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Adding Vintage to Your Home

Posted Thursday, October 16, 2014 in: Guest Nerd Obsessed With
As much as I love hunting a secondhand market for vintage things for our home, I love trawling the net for other interior design blogs. I’ve been enjoying reading design blogs for years and years, and it’s one of the reasons I decided to start my own. When you find a great blog it’s like a huge dash of inspiration to get up off your butt and actually DO stuff to your own home!

One blogger I have come across in the past year is South Australia-based Helen Edwards, who writes the lovely Recycled Interiors. One of the things I like most about Helen is that she has bucketloads of endless energy, which guilts me off Pinterest and into picking up a paintbrush. She is a full-time interiors blogger, social worker, diabetes educator, runs a national diabetes charity, has three kids, studies interior design and has also just launched an online shop selling vintage finds. Another thing I like about Helen is that she is hugely into sustainability, recycling and reducing landfill – especially when it comes to our homes. She goes crazy over all things old and vintage.

Vintage lights, a New York flea market find, hang above the kitchen of Etica Studio Carla Karsakis' home (see the full tour here). Styling and photography by Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.

You guys might already have read my posts on how I love to rummage through vintage markets and secondhand shops for vintage finds as well as clothes (you can read my tips for successful flea market-ing here) and how I get a kick out of verge-picking and dragging other people’s junk home, often to the resigned wrath of the husband.

Helen is one such person who totally understands! Like me, she believes that it helps add a nice warmth to a home to have at least one thing, big or small, that is old or vintage or just a little bit worn. Yes, even if your house is new and shiny and modern – or perhaps particularly if your house is new and shiny and modern. I don’t think you need to fear about your house starting to look like your grandma’s. There is something about an old piece of furniture, or a quirky old vintage item, that adds character to a room and it just WORKS - and it can create such a cool talking point.

Modern and vintage meet in the home of Kylie Radford and Richard Poulson, the founders of Morrison. Their stylist Jo-Anne Pabst made the cushion cover from vintage fabric. Styling by Jo-Anne Pabst, photography by Grant Taylor.

So I decided I would interview Helen, my fellow vintage-lover (and much more of an expert on it than me!) about all things vintage – why she thinks buying secondhand has become so trendy lately, and why incorporating vintage pieces to your home and mixing them in with new or more contemporary pieces can add warmth, style and character - but most of all, something unique!

Guest Nerd: Helen Edwards of Recycled Interiors
on Embracing Vintage for Your Home

House Nerd: Tell us a bit about yourself. What are you most passionate about?

Helen: So many things! I am a passionate advocate for sharing resources, saving our precious planet, world peace and human rights. Planet, People, Home (which is my tagline for Recycled Interiors) and caring for all of these things is the most important thing to me. Our world is amazing and we should really be standing up and doing our utmost to be sure we keep it secure for future generations.I am just a little bit hippie and a little bit crazy! But I am not too fussed any more about what people think of me and stand up for what I believe in.

Vintage suitcases, found on the side of the road, offer storage in this little girl's bedroom. Photo by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

House Nerd: You are big on recycling and re-using vintage things for the home. What does this stem from?

Helen: I have always been a vintage lover and it goes right back to my hippie parents taking me to secondhand shops! I remember having a love of china and glass, especially green glass, right back then.

We would go and visit my great aunt and uncle most weekends, driving from Elizabeth in the north of Adelaide, to Christies Beach in the south, so over an hour, to visit them and the beach. They would always take a small china animal from the china cabinet and give it to me. It was so magical. I was only little, under four years old, but it is such a strong memory for me.

Bentwood chairs teamed with an antique dining table and a modern David Bromley painting in the home of Vanessa Fordham and Karl Cramond, the founders of luxury events hire business Villa Kula. Photo by Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.

House Nerd: What do you think there is to love about buying (or finding!) vintage for the home?

