Antique Signs for The Kitchen

antiquesigncollageKitchens are funny rooms. They’re designed for utility, but they’re also given a special place as the “heart” of the home. They’re hospitable spaces, so it makes sense that even modern kitchens benefit from a lived-in element. Decorators have been injecting rustic details like corbels and chalk boards into kitchen design for a while, but I think one of the most interesting objects you can add to your kitchen is an antique or vintage sign.

The best old signs to use in the kitchen relate directly to food. It’s a little on the nose but it works! Consider a painted wood sign. Collectivator seller Colin Paul Antiques has hand painted signs from a farmer’s fruit stand. One that sold quickly simply said “Delicious” – referring to the type of apple – but what a perfectly suited word for the kitchen!

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Signs saying “Carrots” and “Sauerkraut” are still available.

Also for sale are a series of handmade cursive script signs from a 1960s era grocery store. The font is mid century vintage, and with an assortment of words you can find something that really suits your taste (see what I did there?). Depending on your style you can find wood signs that work in vintage, country, or rustic “shabby chic” styled kitchens.

While wood signs have always been popular, they were not very durable for outdoor use. By the end of the 19th century, signs started being mass produced in full colour porcelain and tin. Porcelain and tin signs are associated with national brands but they were also produced for smaller, local companies. Bisback Antiques, for instance, is offering a great 1950s ROE Feeds tin sign. Tin signs often have vibrant graphics that really stand out on a wall, not to mention their nostalgic appeal.dscn1058

 

One thing to note with wood and tin signs is the proliferation of reproductions. Homey “family” messages on faux aged wood and reprinted tin signs are in decor shops everywhere. In general, these signs are sold as new and I don’t really have a problem with them, but they usually strike me as a poor imitation. I still think it’s worth the effort and money to buy the real thing. Old signs have a story. They are cultural and commercial artifacts. I also find the chips in the paint, the dents in the tin, and even the marks from where the sign was mounted add to the visual appeal.

Now say you want to have an authentic sign, but you want to start at a lower price point. In this case, a great thing to look for is antique and vintage shipping crate labels. Sometimes they will be framed, but often they will not. Unlike the unique painted wood signs, shipping labels were mass printed. The extras you find still have vibrant images of landscapes and appetizing produce that work beautifully in a kitchen. They are a fairly common item and usually cost only between $10 – $100.daisymills

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Daisy Mills” and “Surety Apples” labels for sale.

I bought a “Zenith” shipping label at the Pickering Markets for $20. I love the apple and how it represents a Canadian company. My friend found framed shipping labels at a local group shop for similar prices. There are so many labels out there that can really add interest to your kitchen without breaking the bank. zenithapples

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Whether the sign is on wood, tin or paper, as with any collectible there is room to grow in rarity and price. Signs can truly be works of art. They can be one of a kind. In the upper end, antique signs can easily cost thousands of dollars. Take a look at this gorgeous 1920s general store sign from J.C. Miller Antiques . It ticks all the boxes – colour, content, and beautifully weathered age. gstoreantiquesignVintage and antique signs are sought after by decorators looking for that one amazing piece, or collectors who have a space on the wall (and isn’t there always room for just one more?). With a little effort, you can find an a sign that speaks to you. Whatever your style or budget, old signs and kitchens are a match made in heaven.

The Changing Face of Antiques in Restaurant Decor

This week I read a well researched, compelling article in Collector’s Weekly called “The Death of Flair: As Friday’s Goes Minimalist, What Happens to the Antiques?“. I highly recommend you follow that link and read the article yourself. It follows the history of the “casual theme restaurant” like T.G.I Fridays from hot 1970s singles bar to cliché family establishment. The decor in these restaurants has always relied on huge collections of nostalgia and antiques. Now that the designs are changing to be more minimalist (and apparently, Millennial approved), the old stuff is coming off the walls.

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The old T.G.I Fridays on left, new design on right. Images via Collector’s Weekly.

