Twenty years ago, we were restoring our newly acquired house, a 1915 vicarage in Providence, and needing a front door. My wife, Carolyn (who was our contractor), phoned Rudy Rzeznikiewicz in Brooklyn, Conn., and asked him if had a 42-inch wide, six-panel door. "I have one," replied the man who has over a thousand doors for sale.
Rudy's operation, Brooklyn Restoration Supply, is centered in two former chicken houses. One holds the doors, mantles and balusters from three centuries, along with salvaged hardware, while the other is filled with old wood–boards and beams. Spread across a large yard in between is a serendipitous collection of all sorts of architectural bits and pieces spared the wrecking ball or the landfill, plus dozens of granite millstones.
There's nothing fancy about Rudy's place: there is no computerized inventory, no refreshments, no place to sit, and you cannot pay with a credit card. Yet people in the antiques and home-restoration business know about this treasure trove and come from all over to this most rural part of Connecticut
But the best thing about Rzeznikeiwicz's operation is Rudy himself. Even if we are not in search of a specific board or piece of hardware, we like to go to Brooklyn just to spend time with this knowledgeable, fascinating, and honest antiquarian. (Rudy was a valuable source when I was researching books about early American houses and churches.)
Rudy looks much the same as when we first met him two decades ago, although he will be 90 his next birthday. Half of that span has been spent guiding those fixing up houses by rescuing and recycling the superior materials of pre-Home Depot days. He started dairy farming here as a teenager. And, typical of so many rural New Englanders, Rudy has patched together a life of all sorts of jobs – assessor, bus driver, postman, firefighter – that has let him stay on the family farm where he was born.
Providence-based writer William Morgan has a degree in restoration of historic architecture from Columbia University. He is the author of, among other books, The Cape Cod Cottage and American Country Churches.