Helen: Buying and finding vintage is such an adventure. Part of it is the thrill of the hunt. You don’t know what you are going to find when you set out for an op shop visit, or a trawl through a local secondhand shop, or a surf around eBay or Gumtree. It is also the history of the piece and the thrill of finding something beautiful and unique. I also love the savings! Many older pieces are made with care and last forever. You often know you will not see the exact same piece in someone else’s home and that makes it all your own. I love thinking about who has used a tea pot or vase, sat in an old chair, or washed and hung out the vintage cloth they made by hand.

Of course, I can't do a post on vintage decorating without mentioning the stunning home of Carla Karsakis of Etica Studio, full of vintage and thrifted finds - and although it looks like it could be a 1920s converted shopfront it's actually a new house. Styling and photography by Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.

House Nerd: What is your own home like?

Helen: I live in a 1949 home which as my hubby says, is a “99 year plan”! We have lived here for 16 years. We moved in 10 days before we got married. I have pictures of the place post-wedding with boxes still unpacked all over the place!

Our house is in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide near the foothills. We are 10 minutes from the hills, 30 minutes from the sea and I can jog up to a waterfall. We get koalas occasionally and once even an echidna! We have done a lot to the house but it is a never-ending list of things that still need doing. It is not a conventional house, being built by a Greek family and running down the block, not along with the front facing the road. It is rendered in white, which is very mid-century and very Greek and we laughed when all the neighbours started rendering their brick homes and new builds were all rendered!

My style is really bohemian eclectic with a touch of industrial and Scandi thrown in. A lot of what is in my home has been bought at second hand or op shops, and on eBay or Gumtree. If I am looking for something I virtually never go to a new store. I have started to buy from local designers, such as the Spindent lights I just purchased for my bedroom makeover from Nick Sadowsky, a young Aussie designer.

ABOVE: Vintage finds fill Helen's own 1940s house in South Australia.

ABOVE LEFT: Helen's home. ABOVE RIGHT: Helen and her son Maxwell.

House Nerd: What is your blog Recycled Interiors about? When did you start blogging about vintage?

Helen: Recycled Interiors is an interiors and lifestyle blog combining sustainable interior decorating ideas, with a focus on the health and wellbeing of people and our beautiful planet, and how to make mindful and ethical choices in your interior decorating and design without compromising on style.

I started the blog in April last year, as I had a burning desire to combine my three passions – our planet, people and interior design with my drive to write. I had been feeling burnt out from so much of my life being about diabetes. The idea for Recycled Interiors popped into my head and so it began. As the daughter of two English teachers, I spent much of my childhood snuggled up somewhere with a pile of books, writing poetry and stories and planning my novel and career as a journalist. Somehow I ended up as a social worker! Yet here I now am working as a journalist which was always one of my dreams.

My own bedroom features a mix of new and old pieces (with the old pieces bought partially for budget reasons!)

House Nerd: How does adding a bit of vintage help a room scheme? What do you most love about putting old things into a home?

Helen: I think that modern interiors that are very contemporary can be a little stark. Vintage pieces add warmth and visual interest. They can often be a talking point and a feature in a room, or they can soften a clinical feel of a room. Mixing old with new is a wonderful way to have a home that lives and breathes, and it connects us to our past and present.

Also at the bottom line, by buying, using, and recycling vintage pieces, we are stopping them going to landfill. I heard an interesting statement recently that rich countries are outsourcing our carbon footprint to developing countries. What is the point in recycling and having a green car if you buy crap, made in situations where the people making the crap have been treated like crap, and the rich man just gets richer with no regard for planet or people? But by buying new things from local makers, craftspeople and artisans, those who are creating things in a sustainable way and selling fair trade, by reusing, recycling and repurposing, not only are you stopping something going to landfill but you are NOT buying something made in an unethical and damaging way. I have nothing against new things and I do have them in my home, but seeking pieces which have considered the people who made them and the environment, a cradle to cradle approach, is really important.

Vintage crockery in this stunningly quirky South Fremantle home. 

House Nerd: Why do you think vintage has become such a huge trend recently?

