The Shrinking Garden

With aching back and heavy heart, Adam & Eve sell off some of Palm Beach County's finest junk

Kristi Posvar swings her hips through a tight space in an overstuffed warehouse before spotting a planter the color of overcooked peas. "Oh my God, there it is. I was afraid they sold it," she says, sliding her fingertips along the crackled paint finish. "This is one of the last pieces of the things we bought from Mar-a-Lago," she says, referring to the infamous mansion turned club owned by Donald Trump. "My oh my, if this planter could talk."

The outsized flowerpot hides in one of eight warehouses in Adam & Eve's Architectural Salvage in West Palm Beach. Piles of toilets, chandeliers hanging like stalactites, and clumps of birdbaths reminiscent of giant mushroom patches hail from some of South Florida's finest deceased mansions, torn down to make way for condos or waterfront megahomes. Walkways of broken shell meander through a three-acre garden of ceramic and cement.

Running the place with brother and business partner John McCarthy, Posvar has turned it into a community fixture, a junkyard for homeowners who can afford spending $100 on a set of crystal doorknobs instead of buying plastic ones at Home Depot. And it's a place where anyone can pick up remnants from the homes of the superrich. Some of the items sport tags indicating which waterfront mansion they came from. Most Palm Beach County residents can't afford to live in the town that gives the county its name, but thanks to Adam and Eve's, they have been able to buy a concrete cherub that witnessed black-tie parties in Palm Beach.

It's not easy for Kristi Posvar to sell the antiques she's collected; some items in her salvage yard lack price tags for a reason
Colby Katz
It's not easy for Kristi Posvar to sell the antiques she's collected; some items in her salvage yard lack price tags for a reason

But soon, such little pieces of Ocean Boulevard opulence will be a bit harder to come by. Adam and Eve have decided to go their separate ways: Due to a recent back injury, McCarthy is leaving the salvage yard for an early retirement. "After you spend a lot of time pulling up patio stones, you have to ask yourself if it's time to move on," he says.

Eve gets to keep the garden (of course), but she isn't interested in running the place alone. Still, the uniquely historical nature of the merchandise here makes this selloff a bit more melancholy than most. Posvar says she's grown fond of many of the items she's collected, especially the odd antiquities that have remained in the yard for years, having never found a suitor. Iron table legs, at $2700 for the set, in one of the warehouses are a good example. "I'm a reluctant seller, but at some point, you have to remind yourself that you bought these things to sell them."

This month, the salvage yard's ten employees began the monumental effort of paring down its holdings. Adam & Eve's remains open only on Saturdays as its best objects are moved into a showroom a few blocks away and the less attractive items are sold at a discount. The new shop will be housed in a 2000-square-foot former fast-food joint on Dixie Highway next to another business Posvar owns selling new garden accessories.

After working as a flight attendant, a real-estate agent, a phone book saleswoman, and a freelance photographer, Posvar, now in her 50s, bought the salvage yard nine years ago. She vowed to expand the business, which hadn't grown much in its 30 years in West Palm's rough neighborhood of Pleasant City. She ran it with a boyfriend until they split up two years later. McCarthy agreed to join her to help run the place. They were used to being together behind a cash register after working at their parents' five-and-dime store while growing up in Syracuse, New York.

They avoided some brother vs. sister spats by splitting the duties: Posvar manages the books, while McCarthy is the boss of the yard's employees and day-to-day operations. Still, family members treat each other more bluntly than partners typically do, they admitted. "You might say something that you wouldn't say to a business partner," Posvar says.

"Rather than saying that the idea is worth considering, you might come out and say it's downright stupid," McCarthy elaborates.

Taking over the business after the 1990s recession, they entered the market at an ideal time, with homes in West Palm's historic downtown neighborhoods getting face-lifts. They found merchandise at auctions and from walk-in customers, but the majority of it they yanked out of houses destined for the wrecking ball. Salvage is laborious work using crowbars and chisels. They learned how to pull out plaster and ceramic after first smashing some by accident. Now, it usually takes them a day and a half for a salvage effort, like the job they did recently at a Manalapan pool house once owned by the Vanderbilts. McCarthy came back with cypress French doors, tiles from the kitchen counters, and unique windows made from the bottoms of green bottles.

Walking through the yard on a recent afternoon, Posvar and McCarthy point out pieces pulled from old homes as if spotting friends at a cocktail party. McCarthy stops at an upside-down piece of wood with iron bars over its openings whose original function isn't readily apparent. "Oh, now this," he says, "this is the original ticket window from the West Palm Beach train station."

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