Recently, we paid a visit to long-time friends Old Portland Hardware & Architectural to ask owner Bret Hodgert a few questions, explore the showroom, and found many one-of-a-kind architectural gems and replacement hardware.
Why did you decide to open Old Portland Hardware & Architectural – an architectural salvage shop?
I have always loved old things… especially old useful things. When I was a kid I wanted to be an archeologist. I didn’t really know what being an archeologist meant, but the aspect of discovery fascinated me. They were always digging cool things up that people hadn’t seen for years, or eons. Inspired by wonder, they would postulate on the history and origins of the items. Discovery and wonder are big motivators for me.
Over the years I have owned old houses, helped repair/remodel old houses, and worked for a business that catered to the old house market. At a certain point, I came to a crossroads in life where I needed to make some decisions about where I was going and what I was doing. My education in psychology wasn’t something I was going to cash in on in the foreseeable future, so I decided to go with my passion.
I love working with the old architectural pieces. Now I get to fill my days with “discovery” and “wonder.”
Where do you find most of your items and do you purchase salvage from locals?
I find my stock both locally and from other parts of the country. Most of the local stuff often comes from people just trying to make space. They have had things saved in basements, garages, and attics for years and have decided it’s time to clean house. I also get a lot of things from remodeling contractors, electricians, plumbers, and handymen that have recovered things out from recent jobs. On occasion, I will hit a local estate sale or auction.
Over the years I have also developed a relationship with several dealers and salvagers across the country. They are constantly sending me pictures of recently acquired items they think may be of interest to me. Once a year or so, I fly to the purchase that is the furthest east and drive a moving van back, zigzagging across the country playing connect the dots with the rest of my purchases. I have seen and found some very interesting things this way.
When on buying trips do you keep Portland’s architectural styles in mind?
A bit. One of the biggest differences between Portland and the rest of the country is the type of wood used. Most of the architectural details found in Portland homes are made of fir. It is a good wood that, at the time, we had a ton of. In the Midwest and beyond, one finds that many of those same architectural details are made of oak. For appearance purposes, many folks integrating salvage into their home don’t like to mix the woods. This doesn’t stop me from buying oak, or other “non-Portland type,” items. If something is well made, has an appealing form, and is a good value, I try to pick it up.
Portlanders love a wide variety of architectural stylings and time periods. One style that is fairly popular in other parts of the country, but not so much here, is Colonial. We have a lot of Colonial houses, but nothing like they do in the eastern part of the country.
We noticed that there are not a lot of large bins of house parts to dig through?
I have been in a lot of salvage stores around the country and found that they almost all use the “random junk bin” method of merchandising. I have also seen a lot of dazed homeowners look at a chaotic pile of house parts and hardware, then turn and walk away empty-handed because they couldn’t find what they needed or didn’t have the time to dig. Often, they don’t even know what it is they are specifically looking for, but are afraid to ask.
We try to use a similar approach but from a different angle. We have the same bins, but they are kept behind the counter where we can keep them very organized. This eliminates much of the typical salvage yard chaos for both the customers and for us. We can tell a customer if we do, or don’t, have what they are looking for within a minute or two. It also helps keep sets of matched items together.
What types of vintage hardware are your best sellers?
Door hardware. We sell a lot of 3½ inch ball tip hinges, doorknobs, mortise locks, strikes, etc. Doors are the part of the home that takes more wear and tear than anything else. We almost always recommend old hardware for old houses.
Customers often come to us frustrated that a “door has stopped working.” We can usually do a simple repair to fix the problem, but the customer will still ask if they should just get something “newer” that won’t break. To answer their question we will run the following scenario by them: Say your house was built in 1919. In your house, there is one door you go through twice (in and out) every day. Between 1919 and 2009 that door mechanism has been activated over 130,000 times. It sounds pretty durable to us. So, the question is, do you want a new unrepairable lock with plastic parts in it, or do you want to replace the spring (or other broken parts) in your old existing lock?
Do you consider Old Portland Hardware & Architectural a green business?
I do. Almost any store that sells used items is green. Anytime you put a used item back into use in your home, you are committing a green act. Used things do not require raw materials or a manufacturing process to be made. Antique stores have been around for centuries and were some early pioneers in the philosophy of recycling. At Old Portland, it even goes a bit beyond that. More than just preserving natural resources, we like to think we are preserving/recycling bits of history.
Can customers bring in their house parts for repair?
The only things we really do repairs on, for our customers, are interior door hardware. As I mentioned before, old doors get a lot of use. Sometimes the hardware needs to be replaced, but often it just needs a little bit of repair
Do you stock small repair items like set screws for doorknobs, etc.?
We have a good selection of set screws, springs, spindles and other items needed for repairing doorknobs and mortise locks. We can also help folks find skeleton keys to operate the old locks. In general, repairs are fairly inexpensive. Repairs (not replacement) usually run $10 or less per door.
Can customers call or visit the store to ask questions about their vintage home and hardware?
Absolutely. If you come to us with questions, be sure to bring the item in question or some good pictures along with measurements.
You have over 8,000 sq. ft. of showroom space at Old Portland Hardware & Architectural; does the building have a story to tell?
I think almost all old buildings have some story to tell. Ours was originally a small privately-owned auto battery business dating back to the 1930s. One of our inside walls (that was originally exterior) still has an old hand-painted sign from the battery business. Over the years, several small repair/service businesses have occupied the space
We really like the simple utility aesthetic of the building. It really highlights the beauty of the products we have displayed
If you only had one bit of advice to offer the vintage homeowner what would that be?
I would say that, whenever possible, old homeowners should avoid updating or repairing their homes with products found at big box home stores. Most of the items sold in these stores are chosen by profit margin, current popularity, or the cheapest price point. All of these points work to the advantage of these businesses. For homeowners though, these products rarely maintain, or contribute, to the value or preservation of an old home.
How hard is it to not add these wonderful antiques to your own house?
Very hard. Fortunately, my current house was built in 1949 and has styling that lends itself to a limited amount of embellishment. We have incorporated a few well-placed pieces, but, as the saying goes, “too much frosting can ruin a good cake.” That said, there are a few things I collect that find their way back home. Just as an example, I have a particular weakness for pre-1920 Holophane shades. I have about 50 of Holophane shades floating around my house.
Old Portland Hardware & Architectural
1667 SE Tacoma St, Portland, OR 97202