WEATHERED COBBLESTONES IN FELLS POINT. Mount Vernon townhouses that look zapped in from “The Age of Innocence.” Creaky-yet-chic Victorian rowhouses in Federal Hill and Canton. Everywhere you look in Baltimore, there’s character and patina. It’s not surprising that, in this zone of centuries-old neighborhoods and quirky history, even the antiques stores seem cooler and more colorful than any Chippendale-hawking outfitter in Georgetown.
“I think there’s a certain yearning for something that has a history, a provenance,” says Ben Riddleberger, co-owner of Housewerks, an eye-popping architectural salvage trove not far from Ravens Stadium. “Anyone can fill their house with beige and brown.” Indeed, it is a coloring outside the lines of sorts that propels Baltimore’s used-goods scene, where vintage men’s vests, antique church benches and kid’s books from the Little Lord Fauntleroy era are just some of the unexpected offerings.
FILL YOUR HOUSE
Credit the cheaper real estate or the glut of old fixer-uppers in these parts with Charm City’s wealth of architectural salvage outlets. Riddleberger’s Housewerks (1415 Bayard St.; 410-685-8047; Housewerksalvage.com) is worth a trip just to ogle the space: a 1885 gas valve house with soaring ceilings and moldings fit for a palace.
Pieces here that would help rehab — or just reinvent — your pad range from lead glass windows hung from the rafters to a terrifying looking perm machine ($695) with octopus-like arms bearing little metal curlers. The spooky (yet clean) basement yields finds like a carnival sign reading “To Midway/To Animal Land” and a metal factory tripod light ($225) ready to be repurposed as a reading lamp. “It becomes a new old thing,” says Riddleberger.
A similar spirit of reinvention also rules nearby Second Chance Inc. (1400, 1501, 1600 and 1645 Warner St.; 410-385-1101; Secondchanceinc.org), a series of cement-floored warehouses crammed with old church pews, cast-iron porch columns ($595 each), fireplace mantels, a hodgepodge of furniture, and accessories like a gilded Styrofoam bust of what seems to be a grouchy Trojan warrior ($25).
“We’re trying to keep things out of the landfill,” says manager Lynn Fingles. “We get stuff from donations and deconstructed houses.” This often makes for a wild range of merchandise. Recently spotted: a copper building facade with its original glass lights ($2,500) and a dark wood back bar ($9,000) straight out of an old Western. “We even had some stuffed lions in here a year ago,” says Fingles.
Leftovers from the “Mad Men” era star at Home Anthology in Baltimore exurb Catonsville (91-95 Mellor Ave.; 410-744-0042; Homeanthology.com). In a white-walled warehouse space, husband and wife collecting-crazy team Robe Degenhard and Nini Sarmiento traffic in low-slung, boxy sofas, Danish teak dining tables and chunky, funky lamps straight out of “The Brady Bunch.” Sarmiento thinks this clean-lined mid-century modern look appeals to customers. “People like to mix things up. I think a lot of them shop at Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel but add our pieces so they don’t feel like they’re walking into a time warp.”
Still, there are lots of finds here that suggest time travel might be a good idea, at least style-wise: a green-fronted George Nelson dresser ($1,800), a skinny painting of New York City circa 1964 ($225) and a blocky Danish teak bar with a groovy mirrored interior ($850).
COVER YOUR BOD
As the home of John Waters — and the native habitat of “hons” (beehived women who haven’t yet given up the clothing of the 1960s) — Baltimore ranks as one of the best vintage clothing towns in the country. (Plus, psst, it’s really cheap!)
Waters himself used to shop for movie costumes at Killer Trash (602 South Broadway; 410-625-2449). On a recent Saturday afternoon, the studio-apartment size Fells Point institution was packed with men’s and women’s clothing from the 1940s through the 1980s. We’re talking fringed leather jackets à la Fleetwood Mac circa 1973, striped tube tops and enough sequined sweaters ($20 and up) to outfit an army of Waters heroines.
The spandex-clad clerk was patient and helpful as one client searched though cocktail dresses dangling from the ceiling, finally plucking out a turquoise flowered silk frock ($25) with a skirt full enough for a latter-day June Cleaver.
The browsing is less intense at B-more’s newest vintage den, Federal Hill’s light, bright Clothing Warehouse (1211 S. Charles St.; 410-244-6554; Clothingwarehouse.com). That’s because, says manager Whitney Ritchie, “We only take things that are in great shape, and we clean everything.”
Sure, this means a little of the musty, scour-the-racks fun of trawling for treasures disappears, but the merchandise here is good and easy to browse: dozens of pairs of colorful sunglasses, a wall of weathered cowboy books, old logo T-shirts and a rack of 1970s vests in tweeds and corduroy ($14 each). “Those are blowing out of here with menswear being in for fall,” says Ritchie.
Dresses, not surprisingly, shine here. Think a 1970s rayon frock with black and red flowers ($38) and an Audrey Hepburn-esque cocktail mini number in black with a rhinestone-decked collar. “We sell so many for parties,” says Ritchie.
FEED YOUR MIND
Readers decades from their last bedtime story with Mom find their favorite kid tomes preserved and for sale behind the minty green windows at Drusilla’s Books (817 N. Howard St.; 410-225-0277; Drusillasbooks.com). “I think people buy these old children’s books for nostalgia,” says owner Drusilla P. Jones, who has been in the biblio biz since 1981. “In the past, bookmakers took so much loving care with the covers and illustrations.”
Her Mount Vernon neighborhood shop, one of a number of longtime establishments on Baltimore’s Antique Row, is neatly lined with titles from childhoods gone by: dozens of Nancy Drew mysteries, Victorian fairy tales, and sweetly illustrated “Teeny Weenies” books from the early 20th century that come across like early graphic novels.
Honeyed wooden floors and a statue of a woman reading add to the warm, English country house feel here, as do a range of unusual old books meant for more mature readers: 1960s home remodeling guides ($3), English novels, an illustrated guide to birds of the Bible and an 1873 leather-bound edition of the complete works of William Shakespeare ($1,600).
Sure, some of this is dream library stuff. But, says Jones, “All the books here are meant to be read and enjoyed. It’s not a museum.”
Photos by Marge Ely/Express