Radiating an eclectic charm

Secondhand News

In the market for an antique cast-iron tub? Take your pick at Vintage House Parts & Radiators, just outside Hyattsville In North Brentwood. Photo courtesy Lauren Flynn Kelly.
Lauren Flynn Kelly

Lauren Flynn Kelly

Vintage House Parts has everything … including the kitchen sink

While driving from Hyattsville to Washington, D.C. on Rhode Island Avenue, you may have passed a building on your right surrounded by concrete planters, rusty gates and radiators. You might have been curious about this place, perhaps while shopping at one of the used furniture warehouses across the street. But since you don’t have or need radiators in your house, you thought there was no point in stopping, right?

Think again. Vintage House Parts & Radiators, located at 4550 Rhode Island Avenue in North Brentwood, is a wonderland of old, hard-to-find, beautiful pieces salvaged from homes in the D.C. area. I visited the store on one of those relentlessly cold late-winter days in March, and took a tour with employee Andrew Gordon, who is a walking encyclopedia of historic home salvage.

Owner Saul Navidad opened the North Brentwood business in 2012, after working for many years with antiques purveyor Ron Allan, who established the Adams Morgan institution The Brass Knob Architectural Antiques in 1981. Allan retired and closed the salvaged house parts warehouse in 2011, though the antique store remains.

“Ron knew every contractor in the D.C.-Maryland area,” said Gordon. “Sometimes he’d bid on sites that were being torn down or renovated, or people would call him and say, ‘Please come get it.’ No one wants to pick up a porcelain sink and take it somewhere or throw it in the trash.” Now they call Saul.

Speaking of sinks, I counted at least two cast-iron farmhouse sinks and a handful of porcelain pedestal sinks for between $300 and $400 that would look perfect in a classic black-and-white tiled bathroom. Outside the front door, a faded sign just barely reads The Brass Knob and rests against one of the many planters that are used for the seasonal garden center next door.

There’s also a massive gate out front that was rescued from the Spanish embassy, a row of refinished claw foot tubs ­­(including a rare “elephant foot” tub that is priced at $1,600), marble and oak mantelpieces, interior and exterior doors in all shapes and sizes, crystal chandeliers and other light fixtures, vintage doorknobs that have been polished to look brand new, pressed-tin ceiling tile, house columns, and the list goes on. There are even two cats who will show you around.

But the store’s true specialty is radiators. “Saul’s original idea was to focus on cast iron radiators, but that morphed into doors, bathtubs, etc. because that’s what clients had,” explained Gordon.

Unlike nonprofit Community Forklift — which I expect to write about in the future  — Vintage House Parts only has the space to stock a limited selection of household items, so while you might find one giant spider chandelier, you won’t find a dozen kitchen cabinets or stacks of flooring materials

The entire outdoor lot next to the store is filled with radiators, which can be cut and reconnected to fit clients’ homes. The Rococo, Gordon told me, is the most sought-after style. One client in Belgium orders a shipping container full of them every year.

We stopped to look at a set of unusual steam radiators with a geometric pattern on top that looked more like art than a heating instrument. “That’s the beauty of a lot of this stuff,” he marveled. “It is art. You can’t buy this stuff now.”

After our chilly walk around the perimeter, I could no longer feel my hands. I asked Gordon, “How do you stay warm in here? Do you have a space heater by the desk?” He answered, “No, I’ll just throw some more wood in the stove.” Now that’s old school.

Lauren Flynn Kelly (@just2ndhandnews) lives in Hyattsville with her husband and two little girls. Secondhand News is her love letter to thrifting, repurposing and the thrill of finding hidden treasures in and around Hyattsville.