$15, 15 Minutes, and Five Great Finds! A Short Guide to Shopping Antique Stores

I sometimes wonder if, from afar, I look like someone who has it all together.  I do get a lot done, after all.   But a peek behind the curtain of my life betrays the messiness of Getting Things Done.   I lose things constantly.  I’ve become quite famous in my own circle for leaving my glasses in obscure locations.  They’ve been found (by others) on a bathroom soap dispenser, behind a file cabinet, in an elevator, in someone else’s coat pocket (long story), under my car seat, and in department store dressing rooms (more than once) just to name a few.   I also make mistakes.  When planning personal projects, I’ve learned to build do-overs into my timelines.   Take this past weekend for example:  I painted one of the walls of a bathroom in a rental property the wrong color—a fact that was obvious only after I was nearly finished.   It looked terrible, and a new tenant was due to arrive an hour later.  By now I’ve learned not to waste time fuming at myself when these things happen.  Instead, I pivoted at once, grabbed a new brush and the right paint can, and got going.  The paint was still wet when the tenant arrived, and its fresh, pungent smell met her at the door as she stepped across the threshold with packing boxes in hand.  But, shazam! Through prayer and resolve, it got done.  Exhale.

Yes, keeping it all together is a tense and grueling exercise, so along the way I have to find ways to decompress.  After the painting fiasco, and as soon as I settled things with my tenant, I headed to a local antique shop, Happy Rock Antiques, for a little retail therapy.   I wasn’t there long—I had a day packed full of tasks and only about 15 minutes to spare—but, $15 later, I walked out with a haul of little treasures that already have pride of place in some of my collections.   So, I’m anxious to show you what I found (see pics below), and I’ll also share with you my “approach” to shopping, which has enabled me to find some pretty great stuff even when I’m pressed for time.

Beaded Lace
Find #1: A bead-lace bracelet. This wonderful find combines two things I love: beads and lace. It’s like chocolate meeting peanut butter. Perfection.
Old Pin
Find #2:  An old pin. This pin tells a story of both romance and neglect; such a pretty piece, yet it looks as though it was lost to time until a treasure-seeker happened upon it by chance. This pin was barely visible below a jumble of tarnished chains and mismatched earrings in an old jewelry box. But when the light hit those dull red stones, the pin became a beacon signalling me to rescue it and take it home!
Find #3:  A beaded purse. This dainty little bag is perfect for my collection. It feels so delicate; the satin is soft, but the beads give this bag weight.
Find #4:   Rhinestone findings. These fragile little pieces are flimsier than they look in this picture, but I couldn’t resist them. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them; they will probably find themselves in a piece of my jewelry.
Magnifying Glass
Find #5:   Magnifying glass. While this magnifying glass isn’t old, I think it’s the prettiest one I’ve ever seen. The entire piece is made out of glass, and while it does have utility (it really does magnify things) it is probably best suited for display.

Jennifer’s Approach to Shopping Antique Stores

When it comes to shopping, I can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.  What follows is an approach to shopping that has evolved over the last two decades of visiting antique stores.  You may already have your own shopping style, but if you’re new to antiquing, or are trying to better curate collections you already have, these tips may help.

  •   Walk in the shop with a well-defined scope.  There’s a relatively narrow spectrum of things that I buy, and I try not to spend much time looking at things that are outside of that spectrum.  I don’t typically buy dishes, for example.  There are always a lot of dishes in antique stores, so I can save myself a lot of time if I just bypass all of them.  I also have pretty rigid personal guidelines when it comes to the eras I shop.  I like things  that were made between 1900 and 1964 or that suggest that era.  These days there are a lot of “newish” items to be found in antique shops from the 80s, 90s, and even 2000s;  I’m not interested in those. When I go into a shop, I’m looking specifically for the following:  furniture, ephemera, jewelry, lace, framed prints, beaded bags, vanity accessories, mirrors, desk items, and books.  I will occasionally buy something else, like a lamp or a vase, but only if it is so rare and beautiful that I can’t walk away.  This doesn’t happen often.
  •  Scan for color.  Whether I shop for antiques or for clothes, I always scan a store (or even an online shop) for color.   I am attracted to the following colors:  cream, burgundy, brown, olive green, garnet red, gold, and black.  I am always looking for those colors.  If you walk in my house, those are the colors you’ll see.  They are the colors most often reflected on my website.  They are the colors of items that draw me into an antique stall.  I generally discount items that do not fall into this palette.
  • Collect things that look good together in the shop.  I am always putting displays together in my head, and those displays begin to take shape within the shop.  I’m seeking items that look good together.  For example, look at the collection I just found at Happy Rock; there is a cohesiveness in these different objects.  If they look good together in the shopping basket, they will look good—and visually and aesthetically consistent—with all of the other things in my house.

Fabulous Finds

  •  Have a purpose in mind.  Have a purpose in mind for the things you are considering buying.  Where will you use them?  How?  If you aren’t sure, it might be best to walk away and avoid an impulse purchase you might regret.  My practice is to walk an entire antique shop or mall without picking anything up.  If I find something I think I might want to buy, I come back to it before I leave;  if I still love it, I buy it; if it has lost the luster I saw at first glance, I walk away.
  • Know what’s unique and what isn’t.  There are certain items that are found in nearly every antique shop you come across.  Avon Cape Cod dishes are an obvious example;  pieces in that beautiful tabletop collection from the 1970s are readily available.  There isn’t a lot of urgency in purchasing those pieces (unless, or course, you really love them.  In that case, buy them).  Other items are much more rare. One of my all-time favorite finds is an old aquarium stand from the early part of the Twentieth Century.  I’ve only seen one of those in all my years of antique shopping.  That was an easy purchasing decision; if I didn’t buy it, it would be a long wait before I saw one again.

Next time you visit a shop, give this approach a try, and let me know what treasures you unearth!

Until next time…

Jennifer Passariello

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