Architectural salvage adds instant character to your home: old Arts and Crafts tiles in the hall; a fancy reclaimed spiral staircase down to the cellar; Victorian rope-twist edging up the garden path. But prices charged by London dealers can put salvage out of reach for those on a limited budget.
Want to know a shopping secret?
You can buy direct from the same source those London dealers adore, at a fraction of the cost you would pay once the treasures are shipped to town. Five times annually, Diss auctioneer TW Gaze holds excellent architectural salvage sales, selling all manner of reclamation, from wellheads to balustrades, timber beams to sash windows, summerhouses to clay roof tiles.
Carl Willows, the expert in charge, has overseen the Norfolk salvage sales for more than a decade, and is delighted at how the catalogues have expanded and the bidders have proliferated. "The architectural sales are 1,000-odd lots now," he says, "so we have to split the catalogue between two auctioneers to get it all sold in one day. Bidders have to come in pairs or have their running shoes on to make sure they don’t miss their lots."
The next sale is on 18 August
It features a handsome pair of Compton terracotta scroll pots, relatively plain examples of these ever-popular garden ornaments, designed by Mary Watts (estimate: £150-£250), with the Compton Potters Art Guild stamp crisply confirming their identity. It promises to be a good sale for decorative wrought ironwork: a large ornate pair of 19th century gates (to fit a 13ft opening) is estimated at £2,000.
Moving indoors, a pretty selection of 36 1880s patterned Minton floor tiles, in blues and browns, is expected to fetch £500 to £600, and another group of 148 Minton tiles, in browns and ochres, may make £1,500. Some York stone flags from a Victorian cellar are likely to be the subject of frenzied bidding. Willows says: "We have 20 sq yd of York flags in absolutely wonderful condition. This is always a popular material and when bidding gets going, a really nice sample can make £50 to £80 per square yard."
If you make the trip out east, you are bound to enjoy the atmosphere of the sale; it is often hard to hear the auctioneer over the buzz of cheery conversation between regulars. But if you can’t get away, you can always check out the catalogue online (it is posted on the Wednesday before the Saturday sale), click through and leave a bid, or you can fax a commission bid to the auctioneer.
There are always surprises at the TW Gaze sales
In 2004, the unexpected star of the sale was a group of three William de Morgan tiles. Salvaged from one side of a tiled fire surround in a 19th century house, these gems of Arts and Crafts design were only noticed after workmen had started knocking out the fireplaces they adorned. The three tiles together made more than £5,000.
But, though there are some exciting finds, great value is the general rule. Two regulars at the Gaze auction, a couple looking for period pieces for their 18th century house and garden in Hertfordshire, say that they always visit Chelsea Flower Show for ideas, then scan the Gaze catalogue for lookalike bargains later in the summer.
18 August, Architectural Salvage, Furnishings and Garden Statuary, TW Gaze & Son, Diss Auction Rooms, Roydon Road, Diss, Norfolk IP22 4LN (01379 650306).