An old iron grate leaning against the wall inside The Painted Home in Downtown Washington (at right) has been catching shoppers’ eyes. Store owner Angela Pritchard, who found the piece at a home being demolished in northern Missouri, has so far left it untouched because there are so many possibilities for it.
“People see it and they’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that is such a cool piece, but what can I do with it?’ ” said Pritchard.
She immediately starts throwing out ideas.
“Well, for one thing, it probably weighs about 50 pounds, but if you want, you could anchor it in the wall,” Pritchard suggested, “or you could make a table top out of it.
“You make a wood frame with legs, set the grate on top alone or cover it with glass. Or you can make a box, put (the grate) down below and a light color on the bottom so it’s like a shadow box. There’s endless possibilities.”
That’s part of what has been driving the vintage trend in home decor, which has been going on already for 10 years, according to several Franklin County shop owners who specialize in these items.
You can customize and personalize, make items unique that no one else will have, said Pritchard.
There are other factors too, say Annette Grimm and Susan Jones, owners of Nettie Suze Home Decor in Pacific.
The “green” movement to reuse and repurpose everything has been a major influence, they said.
“The ‘green’ people started it, trying to save all the furniture from going into landfills,” Pritchard remarked.
Then the Internet amplified it, she said, with the rise of the social networking site Pinterest and other websites and blogs that often provide before and after photos to inspire people of what they can do with their own old pieces, as well as how-to instructions that give people the knowledge (and courage) to take on these kinds of projects.
“People like to do things themselves,” Grimm noted.
“That’s why we started selling the Chalk Paint® decorative paint by Annie Sloan,” she said. “We find there are people who like the work we do and want to buy the furniture already painted . . . and then there are people who want to do it themselves.”
Finally, the down economy has helped the vintage trend along too, the women agree. It’s a way to get an updated look for not necessarily a lot of money, explained Pritchard, because you can take things you already own and paint them or come up with new ways to use them.
What Exactly Is Vintage?
Grimm said she considers the word vintage just a nice way to say something is used or secondhand.
More specifically, though, vintage refers to anything 30 years or older, said Pritchard.
By comparison, she uses the word antique to describe items 75 years or older. Others set the antique marker at 100 years or older.
Where They Find Pieces
Vintage hunters, like Pritchard, Jones and Grimm, look everywhere and anywhere for great finds to bring to their customers. They comb flea markets, auctions, garage sales, resale shops, thrift stores, Craig’s List . . . just looking for those diamonds in the rough that they can polish.
Pritchard travels the country, from Texas to Florida, looking for items. One of her favorite places to go is The Longest Garage Sale which crosses several states each August.
Now that they have established storefronts, they also have people stopping in trying to sell them things.
The ladies said it’s hard to put into words exactly what they look for. They might not know it until they see it and are inspired by it.
With furniture, though, “we look for things with detail on them because that shows up better with the painting and distressing,” said Grimm.
Painted Furniture Is Popular
Painted furniture is probably the most popular item in vintage decor, these shop owners said, although there are definitely people who cringe at the thought of painting any furniture.
That’s part of the reason they leave some pieces in their shops unpainted. They also do it so buyers can customize the piece, request a certain color, or even to allow the customers to paint it themselves.
Grimm believes the painted furniture is so popular right now because customers are looking for pieces that reflect their personalities and also, once it’s painted, it becomes one-of-a-kind. It wasn’t mass-produced and sold out of a catalog, so no one else will have it.
“You may not want something painted all over your house, but a piece here and there is nice,” she said.
Both The Painted Home and Nettie Suze offer workshops for people wanting to learn techniques for painting furniture in a vintage style. Both also sell matte-finish paint in a variety of colors (The Painted Home sells the Van Gogh Fossil Paint brand) and hold classes to teach people how to paint with it.
This type of paint, they noted, can be used on fabric too. At Nettie Suze, there was an upholstered chair that had been painted with Chalk Paint® which made the fabric feel like artificial leather.
The shop owners who work in the vintage home decor business are mostly all friends.
“We all shop sometimes at the same time at the same place . . . these warehouse sales . . . ,” said Pritchard.
The business isn’t as competitive as customers might expect, mainly because each shop has its own look and feel.
“Even though we all might have similar things, (our shops) all look different,” Pritchard commented. Everybody has their own flair, and you’re not going to find the same piece at each shop.”
That’s due, in part, to the artistic vision of each store owner, and goes to show how different looks can be achieved with the similar pieces.
Very often customers who frequent one vintage decor store, shop at them all, said Grimm. And there are several around Franklin County.
“It’s a benefit for all of us to be friends.”
Vintage Market Days
Several of the vintage decor shops in Franklin County will be vendors at a St. Louis Vintage Market Days event that will be held April 4-6 at Wyman Center in Eureka.
Described as “an upscale vintage-inspired indoor/outdoor market,” the event will bring vintage vendors from across Missouri and beyond to sell everything from original artwork, antiques, clothing, jewelry, handmade treasures, home décor, outdoor furnishings and more.
For times and ticket information, people can visit http://stlouis.vintagemarketdays.com/.