I found it very interesting to learn about the networks of antique pickers and dealers who make restaurant decor their business. Throughout the years, the market went through trends that affected what antiques were in demand. When the restaurant chains started in the 1970s, they wanted bang for their buck. Whatever was abundant and affordable made the cut, and that’s why items like porcelain signs, stained glass windows and Tiffany style lamps became standard. As these same categories of antiques became harder to find, and more expensive, reproduction or “fantasy antiques” (I love that term) were added to the mix.

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Antiques for use in restaurant decor via Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

My favourite part of the article includes a short video on the massive Tennessee warehouse that still holds all the 90,000 individual antiques used in Cracker Barrel restaurants (unlike the other chains, Cracker Barrel is expected to keep with their antique tradition). This family business grew with the popularity of the restaurant; from local antique dealers to networked provider for a large national chain. It’s pretty amazing to see what is essentially a library filled with categories of antiques instead of books. Each and every Cracker Barrel restaurant uses approximately 1,000 antiques in their dining rooms and 99% of their decor is authentic.

Doesn’t that warehouse look like a fascinating place to visit? A few years ago on a trip to Nashville, we made it a point to visit the local Cracker Barrel. It was my first time encountering this temple of Southern Americana. Everything from the rocking chairs on the front porch to the shotgun mounted on the wall added to the impact. There were large advertising signs mounted with old musical instruments, photographs, clocks and farm tools. It was kitsch but it was also interesting. I could see that some items were worth more than others but they were all mixed together into a cohesive whole. In this way, Cracker Barrels are like Tiki bars – they represent a getaway into an idealized version of the past. The nostalgia is real because the items are real. They also serve huge breakfasts for very reasonable prices (go for the antiques and stay for the grits).

I came away from this article with a new appreciation for the business of American restaurant decor, and the use of antiques in that industry. I hope restaurants don’t get overly “tasteful” and boring in their desire to appeal to the younger generation. On one hand, yes, Millennials don’t like tons of stuff on the walls, but on the other hand they value the idea of authenticity. You can’t throw a rock in a hip restaurant these days without hitting an Edison bulb or rusty industrial relic. Times change and what is cool now will seem outdated soon. I might be a dying breed but I don’t go out to stare at my phone. Let’s keep something interesting on the walls. If it can be something antique all the better.

My top 3 Most Versatile Antique & Vintage Items

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I love a versatile item, don’t you? In modern homes it’s a real bonus if an item can look good, add character and serve a function. Some collectibles can only really be used for one purpose, but others can be repurposed into a variety of uses that suit your particular needs. Here are my top three versatile, charming, and often inexpensive items that can be used in creative and fun ways throughout your home. I’ve found all these items at antique shows, flea markets and shops over the years and I’m still discovering new uses for them.


Jars – Ah the humble, hard working jar. New jars are nice, but real vintage jars are still an easy find. I love them for their imperfections and old fashioned marks. My favourite has a soft blue colour that is timeless and pretty. Old jars just say “country home” and fit in many relaxed styles.

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Jars for sale at the Aberfoyle Antique Market

What can you do with an antique jar? Almost anything! You can paint them, etch words into them, switch up the lids (find new lids at kitchen supply stores) and even add knobs to the tops. Here are some of my favourite old jar uses:

  • Bathroom Storage – Q-tips, cotton balls and bath salts look lovely and stay protected.
  • Succulent Terrariums –  Small trees and fake snow make fun holiday decorations as well.
  • Vases – An old fashioned way to display your fresh cut flowers.
  • Lights – On the easy end, you can put a candle or string lights in a jar to great effect, or if you feel crafty, there are great directions out there for turning jars into table lamps and even chandeliers.
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Vintage “GEM” jar with garden peonies. A dollar store grid top made this jar a vase.


Tins – Graphic, fun, functional tins. Keep your eyes peeled and you’re sure to find something you like at a wide variety of markets. Collectors prize certain brands (and clean condition), so price will vary.

