Lara Knight – 26 February, 2020
I absolutely love this idea of reworking space with a Rescue Repurpose Reuse ethos. Vintage styling and creative use of old materials creates a gentle, ‘far away from the rat race’ atmosphere. And travellers enjoy unique properties with a tale in every corner.
Salvage Merchants in Melbourne have made a business out of rental conversions. We asked Annie how the idea came together.
Describe the Salvage Merchants business model.
Evolving!! When we started in 2018 we were making upcycled homewares and selling them at markets and from our small retail space at the front of our workshop. An unexpected opportunity to transform an unused cottage on a client’s property led us into the short term rental space.
After completing the job and setting up the property as an Airbnb, we decided this was a path we wanted to pursue for our business and ourselves personally. As a result, our business model is now providing clients with an end-to-end solution for setting up and managing a short term rental. We deliver this service with our overarching business ethos of “rescue, repurpose, reuse” and a focus on sustainability. This is embodied in every area of the process from property selection right through to the final details like guest amenities.
You started the business together a few years ago. What were your career paths before then?
I worked in the music industry for over 20 years working with some of Australia’s biggest acts including working as Tina Arena’s EA for several years. Once I had children, I shifted to less demanding roles primarily in administration in the building and construction industry.
Shane is a self-described “jack of all trades”. From panel beating to audio technician, ceramicist, handyman, glazier and loads more in between! What he doesn’t know how to do he will teach himself. He is naturally inquisitive and often I will find him pulling apart a machine only to teach himself how it goes together.
Why is reusing and repurposing a major focus?
We had made a decision to really focus on treading more gently in our home and personal environment so it was only natural that whatever business we embarked on would have this philosophy at its core. We are a long way from perfect but we are aware and committed to doing better.
What are the biggest challenges of ‘recycled’ renovations
We prefer to see the challenges of working with salvage as opportunities rather than problems. The benefit of working with salvage is that you can’t guarantee your client an exact concept delivery because it’s based on what we are able to source at the time. Rather than being a problem, this has led to some incredible last minute finds which end up being far superior to the original concept!! They are the days when the salvage gods are smiling on us!! We are so fortunate to work with clients who allow us creative freedom and flexibility for designs to unfold organically.
Obviously it’s not always perfect, and I guess one of the main challenges for us is educating the wider community on the “value” of using second-hand materials as it’s often not the cheapest option. For example, to put a new door in would be far cheaper than to modify and restore an old one. The time this takes makes it an unattractive option for some, but our clients have a true appreciation of working with second-hand materials and also the positive environmental aspect of that choice.
Tell us about #cheaphousewednesday on your social media.
What we do is not extraordinary and I really wanted to show people who are interested that it’s achievable for anyone. Thinking about a short term rental as an additional income stream doesn’t have to mean purchasing a property for hundreds of thousands of dollars and then spending even more setting it up, with no guarantee of ROI.
I wanted to showcase different ways of getting into this market. We believe that we can create unique experiences, without spending huge amounts of money, that people will travel for. The space doesn’t have to be in an expensive tourist area. It is also very much about thinking about what you already have. Do you, or a family member, already own some land that you could perhaps put a tiny house on for a relatively small investment?
Rental success is more than good decorating. How else do you help clients build a profitable business?
Building a story around the property is what we believe to be one of the keys to building a profitable business and brand. We work hard to research and uncover each properties’ unique history and story. From there it is about marketing that story and building a brand. We do this through social media marketing, local collaboration and also considering additional opportunities to generate income. We look at areas such as location hire, event and workshop hire as potential additional income sources, among other things.
You’ve finished this church conversion in Lexton for your own portfolio. What were some of the highlights of working with an unconventional space?
I still pinch myself each time I walk through the doors and, quite honestly, frequently shed a tear when I am there. I meditate every morning and when I’m in Lexton and open my eyes and look up at the almost 150 year old stained glass window I am awestruck.
I also love reflecting on what has happened within the walls, the community celebrations and even of course, the sadness. We have been so fortunate to develop a relationship with our neighbour who was the last parishioner of the church for many years. She tells us stories of the church and the community and we feel incredibly humbled to be the current custodians, and also to have her support and interest in our project. Her baking is pretty awesome too!
We have also incorporated a couple of original church items back into the project which has been rewarding. Almost everything was removed before we took over. Only 2 pews remained which were not in great condition so we have repurposed them into a gorgeous corner dining set up. The original altar bollards have been used outside at the entrance and now look like they’ve stood there forever.
Final styling (the fun part!)…. any tips for creating a welcoming, 5-star experience for Airbnb guests?
Funnily enough, styling is not always the fun part as it comes with a fairly tight time frame. When I style spaces for clients I really like to let the spaces take shape slowly. I don’t like to feel rushed into having to commit to buy things, albeit secondhand, as it goes against my values. Of course, there is commerciality to every project so deadlines are inevitable. To combat this, I try and source throughout the project so I am slowly building the story as we go.
For me, it all comes down to creating a unique guest experience, something that transports our guests from their everyday life and allows them to slow down and look at life through fresh eyes. I like to let the pieces in the property create the story, combined with the calming effect of botanical aspects throughout. Finally, we choose gorgeous quality linens and amenities to complete a beautiful, memorable experience.