The Joy Of Thrift: My Top Five Vintage Buys
12 years ago, we went on holiday with our friends, Ashley and Tracey, to a converted barn in Devon. Ella and Max were four and two; Ashley and Tracey's son was only eight months old.
Anyone with children will at this point nod their heads in sage agreement when I tell you that going on holiday with children of this age IS NOT A HOLIDAY. It's like the parental version of The Hunger Games. An endurance test, the knowledge that you will be doing exactly the same thing as you are doing at home but in surroundings where quite frankly, anything could happen. Every move of your child is fraught with danger from random fireplace implements to impale themselves on, wooden staircases ideal for tumbling down and tiled kitchen floors perfect for falling out of high chairs and landing on heads. Or even worse, the worry that a carelessly spilled Fruit Shoot may signal the loss of your security deposit.
The entire day was focused upon getting the children to bed so that we could have a civilised, proper grown up adult evening, but the reality was that we collapsed exhausted on the sofa and watched I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here with a bottle of wine and a takeaway.
By day three, Tracey and I decided to break free. We left the children with the men and escaped to shop, little realising that the local village was a mecca for anyone over the age of 90. Tracey is an actress and in her role as Maxine Peacock in Coronation Street had recently been whacked over the head and left for dead by Richard Hillman, so we were regularly stopped by old ladies who expressed their delight at her apparent resurrection in Greggs Bakery. It was a quiet village but its high level of geriatrics meant only one thing. Charity Shops in abundance.
I had never really paid much attention to Charity Shops before but from the first slightly musty, wee smelling entrance, I was smitten. I bought huge pastel coloured blankets that I found in the 'suitable for dog bedding' section and a chain hung art deco vintage mirror for £2. Tracey bought me a second for Christmas and it was this that started both my mirror collection and my long time obsession with thrift.
This obsession has continued unabated ever since. By the time we moved to York, I had had my third child and as a result, had committed myself to standing in the Primary playground for a total of 15 years. Combined with the fact that I felt like the oldest mother in Reception, the idea of playground chat for the third time sent me over the edge, but one rainy morning I fortuitously met my friend Karen, a woman with even more playground years stacked up than I.
Karen was also a passionate vintage shopper so we bonded over our love of homeware tinged with a hint of old fags. For the last three years, we've spent my birthday on a Charity Shop trawl of Acomb, Tanghall, Goodramgate and The Community Furniture Warehouse, stopping for lunch at the bakery. We know how to live.
Anyway, this convoluted history means that in my opinion (and probably the opinion of the National Association Of Charity Shops), my vast thrifting experience and the fact that 90% of my home is thrifted means that I am perfectly qualified to give you the low down on the Top Five best items to source. So here goes. And apologies for the excessive alliteration, I got a bit carried away.
Since the original purchase of blankets, I always check out the textile section. It's a nirvana of old 80's duvet covers, net curtains and granny blankets and well worth a look. You never know what you will find but good things to look out for are tablecloths, vintage hand knitted folk blankets (my favourite) and bed covers.
One of my best buys was a huge cream lace throw for my bed which I picked up for £3 and looked beautiful for years . Yes, they will smell of old people. But hey, that's what Persil is for and it's worth the investment of a quick wash to bring them back to their former glory.
Glassware is the specialism of all good Charity Shops. It's donated in abundance and it's beauty is there for the taking. From wine glasses to liquor lovelies to water jugs, it's a fabulous way of updating your dining table without spending a fortune. I'm a big believer that a dining table shouldn't be too formal and mixed vintage glassware looks way more individual than a matchy matchy scheme. Particularly if you are a dishwasher fiend like me (ie, you load it up after a few drinks with no concern as to their fragility) then you will know that breakages are a regular occurance, making the ability to mix it up a strong selling point.
Source vintage glass jugs to serve water in at the dinner table. Cut glass trifle dishes are always a winner and I've got a huge collection of dessert bowls that I've picked up for pounds. So much prettier and a real talking point.
Coloured glass is also a win win. Use as jugs for holding flowers as a table decoration or just group together for effect. If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I have an ongoing vintage coloured glass collection that never ends. Sometimes I think that my custom keeps the Charity Shop going, tbh.
If you're looking for a tea set, then you've come to the right place. Our local St Leonards Hospice Shop in Acomb has tea sets galore and I literally have to stop myself from buying more each time I visit. They're usually under a tenner and if you've got the space to store, well worth picking up.
Vintage plates are another good buy - I've got a huge wall collection of souvenir and retro classics that I've gathered over the years that look brilliant grouped together as alternative wall art.
I also have a selection of vintage plates for every day use - the children eat their toast from Ironstone Pottery retro bull plates. That's how we roll in York. I'm always on the look out for cooking dishes and pots as well - such an expensive investment when you are kitting out a kitchen and you can never have too many. That's what I tell Joe, anyway, as he opens the cupboard and disappears under a barrage of Pyrex.
Ornaments are another great Charity Shop buy. I've said before that this is my weakness and you have to be selective, but if you are growing a collection then a thrift find is always a bonus. My friend Karen collects glug vases and each and every one of them has been Charity Shop purchased for pounds.
West German pottery is another one that often sneaks on to the shelves and is overlooked. Poole Pottery, TG Green, Hornsea, all good to rummage for and very satisfying to find. Check out the bases - its not uncommon to find something rare. A few months ago I found a plant pot for £2 only to get home and realise it was Sylvac.
I still kick myself for not buying an original 1950's marble tall stand ashtray for a tenner, similar to one my Granny had during my childhood. My days of smoking countless Silk Cut are long gone, but how cool would it have looked next to the sofa? There's always the one that got away.
Okay, so if you are a fine art lover this one might not be for you. But I LOVE a vintage print and here you can find them in abundance. I get more comments when I post Hunters In The Snow by Bruegel than any other piece of art in my home. And it's not just the prints. The frames are often far more expensive than the pictures inside and it's always worth looking past the initial glance to see if its workable.
I've found countless gold framed florals that look fabulous teamed with a more modern print alongside. Great for breaking up the predictability of the modern gallery wall which can become a bit monotonous. In my kitchen I have ornate alongside typography and I love the juxtoposition.
If you're a kitsch fan there are plenty of decor friendly options, although the wide eyed children in nighties fishing in the stream have always sent my kids into a trauma.
So that's my Top Five best buys. Buying vintage isn't everyone's cup of tea but there's something about the idea of reusing what is discarded that really appeals to me. If you're on a budget, it's unbeatable value and always worth a look. A Charity Shop is full of, well, HISTORY and you are helping to perpetuate the recycling process which means you can feel a little bit smug every time you fill your vintage glass with Sauvignon Blanc. Happy Thrifting.