John Hunsberger is a fixer-upper.
“I’ve collected stuff my whole life,” John says. “I don’t remember starting. When I was a kid I would just bring home neat stuff, either by rooting through the dump, or going to auction sales.”
“I got away with a lot, I guess people thought ‘oh, he’s a cute kid, let him have it.’“
“My folks were both into auctions too, so my mom thought it was great.”
As a real estate broker and an experienced carpenter, John has found a way to incorporate his hobby of salvaging and repurposing into his professional life through his business, The Old House Revival Company.
“I had a storage house in the West End full of old doors and press metal ceiling tiles and various things that I had no use in mind for, but I never wanted to sell them.”
“When I bought the business, I didn’t really have any intent on doing anything with it for ten or fifteen years, I just knew someday I wanted to get into this.”
After moving The Old House Revival Company to its current home on Young Street, John was able to put those materials to use, getting creative with the building’s renovation to make it what it is today. If you take a closer look, you’ll find old doors turned into wainscoting and other repurposed elements, like tin tiles and corbels incorporated throughout the interior of the store.
The Old House Revival Company isn’t the only old house that John has added his creative touch to. As a real estate broker, he’s personally owned over 80 houses.
“I’ve built a lot of this old stuff into the houses I renovate; things like corbels, pillars, and mantels. When I move people ask me how I can leave it behind, but I think, hey, it will always be in the house, and somebody else is enjoying it,” John says.
“You can’t keep everything.”
“My kick is doing the reno. Once it’s done I start to think, this is a nice place, I don’t need a place this nice. So then I buy another one and start again.”
Working in real estate gives John access to materials that would otherwise be hauled to the dump during demolition or reconstruction.
“People are always happy to see me come around, willing to pay them for something they were going to pay another company to haul away,” John says.
“I never just take stuff, I always pay them something because I’m probably going to be selling it again. I want them to know there’s value there, because then maybe they’ll think before throwing stuff away next time.”
“It saves it from the landfill.”
John’s latest project turned an old furniture manufacturing building into studio spaces for artists. Located on 618 Arlington Street, the ARTlington building rents studios to 40 artists. The space is open to the public on Saturdays for anyone interested in browsing the artwork for sale, or to marvel at the variety of reclaimed items incorporated in the building’s design.
Everything from old bed frames, saw blades, and bikes are built in to the interior. There are also some special pieces, like a bank door from Chicago and elevator doors from the old Eaton’s building.
Using these types of materials when doing renovations may just be an extension of a hobby for John, but it prevents many useful items from being thrown out.
“I feel sorry for people who get caught up in the throw-away society,” John says.
“Whether it’s a car we drive for two years and then get a new one, a house we buy, live in for five years and then get a new one – even getting married and then divorced to get a new one. We’re turning into a throw-away society.”
“I’m just happy with better quality, solid stuff, even if it needs some fixing up. When you fix it up, you have something in the end that’s not exactly the same as the next person.”