Helen: It is very interesting as a long time vintage lover to see it so trendy! I think there are lots of reasons. One is financial, people have less money to spend on things like decorating, they often have large mortgages or are renting. Buying lots of lovely pieces for the home costs a lot whereas vintage pieces are a bargain. People are generally more aware of the importance of reusing and recycling stuff and this is one of the ultimate ways to do it, using something that already exists. Op shops have become far more upmarket and clever at marketing and shop display – this makes it more attractive to people to shop there. There has been more featuring of vintage décor in popular media and home mags. And people are feeling overwhelmed by busy lives and disconnected from each other. We want to connect more to each other and our human history. Vintage pieces offer us this.

House Nerd: I feel like there were periods in history when paying a lot for something, as opposed to a little, was the trend – a mark of wealth or success. But these days, many of us are embracing the fact that something might have actually cost very little from a vintage market or op shop, was upcycled, or was a sentimental hand-me-down from our grandma. Why do think this is? Why are we embracing – and being proud of - the affordable in our homes?

Helen: Now this has never factored in my life. I have never felt I needed to show I paid a lot for something so this is very foreign to me. In fact in my family, it was always the bargain that was proudly displayed! I do think there is a cultural shift towards this however and I feel it is related to the pride in being able to show something you have recycled, or reused, or upcycled, more so than the cost factor. It has become more acceptable to say you bought something at an op shop or on eBay.

A vintage school desk (I love how it has initials on it) sits next to a new bookcase in the former study of interior designer Nelly Reffet of Twinkle and Whistle (home tour here). Photo by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

House Nerd: What are your personal favourite vintage items that you own?

Helen: There are so many! But I would have to say my china plates and tea cups, in particular a set of English china I have that is 24K gold-plated from my grandma. She is 100 this year and still lives at home alone. This was given to her for her wedding and when she gave it to me years ago my mum was so jealous! I also adore some of my newer finds, such as my mid-century sleigh chair and Scandi sofa. I am also pretty keen on some personally important things such as a gorgeous little ship mirror from my mother in law who has sadly passed away from motor neurone disease. Oh and my glomesh bags! Love some sparkle!

Home renovator Wanjie Song scored her dream vintage Parker dining set off eBay. You can read her budget kitchen renovation story here.


  • Scour vintage markets, op shops, Gumtree and eBay.

  • Invite others along on a vintage hunt. Go with a group of friends to an early morning market, get coffee and drag each other about asking, ‘Would this look good in my home, you know, on that wall above the fireplace?’ I LOVE doing this.

  • Buy what you like. Don’t think too much about it. Do you really like it? Would you be pissed off if that lady standing behind you pushed in and bought it? That is sort of all there is to it.

  • Similarly, don’t think about whether you ‘need’ it. Say it’s an old vintage shoe mould. Truth is you probably don’t ‘need’ it! But get it because for some reason, you just love it, and it will add something fun and interesting to your home. Have you ever seen little kids latch onto something at a market? They will stand there absolutely silently transfixed, clutching a ratty tin box, thinking of how it could be their secret treasure box and it will be just perfect for hiding their dead beetle collection from Mum. Be like them and just enjoy something for the sake of enjoying it. It doesn’t have to have a purpose except to add a piece of cool to your house.

  • You don’t HAVE to decide where you’ll put it just yet. Whether it’s a shoe horn, a vintage picture frame or a Victorian-era clothes ironer (we were given one as a gift for use as a doorstopper). If you absolutely love it, you can make it work in your house!

  • If you have always bought new shiny things, and fear adding something old will look strange and out of place in your home, don’t stress. I sound like a total Hector the Collector, but over time you’ll find more old pieces will probably come into your hands and after a while, you’ll find everything starts to sit quite naturally and comfortably together.

Do you buy secondhand or vintage pieces for your home? Do you prefer to buy new? Or have you always wanted to try adding secondhand things for your home, but never done so because you didn't quite know how to start, or worried it might look strange? What are some of your favourite things in your home that once belonged to someone else? Maya x

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