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 Roadshow Antiques South Market

collectivatorrasouthThis summer we took a sunny drive to nearby Pickering Markets for the first time. This large building is situated just east of Toronto off highway 401, and encompasses a farmer’s market, flea market, food court and antique market. There’s plenty of free parking and multiple entrances so it’s easy to navigate. We didn’t spend much time in the flea market but headed straight to the antique section that anchors one end of the building. This is home to the Roadshow Antiques South location. It’s a smaller sister market to the Roadshow Antiques North market in Innisfil Ontario. I’ve never been to the other location, but based on the website it appears quite similar.

The Roadshow Antiques market is sectioned off into aisles and most of the booths are filled with items. I’d say only 5 – 10% of the booths were either unoccupied or very under stocked. The staff were friendly and I had a few people ask me if I needed help finding anything. It was also easy to simply roam the booths without feeling watched or rushed. For convenience the front cash has cubbies so they can hold your items while you browse.

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In terms of general quality of stock, I’d say it’s a mixed bag. I had no problem finding cool vintage items at fair prices, and a truly great selection of Pez (more on that later). However if you’re looking for strictly older antiques or furniture you may be disappointed. This market weighs more towards collectibles and nostalgia of vintage (or newer) age. There were a few booths featuring vintage jewelry and fashion accessories, toys and advertising. Some dealers specialized in popular collectibles like cameras and records. There was some good antique and vintage furniture scattered throughout, but the emphasis was on smalls.

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The Roadshow Antiques market is not going to wow you with every booth, but with over 150 dealers it has something for almost everyone. If you’re looking for classic collectible items like bottles, tins or china you’re in luck. Of particular interest to me were a few stalls full of classic vintage kitchenware. There was diner styled plates, glasses, cake stands, and Pyrex at good prices. I even found a small Tiki display and picked up a new mug for my collection. Speaking of Tiki, if you’re the type of person who finds kitcsh irresistible, there were plenty of “bad art” paintings, cutesy 1950s figurines and odd decor to catch your eye.

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Finally, as I mentioned above, there was Pez. So much Pez. I was in the last aisle of the market, ready to pay and leave, when I turned to see a towering Peter Pez display filled with older dispensers. I literally gasped like a Southern lady with the vapors. If you’re a Pez collector this is a GREAT place to go. The Pez dealer, Darlene, was there and we had a lovely conversation about her collection (some of which can be found on her website Pezopedia). She also sells Lego minifigs, Hot Wheel cars and other collectible toys.

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In the end, I think most people would enjoy checking out the deals at the Roadshow Antiques market. Many of the booths had sales on all regularly priced items, and I imagine stock gets replenished quite often. The rest of the mall offers a food court (the Italian and Mexican food was good), a large section of discounted toiletries and clothes, as well as a great British booth with cheap tea and crisps. We enjoyed spending a few hours comfortably browsing and we left with a bag of interesting items. I look forward to visiting the Pickering Markets again.

The Aberfoyle Antique Market

A few weeks ago I attended the Aberfoyle Antique Market for one of their twice annual Saturday Special Shows. A smaller version of this outdoor market takes place every Sunday from late April until late October. Aberfoyle is located just outside of Guelph Ontario (an easy drive from Toronto). I hadn’t visited in many years, and I was really impressed by how this market had grown and improved since my last visit.

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One thing I liked right away when we started walking around Aberfoyle was how the grounds were more interesting and rambling than I expected. There were rows of booths in a field, but there were also buildings, curved pathways, and small groves of trees. Many of the sellers who set up on Sunday have permanent booths in buildings so it’s a nice mix of outdoor and indoor browsing. The food area as well has been improved with a restaurant, a few fast food carts, and a lovely seating area with comfortable patio sets and umbrellas. Unlike some outdoor shows which tire you out and offer scant comfort, Aberfoyle had plenty of shady and easy spots to sit down. We had to park in a distant field and the show even provided a shuttle bus to our car.

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We arrived in the late morning and the market was really crowded. Buyers had arrived at opening and were already walking around with purchases. There was a really good mix of people with all ages represented. Young families, retired couples, kids looking to furnish their first apartments – everyone was there. The weather held out and was fairly sunny until the mid afternoon when there was a touch of rain. It never became worse than damp but it drove half the crowd away by 3pm and we noticed a few dealers starting to pack up early. We stayed right until closing at 4pm.

