The Great Indoors: How to make sure vintage doesn’t equal junky

It’s been almost a month since cleanup week found antique lovers and bargain hunters rummaging through piles of would-be garbage on the city’s curbs. Perhaps you’re one of them; excited at first by what you found, now looking at it and wondering “what am I going to do with this thing?”

It’s something vintage decorators like Shannon Olson and Carrie Brusven understand. Olson writes a blog ( on her love of vintage decorating and baking. Brusven owns Rustic Trunk, a business which specializes in decorating for events using vintage or rustic pieces.

Both of their homes are covered in vintage pieces from the 19th and 20th century, much of it acquired from clean-up week, garage sales and discount bins. The rooms are full of conversation pieces. They feel warm and welcoming and you don’t feel like you’re sitting in the middle of a junk pile. But how do they do it? How do you avoid having your collections and vintage pieces from making your house feel cluttered? Here are their tips.

1. Find what you love and stick to it. Olson says she’s always loved enamel ware and old coffee pots. So when she sees one she picks it up. She doesn’t bother with something that’s close, but not quite right. All that will do is add to the clutter and it won’t ever be a favorite piece. The item should really speak to you. If it’s nice, but not quite right pass it up. Brusven especially likes pieces that have a story with them. That way it’s not just a knick knack on a shelf, it’s history.

2. A collection can be three items not 30. Collectors get obsessed. They see something they like and they think they need to have every one ever made. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Or consider buying it, but only displaying a handful. Brusven agrees. “When you have too many items on display, nothing stands out.” Less can be more.

3. While shopping at garage sales or on the curb consider the strategy of one in/one out. If you bring something home to use in decorating your home, consider taking something else away and putting it on your own curb for clean up week.

4. Vintage can be practical. There’s no reason vintage decorations can’t be functional too. Olson found an old rake handle in her neighbor’s garbage. She attached it to an old wooden cabinet door and uses it to hang necklaces in her bathroom. Her photo from the project has been a hit on Pinterest. Brusven found an old beat up cabinet that she repurposed into a lemonade stand or guest book stand for use at weddings or other events.

“No one would have wanted this thing. But we worked with it and it’s really a cute and fun piece now,” she says.

5. You’d be surprised what a little TLC can do. If you see something that’s really beat up, give it a little tender loving care and it can come back to life. Olson found an old dresser like one her grandmother once owned. It brought back so many memories but the top of the dresser was trashed. But Olson took it and gave it new life. She found old sheet music and covered the top of the dresser in it. That piece has become the primary dresser in her master bedroom.

For more ideas on vintage decorating and baking, visit Shannon Olson’s blog at and for more information on decorating for events go to