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One of the most common problems with old tins is that they can warp, rust and become difficult to close. Don’t let that stop you, however, if you fall in love with a great image. You can still use tins in the following ways:

  • Desk & Kitchen Organizers – One of the easiest ways to enjoy a tin is simply take the top off and fill it with something you need to have out on a surface, like pens or cooking utensils. Big tins can hold bags of flour or pet food. Glue magnets to small tins and you can use them on your fridge.
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Vintage “Girl Scout” tin. Purchased at the Nashville Flea Market, this tin is both a great souvenir and a handy way to corral my pens. I love the badges!

  • Planters – Fill a tin with dirt and plant something that won’t require much water, like a succulent. Easy to grow and display.
  • Candles – Wax, wick, you’re good to go!
  • Jewelry – Difficult for beginners but if you know how to work with metal, small pieces of cut antique tin can inspire wonderful designs. Also a great use of otherwise very damaged and inexpensive tins.
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Large Potato Chip tin used to store bags of flour in my parent’s kitchen

  • Caddies – With a little effort, you can turn multiple tins into a tiered caddie for your office or craft room.
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Caddie (and instructions) via Better Homes and Gardens


Corbels and Trim – A corbel (also sometimes called a bracket) is the piece of wood, usually carved in a  decorative pattern, that sticks out and holds up the structure above it. Trim is simply any piece of wood that was once used to outline a piece of furniture or structure.

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Antique corbels used as book ends and mounted in the entrance-way of a kitchen. Images via HGTV

Trim is quite cheap but delicate antique corbels can be expensive. Reproductions are an option, but keep your eyes open and you may get lucky. Real old wood has a wonderful worn aesthetic that adds so much warmth to your space. This type of architectural detail is found at salvage shops and antique shows. As you can imagine, decorative pieces of wood are pretty all-purpose. Some popular ideas for antique corbels and trim include:

  • Shelves
  • Book Ends
  • Kitchen Counters & Cabinets – Mounted underneath counters and cabinets, corbels can add texture and nostalgia to modern kitchens.
  • Shelf Brackets – Either paired with antique trim or new wood, corbels likewise compliment shelves
  • Coat Hooks
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My DIY antique trim coat hook. Still holding up our coats in style!

Architectural salvage has experienced a resurgence in popularity, so it’s a good idea to buy great pieces when you see them. I found the two vintage corbels below for only $60. I think I’m going to simply nail them to the wall and use them as shelves as is. Luckily I always have a few smalls that need displaying 😉

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I hope this encourages you to find spots for these charming old items in your home. Do you have any more ideas for using jars, tins or trim? Please share in the comments below!

The Bowmanville Antiques and Folk Art Show

Spring has finally sprung! Spring brings Easter and for those of us who love Canadian antiques, Easter also brings the Bowmanville Antiques and Folk Art Show. Bowmanville is considered a top destination for early Canadian antiques. It’s a vetted show, meaning that all items for sale are checked for authenticity before the doors open. You can be sure you are seeing premiere Canadian country furniture, pottery, textiles and folk art at Bowmanville.

The Bowmanville show has been held on Easter weekend (Friday night and Saturday) for many years in Bowmanville, Ontario (a short drive from Toronto). My parents used to attend as dealers and even as a teenager I knew Bowmanville was special. People would line up to get in right at 6pm on Friday. When the doors opened the hall would suddenly be charged with voices and movement as collectors shot from booth to booth – sometimes making purchases in minutes.

This year we arrived ten minutes after doors opened but yes, people had still lined up, and when we entered the room was crowded and noisy. The crowd was mostly older, probably long time collectors, but I was encouraged to see a few younger faces as well. Bowmanville is a show that serious collectors who love this type of antique wait all year to attend. The dealers are top quality and they bring out their best.

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This year the show also featured a selection of (not for sale) antique Canadian trade signs, displayed in the entrance hallway near the washrooms and doors. It was a great use of the space, and a welcome addition. People often talk about educating buyers and I would love to see all the shows embrace more exhibition and guest speakers.

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We spent the first hour hustling from booth to booth, saying hello to friends (many of the dealers regularly post their stock on Collectivator), and seeing what we might be able to take home. The crowd made photography a bit difficult, but dealer Adrian Tinline kindly let me copy some of his pics taken right before the show started. These pics are from the popular Canadiana Facebook page, a great hub for Canadian antique enthusiasts. As you can see, the booths at Bowmanville looked amazing. The huge effort the dealers put into showcasing their stock is always a treat in itself.

