Shopping vintage and antique stores has been one of my passions for decades. Each store is like a treasure hunt where you have to dig through all that is offered to uncover the unique and the special. Recently I visited Amazing Grace Antiques in Marshall, Michigan and was really inspired by all of their fun displays with retro Christmas flair mixed in showing loads of holiday spirit. There is lots to learn from how a good vintage store displays their finds that can be applied to how you decorate your own nest.
If you have never set foot in an antique store, let me share with you some of the reasons why you should consider adding it to your shopping schedule your next day out. First, most stores have an amazing breadth of merchandise. Not only will you be able to find the truly antique but most stores will also carry wonderfully kitschy items from the forties and fifties, mod finds from the sixties and some really incredibly tacky things from the seventies and eighties. When it’s Christmas, I think everything goes. I have a fondness for those tinsel trees as my great-grandmother had one and they bring back shimmering warm memories from Christmases of my childhood. Same goes for those ceramic Christmas trees that light up and make their plastic insert bulbs glow. They remind me of the lite-brites I played with in the seventies. When you are little, you have yet to develop a discriminating decorating taste. What you love is what is bright and colorful. It’s easy to find items like these in a vintage store and let them trigger memories of those special moments from your past.
Another reason you to purchase from an antique store is that you are making an investment. Many decorative items gain value as time goes on. Children frequently play with decorations at Christmas and end up ruining them in the process. Also items can be broken while in storage or during moves to a new home. So as the years go by, there are fewer and fewer originals from any time period out there to be acquired. If kept in good condition, items you find at a vintage store may actually become more valuable than what you originally paid for them. That will not be the case for most of the things you throw in your cart during a trip to Target as they are likely to have been mass produced in China. Things you find at a vintage store may have been produced by small factories with artistic traditions that have long gone out of business. Collectors tend to specialize in the items they acquire and over the years they are willing to pay more and more to add something to their collection.
To purchase an item from a vintage shop is also good for the earth as it is a form of recycling. Reusing other people’s Christmas decorations prevents those items from ending up in landfills. Why go out and purchase new decorations when many beautiful and usable items are already available? Vintage vendors find their merchandise from many different sources. They may go to estate sales, yard sales and flea markets. They have done the leg work for you and pulled together a great selection of items for you to choose. Purchasing a used item can also let you put your own creative touch on things. Maybe you spruce something up with a little gold shimmer paint or add a new fabric to the seat of a chair. It’s fun to take something special and develop it with your own talents into a showpiece. So next time you want to let your inner earth hugger shine, visit your local antique store and see what items they have that can fit your needs.
As soon as I saw the window displays at Amazing Grace Antiques, I knew I was going to find some great things for my Christmas decorating this year. I loved how they had gone bold with hot pink and lime green. The floral valance across the top and the acid green drapes behind the whole scene. If you had seen each of these items independently chances are you wouldn’t have liked them but together they all work. And like I said before, Christmas is a license to do whatever you want decorating wise and get away with it. You can mix together colors, prints and textures that you wouldn’t have the courage to use any other time. Practicing and trying new things for the holidays may give you the confidence to go bolder the rest of the year too!
Amazing Grace had a number of old prom dresses and formals hung up on old bird cage stands mixed in with the tinsel trees. Now maybe you are not going to create a wonderland of your past prom dresses to wander through but it did remind me that hanging up a favorite piece of clothing does make good decorating sense. Why store away something special? Put it out where you can see it. On the outside of my closet door, I regularly hang a beautiful embroidered silk tunic or a pretty dress and it makes a nice accent in my bedroom. In another area of the store, they displayed vintage handbags hung on a wall. Why not display your favorite purses this way? I also like how they have stacked the vintage suitcases in this photo. To my eye, they would make a good end-table or would be nice for storage at the foot of your bed. For someone with a passion for travel, incorporating vintage travel items like this brings that passion into your home every day.
Another technique Amazing Grace used was gathering things together in a bowl or basket. Here, vintage ornaments are piled in a dish. This would make a colorful accent on a table. My mother was just talking today about how she had come across some of the old ornaments in her collection but she doesn’t feel like she can hang them on the tree as her cats were sure to knock them down and break them. Her plan is to put them in a trifle bowl, which is clear glass, so she can still see all their pretty colors and shapes but they will still be whole for upcoming Christmases. You can use this idea in other ways in your home. I have a dish in my room that I put all my jewelry in that I have worn for the day when I take it off at night. It keeps the small things together and safe. And as I tend to be lazy about really putting it away properly, it starts to become a pretty artistic collection of things I like on my desk. What items do you have that you could corral into a dish for display or safe keeping?