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So what did we find at Aberfoyle? Pretty much everything that fits the category of general antique or collectible. Overall the stock appealed to a wide variety of taste (and budgets). There were also specialty dealers with collections of advertising, early pottery, tins and kitchen ware. There were a few Canadiana dealers with early smalls, textiles and furniture. Architectural objects like trim, reclaimed wood and metal gates were also available, and at reduced prices than we’re used to seeing in Toronto. I didn’t find too many newly reproduced pieces. In general the quality of stock across the board was good.

img_9590img_9599img_9597img_9638We left Aberfoyle with a few bags of treasures and two decorative metal doors for my parent’s garden. I’m happy with my purchases and I have a feeling I could easily buy something every time I visit. Aberfoyle was a great way to spend a day, in a beautiful venue, with a lot of interesting items to discover. It’s a great show that rewards all levels of antique and vintage hunters. I will definitely try to visit again for the smaller Sunday market during the summer, and the next special show this fall.

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.

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

The Old Book and Paper Show

On Sunday, March 29th I had the pleasure of attending The Old Book & Paper Show. Billed as Toronto’s biggest one day “vintage print-fest”, this show is dedicated exclusively to books, postcards, posters, photographs and all types of old ephemera. It takes place twice a year (March and November) in an interesting part of the city along St. Clair west.

Artscape Wychwood Barns

The show is set up in a long hallway in the Wychwood Barns building (originally a streetcar repair barn from the 1910s). Tall ceilings and bright windows flood the space with light. We arrived about a half hour after the show opened at 10am, and the room was packed. If there is something in particular you are looking for, you should get there early. One seller told me the serious collectors wait outside to enter as soon as the doors open. If you’re more of a curious looky-loo, you might find it easier to browse a little later when the crowd dies down.

Interior Artscape Wychwood Barns

When we first entered I didn’t think it would take too long to see all the booths but we ended up staying for almost three hours. What I didn’t realize was just how many individual items were crammed into every square inch of space! Vintage advertisements, postcards and magazines filled file boxes. These were often organized by topic but once you started it was easy to keep flipping through. Then there were the art prints and large format photographs ready for framing. Historical images of Toronto, Canada and the world. Postcards of tropical paradises. Vintage fashion magazines and pulp fiction novels. Rare and valuable first edition books alongside travel brochures, sports cards and comics. The show is very well named because literally everything old and paper was represented.

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Vintage paper ephemera

Boxes of vintage postcards

Antique and vintage photographs

As you may expect in a professional show like this, the dealers had their specialties and knew their stock. If you had a specific item you were looking for they could always help. If you were just interested in a topic or time period they could also steer you in the right direction. Most were also willing to cut a price on multiple purchases, and I found the prices on the whole quite reasonable.

A booth at the show
Being the nerd that I am, I made a bee line to some boxes of mid century “Amazing Stories” and sci-fi pulp. I was just as interested in these books for their kitchy covers as for the stories. $5 bought me a paperback with a title story called “The Girl Who Hated Air”. Not a very promising read, but I think the astronaut cover is worth the money. I also spent time at the postcard sellers finding some more cheerful Alfred Mainzer cat postcards.

Vintage sci-fi pulp

Booth with magazines

Anson found a few sets of small black and white photos of Niagara Falls and Stanley Park in Vancouver. These little sets were sold to tourists in the 1940s and 1950s as additional photos to use in home albums. They were sort of the precursor to the postcard books you can buy today, but higher quality. The photos are crisp and clear and often well composed. They are quite charming and historical mementos of Canada’s natural beauty.

Vintage tourist photos of Stanley Park

Our purchses from the show

In the end we had a bag full of curiosities, books, photographs and postcards. I doubt we spent over $100 but we found some great little gems that will find a place in our home. I saw many serious collectors at the show, but not too many younger casual buyers. This is a shame. Gift stores sell reproduction images that cash in on the vintage charm of old ads, or the artistic appeal of black and white photography. Here was a place to buy all of that, and more, in an authentic form. There was also a great selection of books on specific and hard to find topics in art, music and history. From high brow to low brow, and all the prices between the two, there was truly something for everyone. I look forward to visiting the show again in the fall.

Why I buy Antiques – Antiques are Green

Last time I wrote about the financial benefits of buying antiques, and today I would like to expand my argument with the positive environmental impact of buying old (or reclaimed) items. There has actually been quite a bit of discussion on this topic already, and for good reason. Being “green” or eco-friendly, is really cool right now. There are lovely shops opening in many major cities that specialize in organic, fair traded and sustainable products. People are looking at the true cost of their purchases, and using their money to try to make a difference for the future. Is it any wonder that the antiques industry wants to remind people that the first “environmentally friendly” business on their main street probably sold antiques?

Antiques are, by basic definition, a prime example of recycling. Pieces of furniture, housewares, even clothes, get used by more than one person (or family) over a period of hundreds of years. Each time the item changes ownership, it is used again and often for its original purpose. Use naturally causes wear and tear, but unlike many new purchases, antiques are lovingly restored and repaired. If the 150 year old dining chair develops a loose leg, you don’t throw it out. You take it to an antiques specialist who can repair the chair, or you repair it yourself. Just because something is old, or in need of TLC, is no reason to add it to the growing landfills. In fact, the thrifty nature of antique ownership is something many look at with pride. We reduce the cycle of consuming and disposing by holding on to our items for so long. If it’s special enough, we might even leave the items in our will so future generations can enjoy them!