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As with every year I’ve attended Bowmanville, there were a few missed buys. A few years ago it was a tobacco cutter. This year it was a small blanket box. In both cases we hesitated and walked away, and both times the item sold by the time we reconsidered. Let this be a lesson – don’t hesitate if you know you want something! This year we were able to quickly pull the trigger on a folky parrot shelf from Wendy Hamilton Antiques and a lovely green tramp art mirror from Croydon House. Our dining room has a “tropical” theme, with antique furniture and folk art mixed in. The shelf obviously fits and looks great on the yellow walls. I may use it to hold a selection of my vintage tiki mugs. The mirror is still looking for the perfect spot but this beautiful small object will compliment any room.

 

The Bowmanville show is expertly run and from what I saw there were healthy sales this year. Mostly smalls, as is the general trend, but some outstanding large pieces of farm country furniture were marked “Sold” in the first hour. I encourage anyone to attend Bowmanville, even if it’s just to see some museum worthy examples of our material heritage. Many items are priced reasonably, especially for the quality. You will find beautiful, interesting and rare objects in every booth, and that makes Bowmanville an exciting destination for any antique and folk art enthusiast.

Midsummer Antique and Vintage Show

It’s hard to believe we’re already almost through August, but before summer ends I wanted to offer some thoughts and coverage of the Midsummer Antique and Vintage Show in Orillia, Ontario. The show was on July 26th – one day only – and it was the fist annual show in this location from Gadsden promotions. From what I saw, this is a show that should be back for years to come. I certainly enjoyed my walk around the grounds.

The Midsummer Antique Show in Orillia

Orillia Ontario is a few hours north of Toronto and the drive is pretty easy (and scenic) along the highways. The show was at the Orillia Fairgrounds, and we pulled up to the show field at around 11:00am.  There was tonnes of field parking, rows of outdoor booths, an open area for the food trucks, and a building with more dealers, a snack bar, and washrooms. All in all, the show was a nice manageable size with around 70 dealers. There weren’t many places to sit, but the building and tents did offer a reprieve from the sun. There was a lot of space between aisles and sections so you could move at your own pace.

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When we arrived in the late morning there was a busy feel to the place. Lots of people walking the aisles and having those intense, quiet conversations about potential purchases. I can’t walk onto a field show without getting flashbacks from my childhood. I remember driving out with my parents while the sun was still down, arriving at a field still damp with dew, setting up, and starting a long and often very hot day. I wasn’t buying or selling in those days, of course, but I know from experience that these shows are hard work. It’s always gratifying to see crowds and know the sellers have a good chance at sales.

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As far as stock was concerned, the Orillia show had a fair selection of large furniture, primitives and art, with more selection in vintage collectibles, antique smalls, and textiles. The quality was solid across all stock types. It was a good mix for the general antique or vintage enthusiast. Some dealers were very specialized so you could find, say, a booth full of pressed glass or postcards, but most dealers had mixed offerings in their particular style. If you were looking for something to catch your eye, you could probably find it on that field.

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Hello handsome!

So after all that, did I find something to buy? You bet! I actually found too much to buy. I have a soft spot for vintage McCoy planters and I found multiple dealers with McCoy I just had to bring home. There were also a few antique smalls (including a set of lawn bowling bowls for Anson), but our most exciting purchase was a metal table with four chairs. We have a small backyard so we can’t do large outdoor furniture. We both really liked the size and the style of the set on first look. I was immediately drawn to curved legs, and I liked that the metal would be easy to maintain and store over the winter. All in all, I think it’s quite a charming little set and I’m happy we pulled the trigger on a more expensive purchase. I’m also very happy that the show organizers provided someone to move the table and load it into our Nissan Versa. Very appreciated help!

Our new backyard set! Love those curved legs and pedestal :)

Our new backyard set!

