Why You Should Be Shopping Vintage
I’ve always been addicted to upcycling. For me, the idea of giving an item a new lease of life is really exciting. Nowadays, we live in a consumer led society and we are constantly bombarded with options for purchasing a new piece of furniture, but in actual fact, buying vintage can be a fabulous investment. It’s easy to forget that the reason that these pieces are still around today is that they were made to last and the quality is often unrivalled. Whether you give your vintage furniture a complete paint job or just a repolish, it's hugely satisfying to know that you're repurposing something and perpetuating the recycling process.
My first piece of vintage furniture came from a charity sale and I’ve been a devotee ever since. It was a teak Jentique sideboard from the 1960’s that was in such pristine condition that it still had the original label inside the felt lined drawer. I paid the princely sum of £10 after literally throwing myself on to it at a local charity sale. When we lived in Caversham, I was always absolutely desperate to go to these thrice weekly sales, despite the fact you had to queue for an hour prior to the 10am opening to make sure that you got the best of the bargains. Joe absolutely HATED it. The only way I could get him to come with me was to bribe him with the promise of the pulled pork bap van that was alongside the queue.
It has to be said, Joe isn't really a fan of vintage. He'll take John Lewis every day of the week. For years, I've yearned for a retro Danish sofa - you know, the cool leather ones with low backs that look as comfortable as sitting on a wooden pallet. There's no chance of one of these babies ever entering my house. Unfortunately, Joe was put off early in our relationship by my sister Annabel's Robin Day sofa - when he knew we were going to visit, he would literally start complaining about how uncomfortable it was two days before we were due there. She now lives in Singapore (with her Robin Day sofa) and he STILL brings it up whenever have a discussion about prospective new sofas. Anyway, I live in hope that one day he will see the light.
So when the British Heart Foundation asked me to visit their furniture and electrical store in Leeds to see what treasures I could find, I jumped at the chance. I have several furniture warehouse stomping grounds that I regularly visit here in York and I can't tell you how excited I get when I discover a new one. The children were on half term so I bribed them with the promise of a cake stop and bundled them into the car to Leeds. The store was far bigger than I expected it to be and was well stocked, but in a simple to negotiate way. Items were grouped into room types so if you were looking for a particular item then it wasn’t difficult to find. Also, rather brilliantly, there were plenty of sofas so I threw my mobile at the kids and they were perfectly happy.
There’s a total of 170 of these stores across the country and they take donations from everywhere, from house and probate clearances to items which the owners simply no longer need. They collect these free of charge within their delivery areas and as a result, there’s a constant change of stock on the shop floor. Each item is thoroughly checked and approved before being displayed. I set myself a target of looking for items that would be perfect in my home and there were plenty of them. I managed to narrow it down to my top five.
1. Glass Fronted Display Cabinet £35
I have one of these in my own home and they are absolutely perfect if you want to try your hand at upcycling. I use mine for wine glass storage but they are also ideal for using as a home bar to stock your favourite drinks, decanters and glasses.
Use wallpaper to paper the back of the cupboard – I’ve done this myself and it transforms the piece. There's loads of really good reasonably priced wallpapers around, or maybe you've got some offcuts from a feature wall. I papered mine in the remains of the Cole & Son Deco Palm with which I decorated the hall. I’ve also painted mine black using furniture paint which gives it a really individual feel.
These display cabinets are really great vintage pieces and so beautiful - the wooden detailing on this one was gorgeous. And the fact they have history makes them super special. Although I did once buy one from eBay without seeing it first and it literally smelt like someone had regurgitated an entire packet of Marlboro into it. Freecycled it back. Just keeping up the recycling process.
2. Nest Of Bamboo Tables £20
Bamboo, wicker and natural materials are really popular at the moment and this little nest of tables was absolutely perfect. Mixing textures in your décor is a huge trend and bamboo has a real retro feel to it that gives your home an individual edge. It would fit perfectly into any home, whatever your style.
They’d also be an ideal project for spray painting. There's loads of products you can get for this purpose - I've recently trialled a Johnstones Revive gold spray that would work brilliantly.
Super practical and ideal for plants, I've currently got a couple similar to these as bedside tables. Although Joe is constantly complaining that he can't fit more than a lamp on them. This is a man who has an actual cable tower with six iPod connections on his side of the bed though, so I have no sympathy.
3. High Sideboard £45
There were a few things in the store that I immediately wanted to take home with me and this lovely item was one of them. Sideboards are one of those items that went out of fashion in the 1980’s when the trend for what can only be described as bland furniture came in. Dee Campling and I recently visited the Geffrye Museum in Clerkenwell - if you haven't been there, I hugely recommend it. It had a room set for every decade and the 80's was a definite low point in historical furniture design.
Sideboards are hugely practical, often including drinks cupboards and cutlery drawers and I'm a total addict. My personal opinion is that everyone should have one in their home and if not, why not?
This one had lots of storage and display cupboards and would look amazing teamed with a more modern living space. The drawers were dovetailed which is something that I always look for when checking the quality of the piece.
4. Bedroom Side Table £20
Unfortunately, on the day of my mission I was in between cars and was very annoyingly driving a coupe with two children in the back. If I had been able to leave my children behind and take these beauties, I can reassure you that they would have been mine.
These spacious bedside tables were from Stag, a well known British brand from the 1960’s renowned for producing good quality, hardwearing furniture. These had the original brass handles and were absolutely stunning.
Really solid, again with dovetailed joints, the design is timeless and with enough space to fit even Joe's cable tower. Perfect. And gutted I couldn't take them with me.
5. Dressing Table £35
This is another item whose use that I feel has been lost over the years. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, no home was complete without a solid dressing table and vanity mirror.
These are often seen in second hand shops and it’s easy to update them to suit your space. If you’re not keen on dark wood, use a product such as Frenchic furniture paint to bring it up to date.
This one had a huge mirror and would look amazing in a bedroom space. Beautifully designed and solidly made, it had loads of space and would be able to hold even all of MY make up. Mostly purchased in Asda, unlike my 16 year old daughter who has a full compliment of Mac, Urban Decay and a mascara called Better Than Sex. Seriously.
So why should you shop vintage?
You are perpetuating the recycling process. There’s a wonderful expression that goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ and this is absolutely true. It works both ways too – if you are bored of an item in your home, you can donate it and be safe in the knowledge that someone else will love it, even if you don’t.
You are getting more for your money. Vintage furniture is often far better made than something you would buy from a High Street store for twice the price.
You’re creating your own, individual style. It’s easy to be trend led and matchy matchy when it comes to decorating your home. The juxtaposition of old furniture against new pieces gives a cool and eclectic feel to your home.
You’re helping the environment. By choosing second hand furniture, you are stopping these items being landfilled.
You’re giving back. Not only do you take home a piece of furniture that will add to the happiness of your home, but you are making an effective and worthy contribution to a charitable cause.
There is nothing more satisfying than bringing an old, unloved piece of furniture back to life and incorporating it successfully into your space. So I will certainly be taking a trip back to the British Heart Foundation furniture store in Leeds. But this time I’ll think ahead and make sure that I have enough space in the car for a purchase or two. Plus I will negotiate correctly with my children beforehand - I spent so long browsing that they managed to upgrade the deal from a cake to FIFA18 for Xbox. Schoolboy error. Happy vintage hunting!