Of course, not all antiques make the journey through time intact. Some are no longer useful in their original form, and this is where repurposing (or reusing) antiques is a great idea. Remember when you were learning about the three “R”s in school, they showed you how to reuse a milk carton to make a bird feeder? Well, many industrious antique dealers and enthusiasts do this all the time. They take reclaimed hardwood from a destroyed building, for instance, and construct a kitchen island. Or find an old door and attach legs to make a table. Reusing antiques can be a simple as repurposing Mason jars into vases! There is really an amazing assortment of ideas out there to give you inspiration. Many people find new and inventive ways to use old things. Because damaged or incomplete antiques are often a deal, you are sometimes only limited by your imagination.

Now, no argument is without its thoughtful critics. Some have questioned if antiques are really green as the travel to find and sell antiques causes its own carbon footprint. I think shows like “American Pickers” kind of illustrates the idea of travelling many miles to find an item and then schlepping it back – often burning lots of gas in the process. In my experience, however, the carbon footprint of the average “picker” is pretty small. In my family my parents drove about 10 hours to Quebec to find stock. My parents had a giant Bell truck and we would pack full to the roof before we turned around for home. My parents were very conscious of the added cost of travel to their business and each trip had to be efficient. Quebec was pretty much the farthest they travelled, and as the years passed they moved to more Ontario and locally sourced stock. They generally sell locally as well in their shop, or online through Collectivator where shipping through the mail is still an efficient use of resources. Antiques are a business that requires watching every penny and maximizing all returns. You don’t go for joyrides and burn gas for no reason. I think if you compare the journey of an antique to the huge, world spanning travel of millions of “flat pack” new items you will find that antiques are still the environmental choice. Especially if you consider that once that antique does find its new owner, its life expectancy is often much longer than poorly made new alternatives.

In the end, I think antiques are really an embodiment of all three “R”s. They reduce the need to purchase new items by being built to last for many years. They can be reused in new and creative ways when their original purpose is over, taking advantage of their high quality materials. And they are recycled over and over again, providing utility, beauty and historical interest to each successive owner. Next time you need something new, be green and buy something old!

For more information on Antiques & the environment check out Antiques are Green by John Fiske, as well as the Antiques are Green campaign.

Antiques in the Garden – Part 2

Wow. Over three weeks have gone by since my last post! One of the reasons I haven’t posted about antiques in the garden is because I’ve been too busy spending time planting in my garden. That’s ironic or something. Check out my first peony of the season. This was taken a week ago and the whole plant is flowering now:

Peony in bloom

Between the garden, working, spring cleaning and a super fun cracked molar incident, I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I should. I’ll try to turn that around with this installment of Antiques in the Garden. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out Part 1 for more ideas on how to use antiques & vintage items in your outdoor space.

First upon our return to my parents’ garden is this lovely large stone bowl. This is actually a crucible used for melting glass. It was the years of use that gave the inside of this object its complex blend of colour. It’s hard to see here but the bottom of the crucible has layers of dark green and brown glass. My mom usually keeps some water in the crucible and uses it to house a few floating plants and flowers:

Crucible for Glass

Near the crucible are these two giant iron wrenches (you can see how tall they are compared to the normal shovel leaning next to them). These are a bit of a mystery, but the most popular idea is that they were used on steam locomotives. I guess the wheels on those giant trains required some pretty serious torque!

Big Wrenches

The next object is near and dear to my heart because it reminds me of trips to Biarritz France, near where my mother grew up. It is a segment of antique concrete fence in the form of branches. This object was actually made by the same artisan who crafted some of the similar fence work still found on the beachfront in Biarritz. It was made by a process called sand casting. The process began by first creating the shapes by pressing real branches into sand. Then the wood was removed, wires were added for stability, and concrete was poured into the sand molds. Texture details were added before the concrete hardened. Sand casting is often used in foundries for metal but it also has a long history with concrete. Here is the fence in my parents’ garden:

Concrete Fence

And just to compare here’s a photo I took of the fence in Biarritz. This particular section of fence is probably quite recent, as they replace segments as needed, but many parts are still vintage to at least the 1950s:

Fence in Biarritz, France

What an elegant and whimsical way to add texture to your garden, don’t you think? Here are a few more nice antique and vintage pieces I found around the grounds:

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Iron Finial

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Now, for the big exciting finale, I’m going to show you the famous President Taft doors:

Shuttered Doors

I love the little duck silhouettes!