The Midsummer show was a success for me as a buyer, and for me as a Canadian looking to spend a precious summer day outside. You can’t beat looking at interesting items under sunny skies (bring a hat though, that sun is hot). I hope we can make the trip up to Orillia next year. This is a great addition to the summer show calendar.

Celebrate Canada with Canadian Antiques

It’s July 1st, and that means it’s Canada Day! This year Canada turns 148 and I wanted to mark the occasion by featuring a few pieces of Canada’s material heritage. On Collectivator the sellers regularly post fantastic pieces of antique Canadian furniture, smalls, and art. These unique items provide a glimpse into the lives and culture of early Canadians. There are so many items I could use, but these are four that caught my eye (links in title go to original posts on Collectivator). I think these items are beautiful as well as historically interesting, and perfect for a day when we celebrate our country’s past.

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Antique Cradle from Nova Scotia – It seems appropriate to celebrate a birthday with a cradle. We have a few on Collectivator (both for babies and for dolls) but this one is my pick because of the beautiful original green paint outside, and the robin’s egg blue interior. That is just a gorgeous colour combination, and reminds me of the ocean (fitting a maritime item). It actually predates confederation with the seller dating it to 1830. It is a simple piece but one that perfectly encapsulates the union of form and function in an item common to Canada’s early homes.

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Fraktur by Mennonite Folk Artist Anna Weber – This beautiful piece of artwork is a Fraktur; a Pennsylvania German art form that combines calligraphic and pictorial elements to decorate religious and family documents. Frakturs were often made as gifts for friends and family in Mennonite households. This particular Fraktur is by artist Anna Weber from Waterloo County, Ontario. Anna Weber was known for her strong visual elements and use of motifs like the tree of life, birds and flowers. This Fraktur is dated 1873, and is signed by the artist.

Mi’kmaq Fishing Creel – This antique fishing creel made by the Mi’kmaq people of Eastern Canada is a good example of traditional methods and developed technique. Aboriginal antiques come in many forms, but I wanted to highlight this utilitarian item specifically because it is also a work of art. I admire useful items that are finely made with such aesthetic consideration. Although not as decorated as many Aboriginal antiques, this 100 year old fishing creel nonetheless reflects the distinct culture and life of its makers.

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Wall Box Dated 1908 – Wall shelves or boxes are somewhat common in Canadian antiques. Much like the square versions of today, these boxes would hang on the wall and serve to display special items or keep little things organized. No matter how small the house, a homeowner could always find room for a wall box. What makes this one so great is the hand carved “1908” date, and the photograph of two stylish young men. It’s not a selfie, but the photograph proves that even people at the turn of the century wanted to look cool.

History is often best understood through the lives of everyday people. One of my favourite things about working on Collectivator is learning about Canadian history through the items that people post. I’m always being introduced to something new (ironically, with something old). I hope you enjoyed a little bit of Canadian history today and Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day from Collectivator

Vintage and Antique Shopping in Nashville

Before I get into my post, indulge me for a minute so I can describe where I am. Here, let me give you a visual:

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This is the view from the balcony of my room at the huge “Gaylord Opryland” hotel in Nashville. For most of our trip we were at a rented condo, but this week my husband has a conference so we got a free room here. It’s pretty ridiculous. There are three large atriums with full size trees, waterfalls, restaurants, shops… all under glass domes and surrounded by hotel room balconies. I have a two story waterfall right below me, which I love because it provides the greatest white noise. I feel like I’m outside, in a garden, without heat or bugs. Talk about ideal writing conditions! I could get used to this.

Anyway, before I found myself writing in a fantasy tropical paradise, I was hitting the streets of Nashville looking for antiques. I didn’t get to see a lot, but I did visit the 8th Ave. South area. This is considered one of the main Antique districts in the city. The first place I looked, Classic Modern, was also one of my favourites. It had a great selection of vintage (1950s – 1970s) furniture and accessories, as well as antiques from the 19th century, jewelry and folk art. They had quite a few complete sets of furniture – a full 1950s chrome kitchen table set, or a 1960s couch and chairs for instance. Very cool. Prices were reasonable for the quality of the items. I also talked to the owner and a fellow patron for quite a while – real friendly people around here!

