristol BS2 9XB Tel: 0117 9556542: Deal mainly in large, gothic structures from churches and buildings. Supply mainly pubs and restaurants. Panelled rooms, ornate, stained glass windows, pulpits, church screens. Get direct from churches and demolition contractors in UK and Europe. Prices start from pounds 500 to pounds 30,000 for a complete panelled room or elaborate set of church windows.
For further information on architectural and ecclesiastical salvage the Salvo Directory at pounds 5.75, is a comprehensive compilation of reclamation yards and local salvage dealers covering Britain, France and Belgium. They also publish Salvo Magazine 10 times a year. Order by credit card on 01668 216494.Reuse content