I started buying vintage furniture because I was broke, and pragmatism grew into a hobby that I’ve truly come to love. I figured out that I could get a piece of decent quality at an antique mall for a fraction of what I’d pay for at a big store (and would probably have to assemble myself). The pieces I would find were sturdy and solid wood. Their screws could be tightened, and they could bear far more weight than whatever particleboard-and-vinyl-du jure I may have come by elsewhere.
One of the first things I bought was a small writing desk that had been painted white. It was big enough for a laptop and some books, and had a shape that is simply no longer seen. The other thing I bought was an end table to hold my hulking tube TV. It cost $16. I was also lucky enough to acquire a substantial load of dishes, cups, and random glassware from some family members, for which I obviously paid nothing. Again, I found these things to be superior both aesthetically and functionally, and thus my heart was won.
The piece that spurred the shift from utility to genuine appreciation was a table and chair set that I found while shopping with my Mom. We were sweeping the antique mall for a suitable table and chair set, and she noticed this one, piled with vintage this and retro that, and told me that it reminded her of the one her grandma used to have. We removed the piles of other people’s once loved things, and I was able to see that it was truly remarkable; the white enamel surface was embedded with flakes of copper and gold. There was a geometric sunburst design painted in copper, gold, and beautiful coral on the leaves that folded down on either side to make the table nice and compact. It was sturdy and wood and solid, and had four perfect matching vinyl chairs detailed with the same sparkly sliver and gold. Today my table remains my favorite thing that I own.
After the table, I had to have everything I had be like this.
I collected everything I could find: cups-a-plenty, random end tables, little wall hangings, vintage Tupperware, cut crystal, depression glass, books, 1920s jazz sheet music, pyrex galore. I like to wander the isles of antique malls and just take it all in, imagining the lives that the beautiful things once accompanied. I rummaged, bartered, and hauled until my life was filled with relics of other people’s lives. I didn’t care that my things once belonged to somebody else.
Sometimes when I discuss my hobby with others, they comment that it would “weird them out” to have other people’s old stuff, but it’s never bothered me. I find something satisfying in knowing that my things arrived on this Earth long before I, and will likely remain long after, too.
I can’t say with confidence what I actually believe about the human spirit, but I like to think that these pieces keep me connected to those who already lived and died.
As my hobby became known, my relatives started giving me things that genuinely do have some level of meaning, in addition to being old and lovely. After my grandma died, I reconnected with my great aunt, whom it turned out had many things that belonged to their mother, my great grandmother with whom I share a name. She sent me boxes of invaluable, gorgeous items dating back to the 1930s. I also inherited her hearty Singer sewing machine and wooden cabinet from the 1950s, which is so much better than anything one could buy today.
I can’t say with confidence what I actually believe about the human spirit, but I like to think that having these pieces keeps me somehow connected to those who already lived and died, and thus probably could.
To complement my collections, my walls are decorated with vintage comic book themed art that I bought online and at various Comic-Cons, and straight up nerd memorabilia. My living space has become a perfect blend of retrophile and geek-chic that could satiate even the most cynical curmudgeon. Everywhere I look or sit, I feel joy and a sense of fulfillment because of the things I have procured.
I’ve been living in a fetishistic daze since Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby brought art deco and flapper fashion back to the mainstream. There is power in the past, and while even Gatsby failed to repeat his, I can tell you that where old things dwell, new things are waiting to be found. The only things we can’t have are those for which we refuse to search.