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The second place I visited was “Pre to Post Modern”. I liked the signage out front because it reminded me of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. It said something like “Come inside! It’s fun in here!” on the clapboard, and you can’t resist that.

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It was fun inside! They had a well curated selection of mid century accessories, advertising, clothes, decor and even some furniture. Everything was organized in themes so the clothes, hats and purses were together in a room, there was a rec room with albums and posters, the tiki stuff got its own corner etc. Very fun to browse. The best part was the prices! I was looking at smalls, but even the furniture was affordable. I wish I could have schlepped home one of their bar carts, but as it was I took three tiki mugs for a grand total of $12. If I lived in the area I would be popping in all the time.

Finally, the last place I visited was a good old fashioned antique “mall”. This one was called 8th Ave Antiques. The booths were a bit spotty in terms of age and quality, but I did find more antique furniture, china and art here. Some dealers had recognizable interests like pop culture memorabilia, kitchenware, or country furniture. Others were seemingly random with antique, vintage or even new and reproduction items. I didn’t see anything I had to buy (and pack – a deterrent for sure). Still, there was enough selection that if I were in the area I would gladly try again.

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Although I didn’t see everything the area has to offer (I missed a whole antique mall further up the road!), I enjoyed my antique and vintage shopping on 8th street in Nashville. There was a lot of mid century to 1970s decor, country smalls, and fun kitsch. Antiques (as in pieces over 100 years old) were harder to find but there were some good examples. Prices were overall lower than in Toronto, especially for the mid century modern stuff. Let me put it this way – shopping at even these three stores I’d have no problems outfitting a fabulous vintage rec room. Now I just need to get some bigger luggage!

The Nashville Flea Market

IMG_4841Howdy y’all! I’m in Nashville, Tennessee! We came to town for a wedding and a conference, and with a week in-between the two events we decided to rent a place and live like the locals. It’s been great! The weather is hot, the people are friendly, and the boots are cowboy. As part of my work I’ve been checking out the local antique and vintage scene. I thought I’d share my experiences this week as I tour Music City, USA.

My first adventure was at the HUGE Nashville Flea Market. Held at the Tennessee state fairgrounds, this sale has been voted best flea market in the state, and considered one of the top ten in the Southern US. I can believe it. The market is usually held on the fourth Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of each month, although it sometimes shifts for holidays. You can find all the dates and information on the Fairgrounds website.

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I saw an ad for the flea market in a tourist map and, having a Sunday free, my husband and I thought we might check it out for a few hours. Oh silly Canadians. This is not a place you casually “pop into” for a quick look. This is building after building after shed after outdoor aisle full of stuff. You could go every day of the weekend and not see everything. The market, after all, boasts over 1,200 sellers!

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Most of the antique and vintage booths were outside, which coincidentally was SCORCHING HOT and reminded me of last year’s trip to Antique World. There’s something about the hottest day of the summer that makes me want to walk around for hours I guess. Although we didn’t realize it until the end, the highest concentration of antique and vintage dealers were in an outdoor section marked “Antique Alley” , as well as the nearby “sheds” (which are actually repurposed animal stalls).

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One thing I find interesting is seeing how the general selection of antiques changes to reflect the history of each place I visit. At the flea market I noticed a lot of advertising for local Nashville businesses and classic US brands. Vintage furniture was more abundant than I’ve seen in Canada. There were antique toys, cowboy hats and boots, civil war memorabilia, and collectibles relating to country music. I didn’t see a lot of paper artwork or antique clothing but I did see a few sellers of cow hide. One seller explained that it’s very difficult to find antique and vintage textiles from the area, as the heat and humidity often damages these pieces over time.

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There was a lot of inexpensive vintage costume jewellery. Perfect for crafty types to restore or reuse!

Of course, the antiques and vintage were just part of the flea market. There were also buildings (sweet, air conditioned buildings!) with new “as seen on TV” type products, 1980s toys, home decor, and just plain junk. There were definitely trends in the reproductions for sale – lots of rusty licence plates, American flags and hand painted “RC Cola” tin signs. And classic flea market stuff? Oh my. If you wanted cheap fashion accessories, jumbo packs of socks or slightly expired toiletries than this was the jackpot.

