Get Secrets for Shopping Salvage From Creative Genius Joanne Palmisano

Get to know the upcycling maven and vintage expert behind the popular blog Salvage Secrets.

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Photo by: Susan Teare

Susan Teare

Joanne Palmisano has shared many drool-worthy DIY and upcycling projects on Her style and mission are to transform used materials into modern home decor, and her latest book, Styling With Salvage and her blog Salvage Secrets does just that. With three books under her belt, a busy career in interior design, she was named one of the top creative people in the nation by Country Living Magazine. She sat down with us to offer some more insight on how to find and shop for the right pieces, what inspires her and what she has coming up next.

Photo by: Lindsay Selin

Lindsay Selin

Tell us a little about yourself?
I was raised in central Vermont and as a kid, I would head out into the woods in our backyard and dig up old bottles. I’d spend lots of time in my parent’s “junk” room trying to make things. My husband and I built our first house off the grid with recycled materials and then after three more house flips, we landed in an old cabin on the shores of Lake Champlain. We had the cabin deconstructed (totally recycled by a local non-profit group) and then built it back up from the subfloor, using local and reclaimed materials. Our home garnered the attention of a national publication and the editor suggested I write a book about salvage. When the book was out, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in making some fun projects. Of course, I was! Now I have many, many projects on their website, including an eight-part video series. I have since, written two more books, with my third one just recently released. As an interior designer, I specialize in budget-friendly inns, resorts, hotels, vacation rentals and restaurants. I love adding recycled, vintage and salvaged materials to my projects.

Photo by: Susan Teare

Susan Teare

How do you describe your style?
My style is pretty eclectic, it totally depends on my client. What is consistent, is my use of vintage and salvaged pieces. Whether it is an old door, a wood wall or a vintage dresser turned into a bathroom vanity, I try and incorporate unique pieces in all my projects. I’m very lucky that I get to work with many different styles! My ultimate goal is that homeowners and designers alike will see how creative you can get with salvaged materials. I want upcycling to feel accessible to everyone and know that it can be used in any style and for every budget.

How did you get into using reclaimed/older materials for DIY projects?
I’ve been making stuff out of older materials since I was a kid, but I really didn’t start using it in home design and decor until my husband and I built our first cabin in the woods. We turned old doors into kitchen cabinets, used leftover tile from the recycle center for our shower, a vintage cast-iron sink for our kitchen and antique French-paned windows throughout. Almost everything in the cabin was recycled. Then we started renovating other homes and adding unique recycled pieces to those as well.

Photo by: Susan Teare

Susan Teare

What are your go-to pieces for decorating with a limited budget?
My go-to pieces with very little money are artwork pieces I find at secondhand shops. I also love finding old frames – sometimes I just decorate with the empty frames without any artwork in them. I also love to use textiles (vintage rugs, blankets, quilts) as wall hangings. They are bold, take up a lot of space and are quite affordable.

What are some of your favorite places to shop for salvage treasure?
Architectural salvage shops are the best places to start, then recycling centers, such as Rebuild, Habitat for Humanity Restore, Salvation Army, Goodwill, all those types of places. I also love to go to places that folks don’t always think about, such as, the scrap metal yard, the lumber yard, college warehouse sales, and antique shops. Don’t forget, your local online forum, there is always something there.

Photo by: Joanne Palmisano

Joanne Palmisano

What are some tools you can not live without?
I have to say my hot-glue gun, staple gun, drill and miter saw.

What your top five tips for shopping at an antique or thrift store?
People always ask me, "how did you think of that". When you head into an antique or thrift store start looking at things differently. Pick up a piece and ask yourself, "what are the five things I can do with that?" You may not want that piece, but this helps to look at things differently. So if you see an old drawer sitting on its side in a big pile of junk, you may say, "I could make a dog bed out of that or a wall shelf, or under the bed storage with wheels." Here are some tips:

  • Look at things with open eyes and ideas will start to come to you.
  • Think about the collection. Are you getting all white vases, or all clear or all the same shape? What ties everything together?
  • Make sure you understand their discount system. Is it a blue day and everything is 50% off or is it after a certain date? It is fun to get an even better deal than you thought you would.
  • Look for items that are well built. Frames that are not stapled but dovetailed, vintage wooden spoons or cutting boards (I have a serious addiction to these), wool items, vintage linens – these are quality pieces that are worth getting.
  • Have fun. Take your time to look around. Go in one direction and then the other, you will be surprised what you see the second time around.

Photo by: Susan Teare

Susan Teare

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