I love colored glass and am developing quite a collection. I love how it glows when light illuminates it. I inherited a set of cranberry glass from my grandmother. I have pulled it out many times for both Christmas and if I am decorating for Valentine’s Day. Obviously, they make beautiful glasses to use as part of a table setting or to serve a special cocktail at a party. But I also like to use them for candle holders. To protect them for future use as a glass, I always put something in the bottom to catch candle wax like some sugar or redhots. With that in place, I can confidently put a taper inside and the sugar also helps to hold the candle upright. I have lined my fireplace mantle before with the collection and it looks beautiful with its cranberry glow.
Another tip for decorating you can learn from Amazing Grace is to group your collections together by color. There are white shelves, pink shelves, yellow shelves, etc. Lots of little items, in many colors, all mixed together can visually be confusing and overwhelm your eye. When items are grouped together by color, it makes it easier to make sense of what you are looking at. One area I think of immediately where you can practice this is in your closet. If you hang your black clothes together, your white shirts together, etc., it makes it easy to find things as well as it makes your closet a work of art. You channel Rothko and color block your wardrobe. Maybe you choose to store your shoes this way or your socks. I keep my lingerie stacked like this so it is fast to find the right color underthings.Books gathered together on a shelf look nice when arranged by color as well. How can you use color blocking to beautify and simplify your life?
While exploring Amazing Grace, I came across a cookie cutter tree in one of the rooms. I really like that idea. I think it would be really nice, if you have the space, to have a small tree up on your counter top or table with a kitchen theme. It is a fun way to display a collection. I can see it being replicated in other ways. Maybe you have a collection of old Christmas broaches that were big in the 60’s and 70’s. Hanging all that old jewelry on a small tree would be a fun twist for your bedroom. Taking that inspiration, think about the ways you can display a collection you have in an nontraditional way. I have amassed a huge quantity of bangles during my travels, especially from India. I wanted a way to organize them. I came across a metal giraffe with a really long neck that had been intended to be a paper towel holder. I immediately saw it as the answer to my bangle prayers. Now I have several proud giraffes stationed across the back of my dresser and they are both practical and decorative as they are filled to their jaws with bangles.
Gather your items together based on a theme. On a shelf at Amazing Grace, they have a bottle brush tree, angels, tree toppers, santas and a strap of bells all together. The obvious theme here is Christmas. Pulled all together, it works because of a common theme. You can take that same idea and make a grouping of items you have collected and given a theme. Make a display of items you purchased on your dream vacation. For example, I have recently returned from Myanmar. I could gather together on a tray a small statue of Buddha, a lacquered bowl, a necklace from a local market, a silk scarf I purchased at a weaver’s workshop, a photo of a temple in Bagan, etc. I could go on and on. But I think you get the idea. None of the items necessarily go together except they all are from Myanmar and I purchased them on a trip there. By gathering them together in a space, I have somewhere to store them that I see regularly and will remind me of the special trip I made.
One last idea I will leave you with is to have fun with quotes that you like. At Amazing Grace. they have displayed meaningful quotes in a number of fun ways. In the picture here, they have hung a sign that says, “Women who behave rarely make history” above a collection of vintage clothes. Down the wall from this they have painted the quote “Life is a Tornado Watch. You can hunker down in the basement or get up on the roof, let the wind give you rock star hair, and yell “I knew you were coming, that’s why I didn’t rake the leaves.”” Another quote is painted next to an old wooden swing mounted on the wall with an alarm clock resting on it. The quote says “Know just when to jump off the swing.” The idea here is to enjoy the things that inspire you and use them in your decorating. Maybe you won’t paint one on your wall like Amazing Grace has, but I could see you typing it up on your computer in a pretty font and putting it in a picture frame. Have fun and try something new!
I really encourage you to explore antique and vintage stores in your area. They offer so many unique, one-of-a-kind finds to decorate your home for the holidays and year round. You can also get a lot of decorating ideas that you can use creatively in your spaces. I was really inspired and have way too many photos and ideas to share in just this post. I have added more pictures to my Michigan album on WanderShopper’s Fan Page on Facebook. Check them out and read up on some of my other ideas. And please, “like” WanderShopper while you are there so we can easily stay in touch.
If you are lucky enough to live in Michigan, or be visiting soon, head over to Marshall and visit Amazing Grace Antiques. I cannot guarantee that any items you have seen in my photos are still available but they will have many other fine selections for you to choose from. Amazing Grace requires that all purchases be made in person and are unable to ship to other locations. You can visit Amazing Grace Monday – Saturday from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm on Sundays. You can also find them on Facebook at their fan page, Amazing Grace Antiques. I’m one of their fans as I have been buying from them for most of their 13 years in business. I really appreciate that they allowed me to wander their store and photograph everything. Thanks too, to owner Debbie Shubert, for taking time out of her day to talk with me about her store.
Amazing Grace Antiques’ address is 106 West Michigan Avenue, Marshall, Michigan 49068. You can reach them by phone at 269-781-3595.