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One giant box was nothing but gum in weird, probably discontinued flavours. I was strangely tempted.

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If you decide to visit the Nashville flea market, I have a few words of advice. Number one, wear comfortable shoes. Most of the “sheds” and outdoor spaces are on uneven dirt. You will probably stumble. Also, there isn’t a lot of seating. Food options are a few trucks and one restaurant that sells fried foods at decent prices, and cold beer to boot. If it’s summer, wear a hat and carry water. Parking costs $5 and there is no admission charge.

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One of the “sheds”. There were 4 or 5 of them filled with booths.

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In the end we did buy a few small items to take home, but I will cover them in a bit more detail later. I’m very happy to have had the Nashville flea market experience, and I would definitely recommend it. It was a great introduction to what I hope the area has to offer!

The Guild Inn and Sculpture Park

Back about a month ago, my husband and I decided to take a drive into nearby southern Scarborough, Ontario. En route to the car, we ran into our neighbour who was born and raised in the area. She recommended we visit “The Guild“. I hadn’t heard of the place but our neighbour said it was a historic parcel of land on the coast of the lake. She said it had a large garden full of antique architectural features, which I was immediately curious about as a sucker for all things garden and architectural. She also said it had once been home to an expansive artist colony (in fact the first artist colony in Canada!), and still housed a large Inn. It all sounded very interesting, so off we went to visit the Guild.

I am so glad we ran into our neighbour that day! The first thing we noticed when we arrived (it’s free to enter and park) was a large building, boarded up and behind a chain link fence. This was the actual Inn – a structure built in 1914 that has been used as a residence, military hospital, shelter and hotel over the years. Obviously neglect has not been kind to this once stately home. It is in a sad state, and thus it was quite easy to imagine why the Inn has a reputation for being haunted. Our disappointment from the Inn, however, was quickly forgotten when we ventured further into the large park behind the building. We were immediately welcomed by towering columns and neatly kept trails through mature trees. The grounds in stark comparison to the Inn are well maintained. The large lawn ends in a tree line, and beyond a beautiful vantage point on top of the bluffs to the lake below.

What is left of the Guild Inn today

What is left of the Guild Inn today

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The beautiful view of the lake from on top of the bluffs

The huge 88 acre grounds are composed of forested areas, large lawns, flower beds, and a few remaining smaller buildings. The most notable building (other than the Inn) is a small log cabin in the woods. This is the Osterhout cabin which was built in 1795 and is the oldest building in Scarborough. Scattered around, grouped but never very crowded, are architectural remnants of Toronto’s past. Beautiful archways, columns, and sculpture that once graced the city’s buildings are on display. Plaques give the history of the objects, although some of these have been lost over the years. You can enjoy the objects from afar or venture closer – often to discover a face carved into the facade. The day we went there were quite a few people around (it’s a popular spot for wedding photography) but it was easy to feel like you were alone in some historical wonderland.

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The Osterhout Log Cabin

The Osterhout Log Cabin

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The history of the Guild is very interesting. The original manor residence was built in 1914 in the Arts and Crafts style. In 1932 the residence and grounds were bought by Rosa and Spencer Clark. They were great lovers of the arts, and slowly transformed the grounds into an art colony during the Depression era. The Clarks rescued facades and ruins of various demolished downtown Toronto buildings to create the Sculpture Park. Altogether, pieces of more than 60 structures were amassed. The Guild Inn proved so popular as a lakeside resort and artisans’ community that in 1965 a 100 room addition and a swimming pool were added (I believe this addition was demolished in 2009). Many people who grew up in this area of Toronto have fond memories of staying at the Inn, or visiting the restaurant for a family meal and walk through the park.

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The Guild is a unique and memorable historical site that unfortunately continues to languish without proper restoration. Now owned by the city, various plans including a college campus have been proposed to revitalize the land. Personally, I think any plan that can restore the Inn and the art colony would be ideal. There are so many people interested in crafting and the arts it seems like a missed opportunity not to build on what is already part of the land’s cultural background. I could easily see people taking everything from painting lessons on the grounds to metalwork classes in the studios. Most importantly, without some serious money and invested owners, the beautiful objects and buildings already on the land will continue to deteriorate.

