Thrift Store Shopping: Reap the Rewards of Reuse

Buying home furnishings from flea markets, antique shops and thrift stores is the ultimate green.

| March/April 2006

  • An old coffee percolator finds new life as a planter.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • Interesting servingware is sure to spawn conversations with friends.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • You can find thousands of treasures at the antique store.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • Add fun trim and interesting details to old pillows.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • Though it may take time to rummage through vintage clothes, you can find lots of great steals.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • Antique furniture adds a touch of history and originality to your home.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • Don't overlook crowded bargain tables; keep an eye out for interesting decor items.
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • Collections of old tools add personality to your garage or tool shed.
    Photo By Joe Coca

When you bring home a beautiful antique table, its patina made rich by decades or even centuries of use, your first thought isn’t, “I’m recycling!” When you find a copy of a cherished childhood book at an out-of-the-way rare bookstore, you’re probably not thinking about walking lightly on the earth. Yet in both these cases, you’re traveling in the great circle of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

The antique circuit

Most cities have at least a couple of charity antique shows held in schools, churches or museums. Highlights of these shows often include furniture, meticulously patterned and stitched quilts and “primitives”—the old tools, utensils and handmade implements of America’s rural past. Dealers come from all over the country to set up elaborate booths at these annual events. Don’t be intimidated—even if you’re a novice. The dealers collect and sell out of love for fine old things, and for a few dollars’ admission fee you have access to their expertise.

Don’t buy anything on your first walkthrough. These shows are usually small, with 25 to 50 booths; there’s plenty of time to look, reflect, look again. Remember, your primary purpose at this stage is to learn. These shows will be your benchmark for the merchandise and dealers in less rarefied circles.

There are other kinds of shows: those held on the grounds of historic houses or big, sprawling affairs where bargains abound and dealers rush around to buy from other dealers before daylight breaks. These huge shows, including Brimfield in Massachusetts, are not the place to begin— too overwhelming!

Seek out antique shops and antique malls, big cooperative spaces with scores of booths. Keep the standards of the best shows in mind as you peruse the “collectibles” and “retro” items that may be nothing but yesterday’s mass-market consumer products.

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