June 16, 2024

Vintage decor sales soared over the past couple of stay-at-home years. We asked five shop owners—some veterans and some new to the biz—what they enjoy most about giving new life to preloved pieces.

Woman sitting on a striped couch holding her white dog against the backdrop of various photos.

(Photo, Colin Way)

Becca Black of Bex Vintage, Calgary

I never intended to run a decor business. About 10 years ago, I hosted a garage sale to downsize my personal assortment of vintage items and thought it was a lot of fun, so I decided to collect more stuff and resell it. I was a social worker at the time and selling vintage on the side, and it turned into a full-time gig in 2017 when I opened my first store location in a warehouse.

I get a lot of pieces from people who are downsizing their homes or having estate sales, and I’m constantly amazed at how many “time capsule” homes there are in Alberta—you walk in and nothing has changed since the 1950s or 1960s. Those places are always a blast.

One of my favourite finds is my sectional sofa, a rare piece from Canadian company R. Huber from the 1960s— it’s in great condition for vintage and will soon be reupholstered. It’s sleek, and comes with two side tables that are designed to incorporate into the rest of the sectional. I also have a Winnipeg chair by the architect A.J. Donahue; it’s a prized possession.

My favourite part of having a store is knowing that people have a good time when they visit. Regular customers will come in just to hang out because it’s such a happy place. It’s a privilege to be able to do what I love every single day.

Woman stands in a white airy open room wearing a black top and pants with a hand on her hip.

(Photo: Christie Vuong)

Ashlyn Lem Garcia of The 365 Studio, Toronto

My mom is a collector; I’ve inherited my love of vintage decor from her. There’s a huge hand-carved ornate mirror in my studio that she lets me borrow. We think it was made sometime in the late 1800s to mid-1900s, and it was originally imported to New York City from Europe. Every single detail is amazing; you just don’t see stuff like this anymore.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I didn’t have a job and was trying to find an outlet for my creativity. At first, I dedicated my time to making my home cozier. Then I realized I needed to expand into something bigger because I couldn’t keep redecorating my own space. That’s how my Instagram account started—I wanted to help other people find special pieces, too.

I started selling small homewares on social media in September 2020 and grew from there, but I always knew that I wanted to open a studio space—hence the name. It’s something I’ve worked toward since day one; it was important for me to have somewhere to showcase the pieces. I wanted 365 to have a home.

My aesthetic is very minimalist, with a lot of organic shapes and materials. The first stone piece I sold was a square granite table with an asymmetrical base. I thought it was the coolest find ever, and it made me realize that I wanted to carve a certain niche for myself within vintage—now I specialize in stone pieces, like marble and travertine. I try to absorb as much information as I can about the pieces I have. There are nights where I’m scrolling until 2 a.m. looking at different slabs of marble from Italy.

I love customer interaction, whether it’s people asking me what would look good in their space or showing me how they styled their new purchase at home. It’s fun because I get to be part of their decorating process.

A woman in a black shirt and jeans smiles sitting on a yellow chair against the backdrop of a table and mounted mirror.

(Photo, Sylvie Li)

I opened my store 24 years ago. My interest in vintage decor started at home with my parents. They weren’t artists—my father owned a clothing store—but they were both creative and had a great eye for style and decor. They loved to mix the old and the new. That influenced me—I like a bit of everything, but I’m particularly drawn to the mid-century modern and Victorian aesthetics. There has to be a bit of humour in decor: an element that makes someone smile.

When I moved away for university, I stumbled upon a church basement near my apartment that sold old furniture and antique objects. I would spend hours looking through the clothing, housewares and fabrics to find hidden treasures— anything that was special to me and caught my eye. One piece I loved was a vibrant green Art Deco teapot with really interesting proportions. I’m a huge tea drinker, and I had it for many years— showing its wear and tear—until it broke.

With so much vintage available on online platforms, it forces you to reinvent yourself. I have customers who have been coming to me since the store’s early days. But it’s not a dusty old shop; people love the bold colours, the energy and the atmosphere of the place. I live above my store, and I spend hours in there every day. I’ll put my earbuds in and repair items before I put them up for sale or move pieces around the store to make new displays.

It’s easy for me to sell pieces if I love them. My customers tell me that they can feel the care that has gone into choosing each item. When I’ve bought pieces from people in the past, they’ve been surprised because I chose the things that nobody else looked at.

A woman in blue jeans and a white top stands with her hand resting on a wooden table with various lamps , plants and books on it.

(Photo, Erik Putz)

I moved to Canada from India in 2017. Just after quitting my first job here in 2019, I was walking through downtown Guelph and went into an antique store on a whim. I was so fascinated by how each item had a history of its own. In India, where I’m from, access to vintage furniture is often limited to what you inherit from family. I’ve always loved my grandparents’ old furniture; my parents have inherited it, and I tell them to save it for me.

I found a beautiful Paragon bone china teacup in a burgundy colour, with gold-painted handles. I bought it and a few more pieces of dishware, took them home and began researching vintage teacups—the marks (which identify their maker) and what prices they sold for online. From there, I started decorating our home with vintage and started selling pieces, too.

In 2021, about two years after launching my Etsy shop, I fell for elaborate hand-knotted rugs. I bought a few at local auctions, and my customers loved them so much that rugs quickly became my niche. One day, I would love to travel to Morocco and Turkey to source items directly from makers there. I’ve come across some that are hundreds of years old, and I can’t believe they’ve lasted this long.

I love the idea of owning something that has been discarded. In today’s fast-moving culture, it’s easier to use things and throw them away. It takes conscious effort to repair and reuse. I have a milk jug from the 1900s, in which I keep items like paintbrushes. It’s broken and imperfect, but that’s why I love it. It’s still valuable, flaws and all.

Woman in a black dress and woven rainbow sweater sits on a woven chair

(Photo, Aaron McKenzie Fraser)

My family is from Port au Choix, a remote fishing village on the west coast of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. My grandmother worked in the fashion industry and loved opulent decor, and I grew up around that influence. Her name is the inspiration for my business and a tribute to her, as she passed away a few years ago.

I was home on parental leave when COVID hit, so my mom and I would go on road trips around the province together to look for vintage items to pass the time. I started selling what I found on our excursions online, and it took off. People were excited to get their hands on beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces from all around the East Coast.

When I first started picking out decor for my own space, I gravitated toward Art Deco–style pieces. Now, my customers say my style has feminine and pop art vibes, reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein’s and Andy Warhol’s stuff, with Art Deco thrown in and a bit of Hollywood Regency, too.

You don’t find as much in thrift stores now as you used to. Some of the pieces I sell come from private sales held by former collectors; they have eclectic personalities and are true vintage lovers. I also source from estate sales and by word of mouth.

There are a few female-run businesses that have inspired me, both in Canada and the U.S. These women are so helpful and passionate, and we genuinely want to help one another. It’s such a great community.

When I’m busy or feeling low, what keeps me going is how excited people are when they find something they love in my store, or when I can connect someone with a piece they’ve been trying to find for years.


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