Cheap, unique and everywhere at home: the thrill of vintage shopping


CLEVELAND, Ohio — I work from a large wooden teacher’s desk, painted white and listed on Facebook Marketplace. I’m sitting in front of an old wooden professor’s chair, ripped off at auction when my alma mater was torn down. A vintage aqua typewriter from a flea market sits on my shelf, under a vintage University of Miami pennant from an antique store. Next to frames of vintage swimsuits and a Jantzen floral swim cap bought on eBay.

It’s just my home office.

Vintage stuff covers my century-old farmhouse, from the card catalog table in the living room to the tennis rackets on the mudroom wall to the potato chip box in the kitchen.

When our house showed up on the Rocky River Women’s Club Christmas tour a few years ago, I called it the Craigslist house, not to be confused with the professionally designed lakeside mansions.

See all of Laura Johnston’s home improvement columns.

Originally, my second-hand purchases were out of necessity. When we bought this house six years ago, we couldn’t afford a $2,000 sofa bed for our office, so I bought a used $100 soga and camouflaged it with a cover from Target. I bought an ugly wooden filing cabinet, loaded it into my van and painted it green. To create an entry closet, I bought a TV cabinet, fitted it with a clothes rail, and experimented with chalk and chalkboard paint.

Turns out I was proud of my Dutch economy.

Vintage pieces are unique. They come with stories, layers of history that automatically make them more interesting. And you can do whatever you want with it.

Plus, there’s the thrill of seeking – and finding.

It’s a thrill I didn’t share as a child, following my mother through antique fairs. She’d warn me not to touch anything, then point to a Victrola record player or a baker’s cabinet and say, “We got one!”

Now I am forwarding my daughter on our antique trips, so she can hear the same stories.

“We don’t need old shit anymore!” says my husband, every time I want a new outfit. A vintage croquet set, for example. It now sits on our porch, next to the battered metal Coleman cooler I bought after our first camping trip, and the pink and green lobster float I brought back from Maine.

Oh, but we do. Have you seen “Living in the Countryside?” The magazine offers a new collection of antiques every month!

Currently on my shopping list: a brass mail slot and road sign that says ‘North’, to hang in the garage of our house on Northview Road.

I collected vintage pieces for our new addition, a second-floor laundry room and a third-floor bedroom and bath suite, in our Rocky River farmhouse built in 1913.

I hope to use an old sewing machine as a bedside table. There’s an end table turned into a crate of Dutch cleaner that I’m hoping to wedge in the corner of the laundry room, perhaps under a Columbus Laundry Co. washboard.

However, the best discoveries are incidental rather than research. That’s why navigation is so fun.

On a family trip to South Haven, Michigan a few weeks ago, I bought some pastel painted boat bumpers that hung on my front door. And a black and white cast iron sink.

The sink was full of dirt and plants, displayed in a roadside shack called Sunset Junque. It was $85 and the store accepted credit cards. So I tried my luck.

The new cast iron sinks I had ogled online cost nearly $1,500. And they were just replicas of the old style, anyhow.

First I have to clean the sink and figure out how to update it with coats of epoxy and enamel paint. Apparently we also need to buy a deck faucet, hire a plumber to put the pipes in the right place, and add extra brackets to hang it on the wall.

It’s a lot. But when I spotted a concrete example when I went cherry picking at Quarry Hill Orchards last weekend, I felt vindicated. How cool it will be to have a working piece of history in our home.

This beautiful sink is in the bathroom at Quarry Hill Orchards in Berlin Heights.

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