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Historical Furniture / September 9, 2020

The look of the moment? A carefully calibrated mix of styles, offset with the perfectly weathered and storied vintage object as a statement piece – such as a midcentury-modern armchair placed just so or a retro turntable displayed in a built-in bookcase.

Small retailers are increasingly responding to this trend, stocking specialized boutiques with well-curated, stylish vintage furniture, prints, light fixtures and so on. These shops definitely make it easier to find that perfectly ironic wall-hanging or so-hip-it-hurts cocktail trolley, but there is something to be said for discovering the ultimate score yourself. Spending a weekend digging through flea markets, garage sales and country stores does bestow added value (and bragging rights) to your find. To do this, however, you need to learn to rummage like a pro picker. We asked three vintage hunting experts to share their expertise – and their ultimate scores.

Bill and Sacha Douglas, owners of Douglas + Son, a shop in Bobcaygeon, in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country, have their fingers on the pulse. A stroll through the store reveals stacks of 1960s encyclopedias, metal medicine cabinets, historical maps and other gems – it’s pretty much a hipster’s dream come true. What is their secret? Plenty of perseverance – and some luck, they say.

During a picking trip in Ohio, Bill Douglas was loading up his car outside an antique shop when a woman approached and inquired whether he’d like to have a look at the stuff stored at her house. “She was either going to kill me and bury me in her basement, or it was going to be a really great pick. I wasn’t sure at first, but decided to go for it, ” he says. He got lucky: This woman had a garage full of treasures, including a heavy-duty, 27-drawer metal work cabinet, the piece he calls his ultimate discovery.

“It was probably from an automotive garage or factory and had been heavily used for many years, ” says Douglas. He removed the cabinet from its stand, then spent several days stripping away the 40-odd years of grease and grime, along with multiple layers of paint, leaving some areas rough and polishing others to their original sheen. “I didn’t want it to be perfect, I wanted to leave some of its character – that’s what makes these items special, ” he says. In the end Douglas had two sellable pieces: a filing cabinet and a side table (created by adding a reclaimed wood top to the base).

Unless you have a trained eye and can spot telling features or an original tag or plate attached to an item, it can be difficult to decipher the exact origins or value on the spot. That’s when professional pickers go with their gut. “Even if I can’t tell exactly what it is at first, if I like the piece, if something about it speaks to me, I buy it, ” says Bonnie Wilson, owner of Gild & Co. in Vancouver, a shop specializing in a mix of new and vintage finds. “I can’t tell you how many times that has paid off.” She recommends setting aside a good amount of time to forage out what could be hiding in unsuspecting boxes or behind less attractive pieces.

“You have to picture it cleaned up and in the right context, ” Wilson says.

A few months ago she fell in love with a chair she spotted on Craigslist. “It looked like a French antique, but I wasn’t sure about the exact origins. It didn’t matter though.Once I saw it, even piled under junk in that basement, … covered in dust with the springs popping out, I knew I had to have it, ” she says. The seller was aware that it had some value, but the chair was in complete disrepair and he was eager to clear some clutter out of his storage space. “That’s the ideal situation for a picker – that’s when you can land the really good pieces, ” says Wilson. Plus, once she got an up-close look, she knew it was a gem. The fat seam around the upholstery was an unmistakably French detail, the style was definitely bergère and the gold paint with the patina-like finish that remained on the arms and legs told her the chair dated back to the mid-19th century.

“This was a real diamond in the rough. I had it professionally repaired and upholstered and just look at it now, ” she says. “It’s my favourite piece in the store at the moment – I almost don’t want to part with it.” But she will, for $1, 298.

Source: www.theglobeandmail.com