We got absolutely no work done last weekend. Instead, we went camping. We spent the weekend hiking, fishing and huddling up around a campfire with the dogs.
Our motto is, “Why do it when you can OVERdo it?” And that’s basically what we did last summer and fall. We were in a zone. Every week was spent working on work stuff, and every weekend was spent working on house stuff. There were entire months where we didn’t do anything but work, work, work. Remember how all-work-no-play made Jack Nicholson go all axe-wielding maniac? We decided we’re going to put a stop to our workaholic ways before we get to that point.
Instead of work-work-work, we’re going for a work-play-work. That way, we don’t totally burn out like we did this winter. Added bonus: getting out gives us the chance to score some sweet finds for our house. We’re talking thrift shopping, baby! On our way back from camping, we stopped at an antique store and took a look around.
We didn’t find anything on that trip, but we did recently acquire some vintage stuff that we later found elsewhere for more than what we paid. Remember these chairs that we nabbed for $6 a pop at a Salvation Army?
While we were sanding those puppies down, we found a manufacturer’s stamp:
It’s basically a little metal coin that’s set into wood so it sits flush. We didn’t notice it before because it’s in a really discreet spot on the leg. We Googled and found out that the W.H. Gunlocke Chair Company is now known as just Gunlocke, and they’re still producing chairs.
Based on the logo on our chairs, these suckers were built sometime between 1940 and 1969. A little more Googling and we found a few places selling those same chairs for way more than $12 a pair. A pair sold for $300 here. There’s one chair for sale on Etsy for $300. Yeah. $300 for one chair. And these are in “vintage” condition — they need to be refinished and reupholstered. So nabbing a pair for $12 was seriously lucky.
In case you’re wondering what the status on those chair is, we managed to completely sand one down before we ran out of sanding pads. We haven’t stopped by the hardware store in a while, so the chairs are just sitting there, waiting on us to get moving again. As far as fabric goes, we’re considering leather. Upholstering leather makes us a bit nervous, but we’re studying up on YouTube and trying to figure out where we can score some vintage cigar leather.
Another lucky find happened just a couple of weeks ago. Bradley’s boss owns a cabin in a teeny town in northern Pennsylvania. (We’ve been calling it Upstate Pennsylvania, but it’s not catching on.) We spent a week there in April, and learned the hard way that teeny towns don’t do street signs. We saw some people sitting around outside a barn, so we stopped to ask for directions. When we got a peek inside the barn, we realized it was actually an antique store. Way out in the middle-of-nowhere.
The people were nice enough to give us really detailed directions on how to get to the nearest highway, so we had to stop and take a look. They twisted our arm with their niceness. And this amazing pendant that was peeping out from a corner:
That’s a huge brass pendant. There’s a spot inside for a bulb and a hook at the top so it can be hung on a chain like a chandelier. The two pieces on the floor next to the pendant were removed at some point (probably for rewiring) and they need to be reattached. Easy fix.
We knew right away that this was The One — the fabulous lighting fixture for the top of our staircase. We walked away with the pendant and a huge gold frame (that we haven’t photographed yet) for $65. $15 for the frame and $50 for the pendant. We didn’t haggle over prices because a) they seemed like really nice people and b) we’re pretty sure that, based on the location of this shop, we were their only customers all week. We thought $65 was totally reasonable when we took that into consideration.
Cut to a few weeks later and we’re trolling through Emily Henderson’s blog for color palette inspiration. Emily is the host of HGTV’s Secrets of a Stylist, which we think is the only show on HGTV worth watching. We loooove her and her show, so we were kinda floored when we saw this pendant she posted about:
Pretty similar to the one we found, no? Only the price tag on this one is $375. Ours is a bit bigger and more ornate, but it’s basically the same style — and we spent $50! It’s going to take about $15 and 2 hours of labor to get ours fixed up. We need to weld two spots and spray paint it. We might also change out the wiring. Not hard, time-consuming or expensive. So we think we got an amazing bargain.
As for the frame, it’s going to be spray painted and turned into a mirror for the half bathroom downstairs. We just need to have a mirror cut for it. We haven’t decided on a color yet, but we’re thinking something bold like matte black. Or something unexpected like a bright teal. We’ll figure it out once we start renovating the bathroom. Pictures of that find soon — pulling it out of the garage to photograph has taken a back seat to a couple of other projects going on right now.
