Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thrifty Time Traveling at Estate Sales

"Welcome to the time warp," the man running an estate sale in northern New Jersey said to me seeing my wide eyes. I didn't want to come out of it.

I was in love: with a kitchen. This fabulous retro kitchen. I've fallen in love again and again: with bathrooms of the mid-1900s in those classic colors: pink, robin's egg blue and avocado green. With cheerful wallpaper. Shag carpeting. Wood paneling. Linoleum flooring. The word "dated" has a positive connotation to me. If you show me a "before" and "after," I usually prefer the before (not with minor paint updates, but major renovations ripping out cabinets and such). I think "dated" is a conspiracy to get you to spend thousands of dollars updating perfectly good rooms.

I blame the estate sale obsession on Steve. He planted the seed this year, and now we wake up weekends and the first thing on our minds is checking EstateSales.net! Oh the vintage clothes, oh the vintage small sizes why I need to a) lose weight, b) make my own clothes, or c) just be grateful vintage scarves, jewelry and bags fit any size.

A collection Mrs. Bucket (that's Bouquet) on my favorite Britcom Keeping Up Appearances would adore! Now I hope poor Richard says the right thing when he sees her in it.

How cute is my "Good Morning! Toast?" toaster cover? Needs to be ironed still. For just $3, it adds a touch of whimsy and cheer.

I haven't purchased any major pieces, just some clothes, vinyl records (like Edith Piaf, John Denver, Judy Garland), a book on 1930s films, dishes, and such. We did get a vintage Singer sewing machine that folds into a side table for free when we inquired about the price. The women reflected sentimentally on the home economics classes which taught them needed sewing lessons (something I've bemoaned doesn't exist really now).

I had no idea what estate sales were. I kept picturing when Richard and Hyacinth take a country drive to one of those huge manors, but really it's just when the whole contents of a house are for sale, usually when someone has passed away.

It might sound morbid to some. But I love the idea that people's possessions are being put to good use by someone who will love them instead of going to the landfill. It's also time traveling and bit like going through someone's diary. They're a snapshot to how we lived.

If all goes according to plan, Steve and I will be moving to another two family house in the next town in a month or two (he'll keep the two-family home we're in now as an investment). My favorite part of the home which was built in 1970: a pink retro bathroom! The inspector said it's dated. What does he know? For Keeping Up Appearances fans, we now live in very Daisy and Onlsow like quarters and even are starting to emulate them. Steve watching television and drinking beer in a recliner just like Onslow's, me reading a book from the library in complete denial about our mess and overall horrible cramped living quarters like Daisy. We even have more chipped crazy mugs than I care to admit. Oh how I long to drink tea out of the Royal Doulton instead and have a nice putter in the garden. I don't need a Mercedes or room for a pony like Bruce and Violet, just a nice, cozy home.

I wish I could say I was a minimalist who would be happy with 100 possessions or less and finds contentment solely in a beautiful sunset. But admittedly, brashly, I declare it: I like stuff. I do. Clothing, more books than I can read, pretty plates, artwork, candles. Homey stuff mostly. Things that give a house a soul. I couldn't in good conscience nor could I afford to buy these things traditional retail. I'm glad estate sales are in my life.

Have you gone to estate sales?


  1. I can't go to any estate sales at the moment because I can't afford it for now. (We're planning yet another move and saving up for costs associated with that. Plus, we haven't taken a vacation in 2 years and need one desperately!) I do love vintage things, though. My grandmother lived in a 1959 home (and our first house was one, too) so homes of that era just give me a happy feeling. Her bathroom had the pink tile with pale green accents, and her kitchen had the Formica countertop that's white with gold sparkles. Sigh. I grew up in a 1969 home with avocado toilet, bathtub and sink, but somehow that era does not appeal to me. I'd love another 50's house, though. As long as the electrical is updated enough that you can run a microwave and hairdryer at the same time! That always tripped us up (literally!) in our old house when my husband and I were getting ready at the same time...love the picture of the old hats!

  2. Oh, dear, Lilypad -- a vintage home from 1959! That's the year I was born, does that make me vintage!? :-) Quite enjoyed this post, Catherine, especially all the Keeping Up Appearances references. The kitchen window in the picture above, over the large double sink, reminds me of the one in my parents home in Queens, NY. Their house must be from the early 1900's and the kitchen window also has those wonderful little quarter-round shelves on either side. Here in my simple-but-modern 15-year old town house I often look at my little kitchen window and wish I had those little shelves for displaying a few lovely items! In the summer, I do occasionally do some yard sale hopping on a Saturday morning, but I haven't been to any estate sales. Shall have to check out that website you mentioned -- thanks!

  3. Good luck with the move Lilypad! I know about the importance of those vacations. One of the kitchens in our new home has one of those older countertops, but the one we'll be in has a more modern one (appealing to most people but of course not me!) Sadly even my large head didn't fit into those hats, they were amazing. Union labels on just about all.

    Thanks Amy! Aren't those little details like shelves that make it so inviting. There was a charming article in the New York Times about a woman rediscovering her love of doll houses:


    To me, many of the features in the doll houses remind me of these retro homes. Have fun at the sales if you go. I love a good garage sale too. Ah, Keeping Up Appearances, so wonderful. Sometimes I have to stop myself in daily life from referring to it lest someone not be familiar with the show. Like when someone was wearing a pink shirt today and I wanted to say, "that's just like the dusty rose Hyacinth wanted to get her alarm in when Richard bought it for her anniversary."

  4. There were a few years that my wife and I became esatet sale hounds. The local town newspaper always has a few ads. And along the way to one estate sale, we'd see a sign for another one and I'd step on the brakes. There's a lot of junk, of course, but it is in the hunt for that nice item that makes estate sales an adventure. I like old chess pieces, not decorative, but traditional Staunton design. I am also on the lookout for mercury thermometers that are on a brass plate. You'd get finer pieces from estate sales in more affluent towns like Haworth, Tenafly, Franklin Lakes, etc...

  5. Catherine -- Oh yes, I know just the pink you mean! My husband and I enjoy being back-seat drivers with each other and saying things like: Mind the pedestrian!

  6. Hi Ted! So interesting about what you're looking for. Steve's in the market for tools and runs down into the basement while I go straight to the bedroom for vintage clothes and the kitchen for dishes and such. What is remarkable is the quality of items from past decades in homes of all incomes compared to what is produced now. When I moved this year I looked at my U-Haul of furniture (mostly from IKEA) and I thought how very cheap it all looked. My couch which I paid about $800 for is in terrible condition and the coffee table is falling apart.

    Amy, we say that too! My dad says to my mom, "Mrs. Bucket," and she says, "It's Bouquet!!!" Great episode on last night when Hyacinth gets a holiday brochures from the QE2 and Orient Express to try and impress the neighbors.

  7. I've never done 'estate sales' but I've done the thrifs and ebay vintage on the rare occasion...OK last week I bought a vintage Fr Molinex carrot shredder. They don't make em anymore like they used to! :)
    fun post

  8. Hi Carol! What a great find. Now I'm craving carrot raisin salad just at the mention of a carrot shredder!