Fortunately, the Guild Inn and surrounding park may still have a bright future. Many local people are active in preserving the space and organizing events that use the park and raise awareness. Just this month, CBC radio did an interview with Friends of Guild Park president, John Mason. I recommend a listen (it’s short and well done). There is also a Facebook Page devoted to The Guild, with regularly updated news. If you live in Toronto, you owe it to yourself to visit. Perhaps, like so many artists before, it will inspire you to capture its beauty either through photographs or drawings. Even if you just walk through the park and enjoy the scenery, it will almost definitely inspire you to return.

Antique Gifts for the Holidays

It is officially the holiday season! It’s a happy time of year but along with the parties, decorating, and general merriment you also have to sit down and think about gift choices. We all want to give those closest to us something that they will remember and appreciate long after the big day. What to get that is special, personal, and meaningful? Think outside the mall and think antiques! 

Antiques are unique and they make a big impression. They offer you a wide range of gifts that can really connect to a person’s interests, history and lifestyle. I’ve been clicking around Collectivator, and I’ve come up with some ideas based on items for sale right now. I’ve tried to match the antiques with interests, but I am not implying rigid rules. My aim is not to say “only a crafter would like a hooked rug” but to show how different interests can be cultivated and complimented by antiques. If you wish to learn more, each photograph is linked to that item’s listing on Collectivator.

Ideas for Buying Antique Gifts:

The Outdoorsman or Woman – Try incorporating function and history with an item like an antique decoy. Decoys may have been used by hunters but they also have artistic merit. Other good gifts would be antique snowshoes (nice displayed on a wall), landscape artwork, or any twig furniture. Anglers will find a wealth of items as well including beautiful antique wicker creels, reels, and even lures. Don’t forget that there is a lot of folk art, fine art and advertising that is also dedicated to nature and sportsmanship. All these items bring a bit of the outdoors inside in a unique and unexpected way.

Crafters might likewise enjoy an antique that reflects the history of their interests. In the past, activities like sewing and quilting gave people an outlet for their creative expression. Their work was necessary but it was also a source of pride and joy. Antique textiles come in a variety of prices and pedigrees, but all share a history that modern day crafters would appreciate. Good gifts include hooked rugs (lovely either used on the floor or hung on a wall as a piece of art), quilts, linens and needlework samplers. I also found a great folk art sewing plaque that served to hold thread and other sewing supplies. It would look fantastic on the wall of a craft room.

Entertainers – No, I don’t mean they put on shows (although that would be fun), I mean people who host gatherings with friends and family at their homes. For a person in this category, anything that is decorative but also useful would be appropriate. Decanter and glass sets are gorgeous sitting on display or filled with fine drinks. Dining accessories like antique table cloths, dishes, candle sticks and silver serving ware compliment any great meal. Even not so useful items like hand made wooden butter molds would look good in a chef’s kitchen and serve as a conversation piece about culinary history. Who knows? You might introduce your favourite party host to a new collection!

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Anyone – There are some antiques you can give to pretty much anyone. Clocks and mirrors are good, because they are always needed and can compliment so many styles of decor. Small furniture like wall boxes, side tables, plant stands and decorative shelves can easily find a welcoming home. Artwork can be tricky (especially large pieces) but work that ties into some aspect of the person’s interests or background can be exceptional. Personally, I would love to receive a good piece of Canadian folk art on any occasion!

So those are just a few ideas to help in your gift search this year. Remember that when you get tired of the mall, you can find fantastic antiques online. Shop in the comfort of your own home and support small business! If you want to read even more of my ramblings about why antiques are great, you can check out “Antiques are Good Value for Money” and “Antiques are Green“. Around this time last year I also wrote about using Antiques as Holiday Decorations. If you have given or received any antiques that really made an impression please share in the comments. Good gift ideas are always appreciated 🙂

Happy shopping and enjoy the holiday season!