Inspired by our recent good luck, we’ve been making more frequent trips to thrift and antique shops. We know it can be totally overwhelming — how do you figure out what’s A Find versus what’s junk? Here’s what works for us when we go shopping for vintage housewares:
- Partner up.
It’s inevitable: when we go to an antique shop, one of us will get all googly-eyed over something and the other one will give it a “meh.” We’re both designers and we’re both extremely opinionated on decor. A lot of time, those opinions clash. That goes tenfold for vintage items, which can be really bold statement pieces. When we clash on those, we really clash. We have a rule that we won’t buy something unless both of us agree on it. Getting a second opinion hasn’t failed us so far.
- Take cash. But not too much.
We usually don’t go to antique stores with more than $100 cash on us. If we see something we love that costs more, we’ll go to an ATM and take out more cash. That gives us some time to think about whether we love-love it, or whether it’s a heat-of-the-moment thing. It really keeps the impulse spending to a minimum. And, so far, we haven’t even had the urge to go to an ATM.
- Don’t force it.
We’ve found that one of the best indicators of whether something “belongs” in our home is whether we can imagine where it will go. Usually this is a gut reaction. We saw the brass pendant and immediately thought it would look great at the top of the staircase. We saw the frame and knew it was the perfect size and shape for a above-the-sink bathroom mirror. If we find something and can picture exactly where it will fit in to our house, then ring us up. If we find ourselves hemming and hawing over where we would put something or what we would use it for, we move on.
- Is it worth fixing up?
The best deals we’ve gotten have been on things that need some work to restore. Restoration equals time and money, so we try to balance that out against the initial cost. The pendant, for example, needs spot welding and spray paint. We have access to a welder for free and spray paint is cheap, so we jumped on it. We’ve come across other objects that are awesome, but need a ton of work that we just weren’t willing to put into it. Why buy something that’s going to sit in the garage, right?
- The antique shop is not the boss of you. You don’t have to buy anything.
A couple of months ago, we drove to a huge antique warehouse about an hour away. We made a day out of it. We took the scenic route, we had a nice lunch at a brewery nearby, and we planned on coming back with a car full of treasures. We looked at every frikkin’ thing in that warehouse, and it was a total bust. We didn’t find a single thing that jumped out at us. At one point, we felt like we had to buy something or the day would have been a waste. But what’s actually a waste is buying something that’s not right for you or your house just because you feel like you have to. We left empty-handed, but still spent quality time together and had a lovely day off.
- What’s it worth to you?
Here’s the thing: when it comes to vintage stuff, the worth of something is pretty much a made up number. So we make up a number. If we find something we love and think it’ll fit into our home, we’ll mentally put a price point on it before looking at the price tag. Then if we look at the price tag and it’s equal to or less than what we anticipated, we’ll get it. If it’s way more than what we expected, it’s not such a great deal for us. There are lots of shops where they don’t have set prices and the owner will just ask “what are you offering?” Or they’ll throw out a number and see how we react. In that case, we might have to…
like a prowith a conscience.
When it comes to haggling, we kinda don’t. We hate feeling ripped off but we also hate ripping off the shop owner. That $10 that we might be arguing about is their livelihood. More often than not, these people aren’t exactly making six figures a year. We try to remember that we’re not haggling with a vending machine — we’re talking to a human being — and we all walk away happy. That doesn’t mean we’ll shell out more money than what we think something is worth. (Remember, you don’t have to buy anything!)
- Talk to the face.
When a shop owner throws out a price we don’t like, we let our faces do the talking. They might see us pulling a =\ and adjust the price down right away. Or they’ll ask us, “what did you have in mind?” and we’ll tell them the truth. There’s no point in low-balling, because if we think a frame would be a great deal at $15 then it IS a great deal. If they accept our offer, awesome. If our idea of what something is worth doesn’t mesh with theirs, we politely let them know it’s out of our price range and walk away. If they’re willing to lose a sale, then it’s obviously worth more to them. We don’t feel ripped off. They don’t feel ripped off. No harm, no foul.
How about you? Find any amazing vintage goods lately? How do you feel about haggling?