Retro. Vintage. Antique. Nostalgia. Throwback. Curiosities. Collectibles.
We’re surrounded by relics from the past. And we can’t get enough of it. There’s a hunger for all things vintage out there, whether it be clothes or badges, furniture or ornaments, railways signs or first edition books. And today, I’m interested in considering why.
There’s a deep psychology at play here: connecting with roots, celebrating heritage, rediscovering a sense of history, being part of something greater than ourselves…grounding ourselves in all that has gone before. For some, there’s a sense of looking back to happier times when life was simpler, toys were wooden, furniture and clothes were made to last, and built in obsolescence had not been conceived of. Nothing will ever be as good as it used to be.
I’m always drawn to the quirkiness, eccentricity, uniqueness of curiosities from the past. I guess that’s why I bought a freaky real fur cat ornament in a vintage shop in Edinburgh last year (which my dog did in fact mistake for a real cat with disastrous results) – I can state with some certainty that such items are wonderful conversation starters! It’s also the reason that the Wellcome Collection opposite Euston Station is my favourite London haunt, as it houses Henry Wellcome's collection of the most bizarre items from his travels (as was the privilege of a wealthy white man in the Victorian era).
I enjoyed delving into this timeless fascination with Victorian antiques in this blog from Nimbus Antiques in Whaley Bridge.
‘There was a romance to the age, and people had the opportunity and money to invest in beautiful things for their homes. Consequently, Victorian antiques are often exquisitely crafted with ageless appeal.’ From Victorian Antiques – A Timeless Fascination
It’s this inherently romantic and immensely creative character of the Victorian era that draws me in: the rich and opulent ‘thick brocades, lush velvets and glistening silks, in deep reds, strong greens and glimmering golds’.
But here’s my confession: I lose hours in obsessing over vintage and antique items. I just don’t know how to incorporate them into my life and home.
So let’s meet someone who does.
Some people just have it. My daughter-in-law Rebecca Redfern is one of those people. Bit by bit, she’s transforming her home into something unique and incredibly beautiful – without it costing the earth. She’s committed to buying nothing new, you see, which is great for the planet and for her bank balance.
From this -
To this -
Her secret to her vision for a room is to focus on something she wants to use in the room and then design the room around it. So her spare room was designed to work around a vintage bedspread she found years ago and the master bedroom was worked around a leather headboard she found second hand (because her husband had his heart set on a leather headboard). She charts her renovation journey on Instagram as @in_4_a_penny.
When Luke and Rebecca moved into their new home in October 2020, they pledged to buy nothing new. They already had a lot of furniture from their previous home and always planned to use that, but this new house was a lot bigger and would need more. However, Rebecca had three good reasons for her decision to buy nothing new, as she explains, ‘I don’t like waste. Waste in any form makes me anxious and sad. We try hard to find things second hand or make it ourselves. We do this for both environmental reasons and to save money. We don’t plan on borrowing money to renovate our home and buying second hand supports that. Another reason for buying second hand furniture is that I truly believe the quality is better and it always has much more character to it.’
Having met recently with Natalie Broughton and Adam Waugh from Pearl’s Emporium https://www.facebook.com/pearlsemporiumdurham), a small independent business based in Durham, which buys and sells quality antiques, vintage clothing & collectibles, I was fascinated to find out if their observations about why people are fascinated by antique and vintage reflected Rebecca’s reasons.
Here are their thoughts:
‘Antique and vintage items give a unique insight into previous decades and centuries. They offer a sense of nostalgia and are a physical object that someone can connect to a certain era. Also, they often tell a story, with the chips, cracks, crazing and repairs charting a lifetime of an object which is often older than we are.
Antiques are often better made than things that are made today, and this is why they have lasted so long! Such items are often scarce, or even a one of a kind, meaning that people can buy things in the knowledge that there aren’t thousands of other identical pieces available across the High Street.
Furthermore, buying second hand is much better for the environment and it promotes more sustainable ways of consumption. It extends the life of items and prevents them from going into landfill unnecessarily.
Buying vintage can be a great way to save money, as it’s possible to buy things significantly cheaper than an equivalent brand new item.’
So how can we turn our fascination with the past into a reality in our homes and lives? Where do we start? For Rebecca, it started with letting her imagination run free.
Rebecca’s love of vintage and preloved goes back a long way to when she visited second hand shops with her grandma when she was small. ‘I always loved older things and history’, she recalls, ‘my favourite place as a child and even now is the Beamish museum. I loved to pretend that I lived in the old terrace houses and could imagine myself feeling so at home with the interiors. I have had a lot of inspiration from Beamish.’
Rebecca has a passion for fixing things that are broken or what other people would consider broken and throw away. Reupholstery is her main passion and she took a year's college course in 2016 after covering a few dining chairs on her own. It brings her so much joy to give new life to a dirty old headboard.
So where does she source the items she buys and how does she know what to do with items that are in less than perfect condition? She lists her sources as Marketplace, Ebay, a local outlet called Orange Box, local charity shops and ‘a lovely local lady who runs her business on Instagram called @dearest.retro.’ As for renovating items, Rebecca admits to a fair amount of trial and error, although she does read a lot of blogs online.
Rebecca’s passion for second hand treasures is infectious. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘It's exciting, shopping second hand is like a blind date. I love the idea of having something nobody else has and it has its own history. When I sit at my vintage dressing table I can't help but think about the stories it could tell.’
As more and more people pledge to buy nothing new, we create a community of like-minded individuals, all discovering the joy of buying preloved.
Do join us in this sustainable revolution – together , we can change the world.