Re-use and upcycle: a day out at a salvage fair

For lovers of vintage and quirky home wares, there’s nothing quite like a trip to a salvage fair. Not quite antique fairs, not quite flea markets, these events move around the country and are different every time you visit. If you haven’t been to one before, put it on your ‘to do list’ – even if you’re  not in the market for buying, it’s a great source of inspiration, and there are usually some really striking examples of creativity and imagination on offer.

From a wrought iron pagoda to a wooden rhinoceros, there’s no telling what you’ll find.

What to expect from a salvage fair

Think ‘shabby chic’ rather than fine antiques. Although you will see sellers with fine quality pieces on display, the point of a salvage fair is just that – things that have been salvaged and are ready for a new lease of life. You might find the pews from an old chapel sitting cheek-by-jowl with old shop signs from the 1950s, or park railings next to a display of vintage glass.

If you’re looking for pretty much anything from an old flowerpot to a six-foot high cast iron fountain, this is the place to come.

How to shop and what to buy at salvage fairs

These lovely 1960s-style chairs would add an interesting twist to a neutral interior.

Whatever your budget, there’s sure to be something of interest. As well as one-off finds, you’re likely to come across a range of reproduction goods such as zinc ware and ‘distressed’ enamel signs. These modern goods are attractively priced and can look great, especially when mixed in with one or two more expensive pieces. Look out for items that are practical as well as decorative, such as pieces of furniture and pots.

Salvage fairs probably aren’t the best place to pick up pieces in their raw state, as vendors will normally have done some preparation to make sure their goods appear to their best advantage. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to do your own restoration, though, you can uncover a treasure trove of unique pieces.

When you browse around the stalls, look at potential as well as immediacy. You may not have a use for a set of linen napkins trimmed with handmade lace – but is the lace pretty enough and in good enough condition to remove and frame as artwork? Could you use the lace to trim a lampshade, and turn the linen into lavender bags?

Old silver cutlery can be upcycled as plant labels (have the plant names engraved on the back of the spoon bowl or on the handle, then stick the whole thing in the ground. These look particuarly good in windowsill herb pots and make lovely gifts as well), or turned into windchimes or chandeliers.

At an AS Fairs event in August, we found lots of quirky, unusual goods on sale including some ‘robots’ made from parts of old electrical goods and other retro items. These engaging characters were now finding a new lease of life as lamps, radios and much more.

Whether you’re on the hunt for that spectacular focal point for your new home (two-metre long cast iron and wood Hovis sign, anyone?) or just fancy an interesting family day out, salvage fairs should go firmly on your ‘to do’ list.

Where to find salvage fairs

To find out more about events in your area, visit:

Arthur Swallow – events in Yorkshire, Cheshire and Surrey throughout the summer

Bentley Fairs – two events a year, in Knebworth, Herts and Eastbourne

Antiques Atlas – lists events nationwide, including vintage and antiques events as well as salvage

Salvage Fairs – regular events in Devon and Somerset

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