Maybe it’s the way he could create new worlds as a onetime theatre-set maker or maybe it’s because of what he saw headed to the dump as a renovator. Whatever it is, Matthew Johnson is able to reimagine everything from old, unfinished lath to wooden-rung ladders as rustic-contemporary furnishings. As he puts it, he just can’t stop finding new life in the unwanted.
At his stylish store, Crow Salvaged Goods (1243 Kingsway), one vintage double set of institutional-green-metal lockers has been transformed into a cool front-hall cabinet with new mirrors fastened to the front. Elsewhere, a ladder has morphed into an industrial-chic pot rack, salvaged fir flooring sits on a welded metal base to form a coffee table, and a funky octopus print hangs in a reclaimed white window frame.
Johnson’s finds are the result of years of gathering discards from reno projects and elsewhere, always with an eye to somehow salvaging them. His chance came this year when a retail space opened up next to his workshop, offering him the perfect opportunity to both sell his wares and refinish or transform them. Crow is a unique mix of carefully curated primitive antiques, salvaged architectural pieces, contemporary art, construction materials, industrial hardware, and reclaimed craft supplies for the city’s growing army of DIYers. It seems Johnson’s own love of saving old stuff from the junk heap is striking a chord with a new generation.
“These pieces have a patina and will evoke a period,” he explains, standing by the craft area’s vintage metal typeset letters, aging horseshoes, and rusty barbed-wire coils. He’s just finished drilling a hole into a wooden Scrabble tile to make a pendant for a client. “We’re losing this stuff. Maybe it just reminds us of our youth or something back in the past. And you can only have so much melamine and cookie-cutter furniture. We want pieces that will last, and wood and metal will last.”
Johnson had long wanted to start up a different kind of salvage shop, one that had space to spotlight its carefully chosen pieces, instead of a warehouse crammed with finds.
“When everything is piled up, nothing has a chance to have a voice as a design piece,” says Johnson, who saw a number of airy, artfully designed salvage shops on a road trip across America three years ago. “You can strengthen that voice with curating it.”
In fact, the name of the store comes from his careful approach to displaying his finds. “Here, you can slow down like a crow and see the beauty and value of these things,” he says.
The draw at Crow is that Johnson sees the potential in things we might not necessarily have spotted. Check out the vintage pianoforte-keys wall hanging he’s made (about $195), or the beat-up white miner’s lunch box ($85) that would make a hip little storage case. A steel tool chest ($145) could give a contemporary room the industrial hit it needs, while a tall chest ($180) with eight roughly stripped drawers brings the rustic to a home. More than anything, it’s the coolly eclectic way Johnson juxtaposes eras, styles, and materials that sets Crow apart: think antique tobacco and talc tins next to retro Superman posters beside vintage postcards, peeling-paint fire hydrants, old road signs, barley sacks, and well-used metal trunks.
Best of all, the avid collector has much more stowed away so that he can bring out new items regularly. Johnson laughs and says, “It’s like a wave that you have to keep holding back.” As he says, he just can’t stop himself.