After a fire ravaged a pair of Victorian flats that Vicky Berol owned, she decided to take an alternate route when renovating them. Rather than hit the local Lowe's or The Home Depot for materials, she went in search of artifacts, old fixtures, and antique hardware that would create a traditional sense of place at the newly overhauled dwelling.

Berol's efforts led her to a new business idea: locating vintage hardware, lighting, and hard-to-find items for contractors, designers, architects, and homeowners throughout the country. “I decided to turn an avocation into a vocation,” she says.

Berol left the corporate world in 1996 and founded San Francisco-based Gofer Unlimited. Most clients are looking for hardware and lighting to use in their Victorian or period homes, although Berol says she will “search for anything” at the various salvage yards she works with across the nation. She charges by the hour for her services and tacks a 15% surcharge onto the price she pays for the “found” treasures.

Over the past 11 years, Berol has also located rugs and other softgoods, and has even helped customers find statues for their gardens. Simple requests, such as drawer knobs or a hinge, may take just a day to locate, while items for an entire house could take a month or more.

Berol credits her ties to salvage yards with helping her fulfill the requests completely and in a timely fashion. “I do enough business with them that I can just call them up and check stock,” Berol says. “Other times they'll post my request on a bulletin board and alert me when and if the item becomes available.”

For one of Berol's more unique requests, she was asked to find a pair of cannons for a home's parapet. “The client didn't want make-believe cannons, he wanted replicas,” says Berol, who, after contacting several national parks, located a business in Oregon that sold them.

In another instance, a homeowner specifically wanted a Westinghouse outdoor street lamp circa 1940. “I contacted someone who pointed me to a collector, and voila, we found one,” Berol says.

David Hunt, owner of Sunworks Kitchen and Bath, in San Rafael, Calif., has worked with Berol on several occasions and says her service fills a gap in the custom remodeling industry. Most recently, he called upon Gofer Unlimited to help with a $60,000 bathroom remodel. “Vicky was there throughout the project, supplying us with a plethora of materials, and even consulting with the homeowner,” Hunt says. “She took care of the smallest details and helped us do a top-notch job.”

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer based in Dunedin, Fla.