All the fun of the fair: Exploring vintage and salvage fairs

If you’re anything like us, the summer months aren’t just for picnics and long, evening walks – they also see the ‘vintage fair’ season in full swing.

Vintage fairs, sometimes called reclamation, salvage or shabby chic fairs, are run like antiques fairs.

Unlike some antiques fairs, which can be a little demoralising to walk round (original Georgian dresser for £3,000, anyone?), vintage fairs are a glorious jumble of fabrics, 1950s, 60s and 70s furniture, bric a brac and much more.

Although you’ll find lots of high end items as well, including lots of antiques, prices are accessible and you might find anything from vintage children’s toys to commercial enamel signs. Part of the fun is definitely strolling round and seeking inspiration from the stands, which are beautifully presented, then finding that perfect statement piece to help you create the look yourself.

Commercial enamel signs strike a fun, cheerful note in your home. This one above would be ideal in a bathroom! They’re popular, so original examples range from £95 to £400 depending on age and condition, while modern reproductions can be picked up for a few pounds.

This bright enamel canister, above, makes a lively splash of colour. Display it in a kitchen or sitting room, or position it by a fireplace to hold matches and kindling.

This lovely pharmacist’s cupboard, above and top, is a modern reproduction. It would still look wonderful as a kitchen centrepiece, though, and the drawers make it practical for storing cutlery, napkins and a hundred and one bits of kitchen paraphernalia. You’ll have to decide what to keep in the ‘arsenic’ and strychnine’ drawers!

You don’t have to spend a fortune to create an effect – this colourful display is made up of an original lifebelt and a modern reproduction sign, both of which would work well in a garden room or conservatory.

In some cases, more is definitely more – these vintage coffee jugs make an impact together on a shelf. These are probably French, and can be picked up for around £25 to £45 depending on size and condition.

Don’t be narrow minded when looking around – re-purposing is the name of the game! This lovely big vintage bird cage would make a lovely display area for plants.

These big zinc tubs and canisters would look great planted up with herbs or flowering bulbs. Zinc containers were one of the most popular finds at the this year’s fairs – we spotted everything from baby baths to little hot water jugs! Prices for these cannisters range from £30 to £50 depending on condition.

Commercial pallets have found a new lease of life as a kitchen island, complete with handy shelves for vegetables.

Although reproduction painted furniture is a great way of dipping a toe into the shabby chic market, there’s nothing quite like the patina and texture of the real thing – take a look at the depth and character of paint on this old stepladder.

Above, beautiful old vintage linen and fabrics have found a new lease of life as cushions and throws. If you’re handy with a needle, vintage fabrics are a great buy and you’ll end up with some unique home furnishings. Always open the piece right out before you buy it though, as there could be stains, moth damage or fraying that will spoil usefulness.

Individually, these bits of china and furniture don’t look like much but make a charming display together.

If something catches your eye at an event and it’s too battered to be any good for its original purpose, think about how you could re-use it. Here, a vintage child’s trike has been cleverly re-purposed into a coffee table with the addition of a heavy glass top.

For details of events near you, try:

Arthur Swallow 

Bentley Fairs

Salvo Fair

International Antiques and Collectors Fairs



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