Rummaging through Metro Detroit: 5 great places to upcycle

Cheryl Gallagher makes old, discarded things new and beautiful. Though her Etsy shop, The Repurpose Barn is less than a year old, she's been salvaging old pieces of furniture and decor from around the metro Detroit area for a decade. 

"My aunt and I do it together," Gallagher says. "I love reclaiming things. I find there's a lot of history in it, and it's fun to hear the stories of things. I'm all about reusing and recycling."

Gallagher is far from alone, from her green philosophy to her appreciation of history in each item she finds. Though not every upcycling enthusiast has her own business, people all over the region love rummaging through used items for that perfect antique centerpiece or just the right vintage materials to make something new. It turns out there are plenty of ripe hunting grounds in metro Detroit for salvaged goods, and we found five of the best out there: 

St. Vincent DePaul, Clinton Township
35192 S Gratiot Ave
Charter Township of Clinton, MI 

From the Salvation Army to Goodwill, there are plenty of big name thrift stores out there, but Gallagher's favorite is the St. Vincent DePaul in Clinton Twp. Because St. Vincent DePaul relies on donated goods, it can take some searching to find the best stuff, but for that same reason, when you do find a gem, it comes at a great price. 

Gallagher also enjoys running over to the St. Vincent DePaul in Windsor, which offers culturally different vintage materials from those found in U.S. locations, just a short drive away. 

Materials Unlimited, Ypsilanti 
2 W Michigan Ave
Ypsilanti, MI 

Materials Unlimited is not effing around. Sure, the place advertises itself as 15,000 square feet of architectural salvage, but that "salvage" includes antique stained glass windows ranging from $300 to - ahem - $24,000 (it's a pretty fancy window). Recommended to Metromode for this list by a local architect, Materials Unlimited has nearly all five-star reviews on Yelp, most of which of a bubbling over with such enthusiasm as, "Absolutely the most professional antiques store in Michigan," and "For anyone that appreciates treasures from the past, this is the place to go."

Though prices may be a bit higher than the average Goodwill, so is the level of expertise and professionalism at Materials Unlimited. You can search through their extensive online sales offerings by architectural style and era, for goodness' sake. In fact, if your repurposing ideas are stronger than your handiwork skills, Materials Unlimited can do some of the work for you. For upcyclers looking to create or curate high quality projects, there couldn't be a better place to start. 

Salvage Barns and Estate Sales
All over Metro Detroit

The majority of the salvaged items Gallagher uses in her creations come from places she's only visited once, like salvage barns and estate sales. Think American Pickers, but all over the metro region. She finds most of these places online. Google searches, craigslist and even good old fashioned newspapers can be the best way to track them down. 

"I'll find some decent furniture pieces [at thrift stores]," she says, "but history-wise, the best old, vintage stuff I'll find at salvage barns. If you Google 'antiques' or 'vintage barns,' sometimes they'll have a website up, and they'll make an appointment for you."

Not unlike wines, estate sales and salvage barns tend to carry the terroir of their area. Gallagher has found particularly great 50s-era home items from estate sales in Grosse Pointe, and is planning a trip to Lexington to search for pieces with a connection to the beach.

Fred’s Unique Furniture & Antiques, Warren 
14091 E 8 Mile Rd
Warren, MI 

The word "unique" doesn't appear in this store's name by accident. The online reviews alone reveal Fred's to be a place people either revere or revile. The complainers primarily point to the enormous store's chaotic aesthetic, but Fred's takes full credit for this on their website

"Our aisles often get crowded with stuff, but that's also part of the fun of shopping here. Basically, our store is like a cluttered world waiting to be discovered, so come prepared for fun and adventure."

The more adventure-minded salvagers seem to embrace this philosophy. 

"With the volume they must move, how do you expect them to organize it? Get real!" writes one of the five-star reviews. "They have some really unique and beautiful stuff.

Listed among Metro Times's best places to get "unique home decor and more," there's a reason Fred's has been around for more than three decades. 

Ann Arbor ReStore by Habitat for Humanity
170 Aprill Dr
Ann Arbor, MI

Part-thrift store, part-construction supply store, the Habitat for Humantiy-run ReStore in Ann Arbor has everything — including the kitchen sink. With everything from antique dishes to toilets to carpeting, for upcyclers, the possibilities are unlimited. An ideal place for home renovators and treasure hunters alike, it's actually possible to outfit an entire home in upcycled building materials, furniture and decor from the ReStore. And with 100% of the revenue made there going directly into Habitat for Humanity's homeownership program, everybody wins.  

Natalie Burg is a freelance writer, development news editor for Concentrate and IMG project editor.
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