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Home Is Where My Heart Is

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Moving house more times than I care to think, from my family home to student digs and then a succession of rented houses. The one thing that has been consistent about all my previous abodes is my hoard of vintage possessions. From an old wooden blanket box to my nans art deco vase they have all moved around with me.

I do appreciate vintage fashion, oh yes indeed! Wearing something vintage most days since I was a student in the 90s. However my heart well and truly skips a beat when I see a classic piece of mid-century furniture or funky patterned curtains, a whole lot more than any pretty 50s day dress.

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Finding household items that are part of our social history, like old radios, kitchen labour saving gadgets and even old tins, fill me with joy and put a big smile on my face. I am big fan of a bit of kitsch too and long to find those items that really didn’t have a practical use or were mass-produced in the 50s and 60s. The ever so slightly unnecessary pineapple ice bucket or a bamboo bar: why shouldn’t every home have one. Appealing Tretchicoff prints, Homemaker plates and absolutely anything orange. These items were my first vintage love and desire for them has never left me.

During my teens I became obsessed by ceramics, mainly plates, tea pots and vases, very often designs from the 1950s and 60s; yes I know that’s a little bit odd for a teenager, loving the funky appearance and futuristic shapes. Rather than just seeing them as cheap retro junk, I decided to start selling my amassed collection at antiques fairs. Back in the day there were no specific vintage fairs for mid-century and retro home items, so an antiques fair was the only option. At this time only collectors of that period were really interested in my wares.

A few years on and I got dazzled by the growth in popularity of vintage fashion. Always being a lover of 50s and 60s dresses and handbags, I cast aside my atomic coat hooks and midwinter plates in search of solace at vintage fashion fairs. These fairs offered a ready-made outlet with hundreds of likeminded enthusiasts desperate to wear a piece of history. Not a plate or vase in sight!

Selling fashion is fun and frustrating at the same time. I chose to specialise in 1930s – 1950s items for their classic styling and beautiful fabrics. Finding items in large qualities was difficult, with dresses, hats and accessories often very fragile. The clothes are petite in general and if I had a pound for every time a customer came out of the fitting room in despair as it was too small, I would be rich.

So having dipped my toes into the world of Vintage Fashion for a few years, and owning my own shop until last year, I decided that I should follow my heart, to make a return to selling ceramics and furniture. Getting my vintage fix from buying and selling teak sideboards, retro lighting and mid-century ceramics again, I have come back home, pardon the pun!

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Why? There are probably a few good reasons.

It does not have to fit like fashion does or there be a special occasion to warrant the purchase. Buying vintage furniture means better quality for less money and you get to create an individual look for your home. What’s not to love?

As a dealer in vintage there is a huge temptation to keep everything; I often buy the things because I want them myself in the hope that others will adore them too. Buying vintage gives me a great opportunity to get an insight into how we used to live and I really love that nostalgia. If only the décor, furnishings and objects that have lived through the past could talk.

Up and down the UK there are lots of dealers just like me with shops selling vintage. It is worth getting to know your local ones and letting them know what you are searching for as they might keep you in mind when buying.

There are less specialist events to buy purely vintage home items. Big Antiques Fairs like Newark or Kempton Racecourse are great for picking up pieces but you will have to be up early to get the best bits.

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In 2012 I launched the Vintage Home Show, which I run three times a year in Manchester at the beautiful Victoria baths. There are also other specialist events such as the Vintage Furniture Flea & Midcentury Modern Shows, which run regularly in London offering items to suit every pocket.

So if you want to introduce some vintage into your home what should you look out for?

Give yourself some time to understand the decorative trends and fashions of different eras to guide you to a style that you love. Textiles, wall coverings and furniture designs were quite different in every decade of the 20th Century, so there is a lot of variety with various looks to choose from.

You may decide to cherry pick elements from different decades and mix them up together to get your perfect home interior. After all, it’s not really about creating a museum exhibition but a functional liveable space.

My house has house has a mixture of vintage, vintage inspired and modern pieces. This works for me and my partner to get a blend of vintage and modern living; a good compromise, especially if your other half is not as keen on vintage, like mine.

As well as picking up vintage on my travels to sell, I do buy things to keep too, a perk of the job. I am also keen to have items from my parents and grandparents in my home, not quite family heirlooms but nice reminders all the same. Having keepsakes make a home extremely personal and homely.

My tips for gathering vintage pieces are:

  • Start slowly and build up the look otherwise you may just end up with far too much clutter.
  • Think outside the box and see how an item might be used for another practical purpose. For example using a vintage tea trolley as a TV stand in your bedroom or a trunk as a coffee table.
  • Buy the things you love and don’t try to force a style just because it’s in all the magazines, but create your own.

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Last year I was asked if I would like to write a vintage book and I jumped at the chance. Compiling the book gave me a chance to cover the diversity of interiors from seven decades of the 20thcentury , and also to have a look around other people’s homes to see their interpretation of vintage style.

Writing it was such a joy as I got a chance to spend more time immersing myself into interiors and vintage for the home again, enjoying the very distinctive styles of each decade even more.

The book is due out in early 2015. Look out for more details about my book later this year on my website www.discovervintage.co.uk.

The next Vintage Home Show in Manchester is Sunday 29th June at Victoria Baths www.vintagehomeshow.co.uk

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Keeley Harris is the founder of Discover Vintage. She regularly features as a Vintage Expert in high street and digital publications, runs both the Vintage Home Show and the Festival of Vintage and is soon to be a published author on vintage interiors.