David Mitchell and Nadia Subaran are on a treasure hunt, poking around Housewerks Salvage in Baltimore. An old maple locker room bench, mismatched hanging light fixtures, industrial-scale chocolate strainers—found objects like these spark the two designers’ imaginations as possible perfect solutions for the projects they’re working on. Yesterday’s mass-produced items are today’s one-offs, and using salvage in small doses can be a great way to get a custom look for less. Salvage can add age-worn patina to a new house, and it can give a modern interior some quirky charm. A few tips for using it well:

Test the waters. Salvage isn’t everyone’s thing, so broach the subject first. David Mitchell finds that clients who have a taste for salvage usually have a sense of whimsy and spontaneity. Some may balk at the idea of using something old. But others will love the idea of outfitting a guest bath with a 1920s barbershop sink.

Use it sparingly. It’s easy to fall in love with salvage, but it’s most effective if used in small doses.

Paint it. Sacrilege? To some, sure. But an old wood fireplace surround can look updated and fresh with a coat of white or gray paint. Paint also makes a damaged piece of wood salvage much easier to repair.

Consider it art. Have you found a quirky-looking bottle rack, ladder, or mailroom shelf but have no idea what to do with it? You may have just found the perfect wall hanging to define a big space.

Get into heavy metal. Find a salvage house with staff that is skilled in welding and soldering. The owners of Housewerks are adept at adjusting a salvage piece to a client’s specs, and they offer this as a service.

Haunt some houses. If you find a salvage house you like, return often. Most get new stuff in every day.