This time of year is my favorite for so many reasons: warm weather, spring flowers, longer days…but the thing I love most is spending sunny weekends outdoors hitting the local antique fairs. Thanks to the favorable weather, most fairs take place in the spring and fall — check this list to discover one near you.
The closest antique fair to HGTV’s Knoxville HQ is less than 20 minutes away in the Mayberry-esque hamlet of Clinton, TN. Each year in early May and October, this sleepy Southern town draws antique and collectible dealers from throughout the Southeast for their Clinch River Antiques Fair. Best of all, mixed in with the professional vendors are lots of locals who’ve cleaned out Grandma’s attic, barn or basement — so, although the prices and quality of antiques vary dramatically from booth to booth, there’s so much to choose from that I never leave empty handed.
Here are a few of the goodies I spied:
A coat of bright green paint and a liberal sanding give this 60-year-old dresser a kicky update — $150:
Mixed in with the antiques were a few crafts. How clever are these?! Old Reader’s Digest books cut into initials — such a great idea for a kids’ room or nursery – $15 .
Real mink has been added to this phone’s receiver while its base has been uniquely bedazzled with fabric, gems, glitter, and beads (notice the artful pinup cutout on the right). This stunning antique telephone would be a perfect addition to any room with a Moroccan flair.
Telephone As Art
My love affair with stately, opulent marble began in college and my first trip to Italy. Semesters spent in art history class poring over photos of classical sculpture and architecture didn’t prepare me for experiencing it firsthand. By the end of Day One, I was hooked and my quest for Carrara marble began.
The first bit of marble awesomeness I bought was a small bedroom lamp. I’ve since graduated to these big beauties (below). You can find them on ebay, 1stdibs and V&M but be prepared to shell out the big bucks. The lamps themselves are pricey but shipping is the real budget-buster. Plus, because these date mainly to the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s (Art Deco and Hollywood Regency periods), the wiring will need to be replaced meaning more $$.
To score a marble lamp within budget, hit local antique or thrift stores and, of course, estate and garage sales. Before purchasing, carefully check the stone for chips, cracks and discoloration. A good cleaning with mild dish soap and a toothbrush will do wonders, but marble is porous so if the lamp has spent decades exposed to cigarette smoke, regaining its original creamy color will require professional help.
Oh, in case you’re wondering: I paid $35 for the lamp below at an antique store which my dad and I then rewired for around $12, $15 for the drum shade and $18 (a total splurge) for the crystal finial.
How amazing is this bowl?! I found it full of stagnant water and rotted plants at an estate sale. It was so grimy that both I and the seller initially thought it was concrete. After wiping off a layer of black slime (eww!) I could tell it was marble and knew I had to have it. The price: just $10 — a real steal. Of course, I tweaked my back man-handling it back to the car…but….it was totally worth it.
Here you can see the planter’s detail. The marble isn’t polished but the lion’s heads and banded detail are well carved.
As you guys know, I love a good estate sale. One of my favorite places to search for treasures is the garage — but I’m not looking for tools. I’m on a quest to find broken bits with potential — like drawers, keys or old knobs that have been separated from their original piece of furniture or vintage harps, finials or other electrical hardware — essentially anything with character that I think I can repurpose.
A few months ago, I discovered a 4-foot board with a carved detail along the top and beautiful raised acanthus leaves at either end. The seller found it in a barn and had no idea how old it was or whether it once framed an elaborate doorway or was part of a long piece of furniture, like a buffet. The white paint was crazed and chipping – just how I like it. The seller seemed shocked that I even wanted a beat-up old board so he priced it low – 2 whole dollars. Originally, my plan was to strip all the paint and stain it but once I had removed the chipped paint and sanded it smooth, I decided to leave it as-is.
Topped with glittered pinecones, blue Spruce and holly boughs, my found molding makes a beautiful, rustic swag above the entry to my kitchen:
Here you can see the acanthus leaf detail on the ends — pretty, right?! Totally worth a dusty, dirty scavenger hunt in the wood pile.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of finding new uses for old things. I’m the person you see huddled in a corner at an estate sale turning an object this way and that, brow furrowed, envisioning what it could be used for. Take this old wooden toolbox. It was filthy – as all great estate sale finds are — filled with rusty, old screws and nails and only partially painted yellow. A thick layer of dust covered both the box and its contents so it definitely had some age and looked to be sturdily hand-constructed.
