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Reclaimed luxury: Cashing in on previously-owned kitchens

Architectural salvage businesses such as Earthwise, Second Use and Ballard Reuse in Seattle were once considered a "fringe" industry. Today, buying previously-owned, vintage elements for the home is more popular than ever among homeowners of all ages.

In addition to vintage materials, the re-use movement is increasingly harvesting newer, more high-end material. More homeowners are donating or selling high-quality cabinet systems for a fraction of the original cost. Earthwise owner Kurt Petrauska said a homeowner recently turned in an entire kitchen.

"It was a cherry kitchen cabinet system, with glass uppers, and all stainless steel appliances," Petrauska said, pointing to photos of granite counters, full pantry and built-in stainless appliances that included a bread warmer. "I would venture to say something like that new would be around $20,000. I think it sold for $3,300."

An innovative business on the east coast is taking the concept of recycled kitchens to a whole new level. Debbie and Steve Zografos of Kent just purchased an ultra-luxury custom kitchen through a website called Green Demolitions. The company specializes in dismantling, removing, and re-selling luxury kitchens at a fraction of the original cost.

The Zografos ordered a custom kitchen that came from a large estate. The shipment came with Dacor double ovens and 6-burner range, a Sub Zero refrigerator-freezer, stainless steel sinks and faucets, a huge island, thousands of dollars worth of drawer pulls and walls of custom cabinetry designed by well-known Canadian cabinet manufacturer Andre Julien.

Purchased new, the high quality materials would easily have cost $80,000 to $100,000. Including packing and shipping charges, the Zografos' bill came to $20,000 -- about what they say they had planned to spend.

"But I don't think we would be buying this if we were buying it brand new. Too spendy," said Debbie.

From his office in Connecticut, Green Demolitions co-founder Steve Feldman said over the past 10 years, he and his wife have gained a word-of mouth reputation by encouraging wealthy homeowners to donate their top-of-the-line kitchens when they renovate instead of discarding them in landfills.

"Well, it first starts with that initial contact," Feldman explained. "We then go out and inspect the project with pictures, measurements, condition reports. We give the donor an idea of how much value they're going to get on their tax savings, how much they're going to save on the removal and disposal cost. And then in one day, we send in our crews. We remove everything. We pack it tightly. Put it on the truck. It then goes back to our green demolition super store in Fairfield, NJ. This is a 43 thousand square foot facility where we have customers from all over the country who buy from us."

According to Feldman, the typical mid-range luxury kitchen they take in runs about $100,000 new. The kitchens are priced based on condition and style and will sell second-hand for anywhere from $40,000 down to $10,000. Some kitchens coming in to the showroom originally cost as much several hundred thousand dollars and are priced accordingly for resale.

As word spreads, even celebrities are joining the movement. Actress Edie Falco donated her pricey kitchen -- complete with an autograph drawer -- through the non-profit component of the business called Renovation Angel.

"The non-profit we started 10 years ago," said Feldman. "And our mission is very simple: to create jobs through recycling. So we have created over $12 million worth of jobs in the last 10 years. And what are those jobs? Those are the guys who go in to do the deconstruction and the removal. They do the packing, the trucking, the transportation. We have a whole warehouse crew. We have a whole store. Staff that does all the selling, marketing, administration. Then we have a whole acquisition staff, which brings in all the materials and that involves scheduling, logistics, inspections, so it's a 28-person team, and that is creating over 600 kitchens a year and making them available to the general public."

Renovation Angel gives the luxury donors a tax write-off. Feldman says business also donates about $50,000 a year to designated charities. Through a third component called Kitchen Trader, buyers skip the Green Demolitions showroom and buy kitchens right out of the donor's home.

The Zografos acknowledge that the kitchen they purchased was not exactly what they were planning on, but say the opportunity to replace their small eighties kitchen with beautiful, recycled luxury was too good to pass up.

"You have to make sure you know the exact condition and that it will fit in your space," Debbie cautioned. "Because once you get it, it's yours."

Buyers should also be prepared to do some degree of clean-up. Everything is removed and shipped as-is. In the Zografos case, for example, the ovens were dirty and the lower portions of come cabinets needed cleaning. But the growing demand suggests that for many homeowners, it's worth it.

"The feedback has been amazing," Feldman said. "Our customers are so glad they found us. In fact, we have many customers that come back and buy second, third, fourth, and seventh kitchens for different projects, they refer us to friends."

The popularity on the east coast has grown to include luxury bathrooms, furniture and high-end overstock from designer showrooms. The trend is also picking up friends in the high-end appliance industry. Feldman says he just hammered out a new partnership between Renovation Angel and distributors of Sub Zero and Wolf appliances, including distributors here in Seattle, to encourage more luxury kitchen owners to donate when they renovate.

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