WHEN DALE DENTON, 53, bought a vacation home at Maryland’s Deep Creek Lake, she didn’t have a huge budget for redecorating. That’s one reason she contacted Yuppie Decor, a Shirlington-based business that’s open by appointment only, to score some items for her new getaway.
“They’ve got an eye,” she says of owners Aaron and Shannon Hase, who breathe new life into old furnishings via bold paint jobs and fabrics. Denton purchased two chairs from them she would have never looked at twice in their original state.
“They had some chairs I would refer to as a 1970s Mediterranean nightmare,” says Denton, who manages the Julia Gray showroom at the Washington Design Center. “In their original life, they were probably done in, I’m guessing, a really buttery cream color, and they probably had some cheesy gold trim on them. Yuppie Decor took those chairs and made them stark white. Suddenly, something that was completely unattractive became attractive, and the exaggerated shape in white became architectural almost in its look.”
Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of paint or some TLC to make something old feel new again. And sometimes that great table or dresser you find at a thrift shop, yard sale or consignment store can move right into your home as is.
Plenty of people have had a penchant for vintage furnishings for years. It might be the thrill of the hunt or an interest in collecting that drives their secondhand shopping. But as the state of the economy leads to all sorts of belt-tightening, more and more people are taking a new look at old pieces.
“I like to say that thrift is the new black,” says Stan Williams, the New York-based author of “The Find“, which offers tips and techniques for decorating with vintage pieces. “We’re seeing many, many people venturing into thrift stores to save money.”
Those savings can sometimes be significant.
“You can get a farm table in here for, like, $195, as opposed to $1,200 [elsewhere],” says Pixie Windsor, owner of D.C.’s Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot. “While there’s been an economic downturn since October, this business and a lot of people I know in this business are doing really well.”
But just because you nabbed a bargain doesn’t mean everyone else will be able to tell. Maria Fyodorova, a D.C. resident who runs the Righteous (re)Style blog, found a dining set handcrafted by a small company in South Carolina for $200 on Craigslist.
“It’s just beautiful and beautifully made,” says Fyodorova, 36. “People come over and say, ‘It’s so amazing — where did you get that?’ It’s hard for them to believe we bought it secondhand.”
Going vintage is not only easy on your wallet; it’s easy on the environment, too.
“I think as people become more interested in the environment, they’re interested in being able to repurpose what they already have or what’s already out there in the world, rather than creating new demand for new products,” says Rachael Grad, an editor for Apartment Therapy’s D.C. site.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how eco-friendly or cheap something is if it doesn’t function in your space. So, when searching for vintage treasures, know what you need and bring along measurements of your rooms, a tape measure, fabric swatches and anything else that might help ensure that your steal is worth the deal. Test the piece you’re eyeballing — whether that means opening drawers or stretching out on a sofa — to see whether everything works as it should. Make sure nothing wobbles, creaks or shakes, which are all signs that the item might be better left behind. And unless you’re super-crafty, it’s probably best to avoid anything that needs more than a minor face-lift. And in some cases, even that may not really be necessary.
“Sometimes you just have to give things a really good cleaning,” says Windsor. “With wood things, I clean them with lemon oil or Murphy’s Oil Soap. It’s really surprising the difference it makes. And if you didn’t pay a lot for it and it’s not a rare antique, paint it to match what you already have.”
But even if a piece does require a little elbow grease, if you feel you absolutely have to have it, it’s probably worthwhile.
“Buy only what you love,” Williams says. “Buy something that speaks to you — don’t buy something just because it’s collectible or might be valuable. If you buy things that you love, you will find a place for it.”
When Yuppie Decor’s Aaron Hase, a 27-year-old Alabama native, found a turn-of-the-20th-century photo of an Alabama fire department, he wound up with a piece that will always have a place in his home.
“I’ll keep it forever,” he says. “It has a lot of character and has meaning for us.”
Items like these can add personality to a room.
“It’s fun to spice up your space and not have stuff that all looks like Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel or is exactly matching,” says Windsor. “It’s fun to throw something in there that’s fun and eclectic.”
That might even include things such as salvaged mantels, doors and sinks.
“They add a level of charm you don’t get with a lot of new construction,” says Donetta George, owner of D.C.’s Brass Knob Architectural Antiques. “And the design is so much more interesting. You can get things you’re not going to see anywhere else.”
Incorporating salvaged items isn’t that hard, especially if you know a good carpenter or plumber. George says that even condo and townhouse owners can add them with relative ease and in most cases don’t need special permission. Even something as simple as vintage hardware can make a big difference in a home.
“People will go into a house and they’ll never say, ‘Boy, that house has beautiful hardware,’ but they will look around and say, ‘Boy, this house looks really good,'” says George. “It just makes the house look better — it makes the house look more valuable.”
“Adding vintage and thrift pieces to a home adds instant heritage — it adds instant warmth,” says Williams. And displaying Grandpa’s antique cocktail shaker or vintage travel posters doesn’t cost a dime, but it can help your space reflect everything from your family tree to your current hobbies and interests.
“I always tell people to incorporate their personality,” Hase says. “It’s so much better if things have a story behind them.”
Whether you’re in the market for a coffee table or a lamp, these local resources might have just what you need.
» For mid-century furnishings, head to Millennium Decorative Arts. “It’s like stuff out of ‘Mad Men’ — it’s very, very hip,” says Maria Fyodorova, who runs the blog Righteousrestyle.com.
» At Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot, shoppers might nab anything from a metal sign to a stuffed marlin. “Whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I always stop in there, because you never know what you’re going to find,” says Rachael Grad, an editor for Apartment Therapy’s D.C. site.
» Ruff & Ready Furnishings is like your scary great-aunt’s attic,” Fyodorova says. “It’s just jam-packed.”
» Find cool wares at Shirlington-based Yuppie Decor, where vintage pieces are rehabbed with fresh looks. “They’re really embracing this concept … and doing a good job with it,” says Dale Denton, manager of the Julia Gray showroom at the Washington Design Center.
» For salvaged doors and other pieces, check out Brass Knob Architectural Antiques, the Brass Knob Back Doors Warehouse and Community Forklift in Edmonston, Md. The latter can be good for “a lot of weird knickknacks,” says Fyodorova.
Written by Express contributor Beth Luberecki
Photos by Lawrence Luk for Express