I knew it would make a great magazine rack and I knew I had to have it:
Other uses I considered: Filling the 3 compartments with potted herbs in my kitchen; using it to hold rolled towels in a bathroom; or as a caddy for organizing craft or gift wrap supplies.
The $8 price tag seemed fair for its condition — dust, rusty nails and all. Once home, I dumped out the metal bits then gave it a good once-over with the vacuum. I then sanded all the surfaces to remove loose bits of peeling yellow paint and smooth the rough areas. Then, I stained it with an oil-based wood stain (Minwax Early American). BTW, I only use oil-based stains. I know some people swear by water-based because there are less fumes and the dry time is much quicker, but I’ve found that wood better accepts oil-based stains resulting in a richer, deeper color and less streaking.
Upon closer inspection, the toolbox is a mishmash of materials: the end pieces are pine, the sides are beadboard and the handle – I think — once belonged on a broom. You can see in the photo below how the mismatched woods took the stain differently, which for me, just adds to its vintage charm:
So, tell us in the comments below, how have you repurposed items in your home?
As I’ve mentioned before: I love antiques but, in particular, my heart skips a beat when I see European antiques — French finds in particular. Years ago, I discovered a gilt Rococo-inspired wall clock at a flea market. The clock face looked to be from the ’60s but the surrounding frame was hand-carved wood with applied gold leaf and appeared to be much older. At the time, I lived in Los Angeles and really had no use for it so it languished, forgotten, in my parents’ North Carolina basement for a decade until I rediscovered it. And, let me tell you, it was a very happy reunion indeed. I had recently purchased a round needlepoint of violets at an estate sale without a frame. Once I popped out the ’60s clock, I thought the Rococo frame and sweet, little needlepoint would make a happy pair.
And so they did:
One rule I follow when thrifting is to see a find for what it can be not what it is. Take this antique drawer I found at an estate sale. It was at the bottom of a scrap wood pile in a stuffed-to-the-gills garage. The home’s previous owner had been a never-throw-away-anything-you-may-someday-need type and had seen the potential usefulness of a small drawer that had long since been separated from it’s original piece of furniture.
What sold me is its runner-less construction. Runners are the wood or metal glides that help a drawer to smoothly slide in and out; without them a drawer is just a shallow box. I was on the lookout for a small tray that could do double duty serving food and drinks at parties and was big enough to neatly store magazines on my coffee table the rest of the time – I thought I could make this drawer work. The bottom was flimsy due to water damage so I added a plywood board to strengthen it then tacked on quarter-round trim to disguise my fix and handles on each end so it could really function as a tray.
This project was a bargain costing me less than 10 bucks -- $3 for the drawer + another $6 for the handles which are actually gate pulls rather than drawer pulls. The quarter-round trim and stain I already had on hand.
I love antiques. My home is filled with them. I’ll admit that’s partly out of bargain-hunting necessity but mainly because, in many ways, I feel that antiques are better — better construction, better lines, better attention to detail — just better. They have a character, charm and history that new and mass-produced can’t match.
Take this winsome little vase. I discovered her at a rural flea market this spring covered in decades of grime. The milk glass color and classic Greco/Roman shape drew me in while the $1 price tag sealed the deal. Honestly, I didn’t recognize it as an Avon bottle until I’d cleaned her up enough to make out the label.
My vintage Avon "Grecian Pitcher" originally held bath oil when sold in the '70s, now it's my go-to vase for short-stemmed flowers like gardenias.
The whole “new year, new you” philosophy made a huge impact on me this year. I disbanded my nasty procrastination habit and filed my taxes three months early. Three months! While I safely stored my refund in an untouchable savings account (compulsive shopping will not take over this time!), I can’t help daydreaming about a tax return wish list full of designer pieces from 1stdibs I would love to call my own. My wish list total = $17,650 — eek! My refund from the IRS — not even close to that.
If you could splurge on anything, what would it be? Let us know, and in the meantime, feel free to lust over my wish list. And don’t forget to file your taxes. Monday’s the deadline!
Once upon a time, I had a huge crush that I promptly squashed when the very eligible bachelor shared with me that he thought antiquing was boring. It was a deal breaker. Fortunately, I met someone who shares my intense love of antique stores, flea markets and yard sales, and we’ve lived happily ever after. Until now, because I have a new crush…on Please Sir.
North Carolina-based textile designer and artist Diana Martini (the second person I know with that last name) is a self-proclaimed expert in the “art of flea-marketing.” Based on her blog, I would say she’s the queen.