In Studio: Salvage Design Company

Tucked away in a studio minutes from the world-class surf of Huntington Beach, California, artist Heather Roth of the Salvage Design Company is hard at work smashing china plates with a hammer.
06/15/2012 04:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tucked away in a studio minutes from the world-class surf of Huntington Beach, California, artist Heather Roth of the Salvage Design Company is hard at work smashing china plates with a hammer.

It's a long way from her home town of Camden, Maine and dreams of being a novelist, and yet somehow, like the pieces of porcelain she is working with, her life is fitting together in a way that is unexpected, creative and exactly right.


Although unforeseen, the detour is not completely without rhyme or reason. It was good old-fashioned love that led her to relocate to Southern California, and Roth says, "I have been painting, writing and refinishing furniture for ages." It's funny what can happen when we listen to our heart.


I first discovered the Salvage Design Company on a field trip to the OC Mart Mix last February and since then, Roth's business has continued to evolve. I visited her new studio and showroom and found a kindred spirit whose passion for words, art, home decor and anything on caster wheels is similar to my own.

When asked to describe what she does, Roth says, "I struggle with that since, as a custom shop, we take on all sorts of new and different projects all the time. But generally speaking, I'd say that I design and build artwork and custom furniture out of reclaimed wood and vintage objects."

Casters optional.


The table, one of several created from old barn doors straight from Roth's motherland (i.e. Maine) and framed in steel and glass is one of my personal favorites. Roth said she wanted to do more with the wood than a simple table top and decided to inlay steel lettering. Although this one reads "dwell" you can spell out whatever makes your own heart sing. Someday, I'll buy one for my New York loft... (just as soon as I've got one), or perhaps furnish that dream cottage on the Vineyard...


Most of the reclaimed wood and many of the found objects travel to the Surf City studio from the artist's home state. She says the popularity of the eco-savvy re-purposed wood trend has made it difficult to find wholesale materials on the west coast.


Found objects collected for inspiration wait patiently for their turn.


"My ideas come from rummaging through junk yards and back road antique shops," says Roth. "I'll find an item I think is cool and start trying to come up with a unique function for it, or a funny phrase to pair it with. Other times, random ideas come to me in the middle of the night, and will send me out on the hunt for a specific vintage piece that will bring the idea to life."



"Most of my pieces have an irony to them that people seem to appreciate. We're not trying to compete with the warm, fuzzy, feel-good wall art you can find in most home decor stores these days. We want people to look at our pieces and let out a dry chuckle or wry smile," says Roth.

Her most popular designs? The Turn Me On wall boards paired with working vintage wall sconces as well as the company's HEY! wall boards featuring a vintage pitchfork -- perfect for use as a coat hook in an entryway.


On the day I visited, Roth had several projects in the works and one was this custom-ordered table designed from vintage shutters and window casings. The client had determined the size and shape of the finished piece and had also supplied several meaningful objects she wanted incorporated into the project.


A vintage ruler features numbers with significant importance, as do the found tiles and vintage dominoes -- which display game dots chosen for their numerical messaging. Cool, clever and creative.


Roth says the biggest surprise about owning her own business is the variety of elements required to make it work. "I can't just hole up in my workshop and create. I have to photograph the work, write about it, post it, update the website, and sell, sell, sell. I'd love to be able to create in a vacuum, but if I had it my way no one would ever even know Salvage Design Company existed."

Luckily, that is not the case.



Still, her favorite part about running the Salvage Design Company is the creativity it requires. Roth says she loves "having the chance to dream up a piece of art or furniture in my head and then bring it to life and put it to use."


For those considering pursuing their own endeavors, Roth has this advice: " I'd say do it -- but make sure you have a plan! I think you have to put yourself out there; life is too short to regret never having tried to launch your dream business. But you should also set yourself up for success by having some sort of business plan in play -- especially a sales and marketing plan for us creative types who might otherwise shy away from that side of the business."


More info and updates for the Salvage Design Studio can be found on their website and they always welcome new friends on their Facebook page.


All photography by Bonnie McCarthy.