Please don’t crowd – there’s room for everyone. Okay, so the story is these green shuttered beauties were once part of a cabin nestled into the scenic countryside of rural Quebec. The cabin was a summer-house for none other than 27th President of the United States William Howard Taft. In the 1990s the cabin was renovated or torn down, and my parents were able to buy these doors on one of their many picking trips to Quebec. They now mark the entry to the compost pile which is admittedly not the most noble of places but makes them very useful nonetheless.

Almost too much excitement for one garden tour right? Oh but there’s more. Not only did my parents get the doors, they also bought an entire small shed from the Taft property. EDIT: Turns out I was wrong! My dad left a comment to explain the origins of the shed. Here is his quote: “I have to clarify that the small Taft “shed” you  illustrate is actually something I made from four Taft shutters (presumable from the same guest house as same color and construction) and a tin shingled top of some birdhouse or something,  Bought on a different trip to Quebec.  I noticed one day that the shutters where the same width as the top sides, and I had a screw gun in my hands so I put it together.  People have had many interesting theories about its use. Ventilated out house, smoke house, threshold to another dimension. It’s good to have theories.” Thanks dad! That’s actually a much more interesting origin story for this unusual piece:

Shed

How about them apples? How bout them somewhat historically interesting apples? And yes, while there is no official certification to prove the President Taft story, my dad says it’s true so that’s good enough for me. Even if it wasn’t true and those Quebec dealers used the pure unadulterated excitement of President Taft to sell these things, they would still be worth the purchase. They are lovely antique objects that are durable, decorative, and still very useful in the garden.

You may now return from the edge of your seats. The garden tour is over! Thanks for coming along and I hope you enjoyed it!

Antiques in the Garden – Part 1

The weather is warming up and that means I’m starting to think about the garden. Even though we have a small space I find it very satisfying to dig in the dirt. I’m a pretty easy-going gardener. If something works, great. If not, oh well. Dig it out and try something else. I educate myself through the internet and books here and there, but my most important go-to expert is my mother. She’s an amazing gardener and with the help of my dad she cultivates a number of vegetable and flower gardens. My mom’s advice for the novice gardener is pretty straight forward: It takes five years to establish a perennial garden, so patience is key. Plant a mix of foliage, colours and heights to create interest. Most of all, enjoy the process and understand that gardens change so trying to create a static “perfect” garden is silly and frustrating. It’s one of those journey and not the destination things.

Gardening is quite the popular hobby these days, and along with it the desire to create outdoor “rooms”. Gliding chairs, sectional sofas, fire pits, elegant lighting and even rugs are now common elements in the outdoor living space. As we attempt to include more decoration in our outdoors, antiques find a new home. Many antiques are durable enough to grace the outdoors year round, especially industrial or architectural pieces. I looked around my parent’s garden and found many antiques that work perfectly amidst the flowers. I took a lot of pictures so I’m going to break it up into two blog posts.

The first item I noticed in the garden was this vintage plant stand made out of chain. The paint is wearing off, which I quite like, but you could easily spray paint a metal object like this if you wanted. I love the idea of using a plant stand for a birdhouse too. This stand creates a nice tall focal point in the middle of the yard:

Near the plant stand are two large concrete urns or planters. These are from the Victorian period, and I love the classic shape and weathering on them.  They look softer because of their age. A nice thing about planters is that you can change the plants inside them whenever you wish to suit the season.

Another item in the antique concrete category are the two balls that sit near the entrance of the garden. I think the moss and speckled surface of the concrete is quite lovely. These may have perched on the top of a stone fence at one time, perhaps flanking the gate to a grand estate.

These items are wonderful but they take up ground space. What if you are like me and have to make every inch count? Well, you can still use antique items on the walls of your outdoor space. Check out what I found on the back fence:

It’s a piece of gingerbread trim from a house. When old houses are renovated or torn down, architectural elements like this are sometimes thrown out. Thankfully there are many people who salvage these items and repurpose them. In this case, trim that decorated a house for a hundred years finds an excellent second life as a backdrop in the garden.

Along another section of the fence, I found these two antique grates. These durable cast iron beauties were probably used over heating vents.

Finally, this selection of interesting shapes were mounted on the storage shed. The wooden rectangular piece is another architectural remnant, perhaps from a house but I’m not sure. The wooden “X’s are even more mysterious! I had to ask my dad what they were. Any guesses? They’re used in fishing to wind up the nets. I think originally there were rods in each arm (you can see the little holes), connecting two “X” pieces together, and the net would wind up between them. I searched for more information or images of these things but without luck. If you know anything please share because I’m curious!

So that does it for part one! I love my parent’s garden and there’s so much to see. The next part of the tour will feature giant locomotive wrenches and a set of doors that may have once belonged to former US President Taft. I’ll post that soon. Until then, I have some weeding to do 🙂 Enjoy the weather!