Sourcing out antiques

Get out of the city and head to a country auction for great finds this summer

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Yes, eBay has revolutionized the auction world, especially if you love bidding in pyjamas at 11:47 at night. But come summer, you are missing out on amazing vintage finds – and a lot of fun – if you don’t take part in a country auction.

Vintage pieces add eclectic, rustic charm to interiors and the prices are much lower at auction than in antique shops or second-hand stores. To get started, check the Auctioneers Association of Canada website for a list of auctioneers in your province. In Ontario, auctionsfind.com gives listings of auctions and pictures of items for sale.

Most auction houses have previews, which are important since most items are sold as is. If you don’t have anything specific in mind (and have a big trunk) be adventurous and bid on a ‘job lots;’ a mix of items sold as one lot. A ‘sleeper’ – something that could be worth more than the rest – is often included as incentive.

When examining furniture, look at all sides, including the bottom. Sit on or shake on chairs and tables to see if they wobble. Look for broken or missing pieces of veneer or inlay. Ask yourself if a piece requires repairs or re-upholstering, are you willing to do it or do you know someone who can? Factor the cost of repairs into your budget.

Next, register at the auction for a bidder number and read the rules (for instance, is there a buyer’s premium on top of the bid amount, and what is the taxation) on the bid card or catalogues. Once the sale starts, the auctioneer solicits bids, which are made by holding up your bid card or raising your hand. Fear not, scratching your nose won’t be misinterpreted as a bid, and if you want to drop out, shake your head “no” when the auctioneer turns to you. When the auction ends, be prepared to pay immediately, as well as make arrangements for delivery (which is on your dime).

Keep an open mind. Furniture with a less than stellar pedigree can look amazing in an alternate finish or color. An ornate piece can be painted black for a lacquered Chinoiserie look, or transform a simple chest of drawers with a coat of white or pale blue for a Gustavian touch.

Anything enamel (chips are charming), from pitchers and bowls to trays are handy for bathrooms and kitchen storage. Pressed and opal glass cake stands and goblets are pretty and functional. Vintage garden tools can appear sculptural in the right setting: apple-picking ladders serve as magazine racks and towel holders. An old metal watering can stenciled with an address makes a thoughtful housewarming gift.

Vintage linens are often hand embroidered; something increasingly rare in a digital age. A delicately stitched hand towel is beautiful in a powder room or you can add character to your kitchen with a retro tea towel. In the boudoir, hobnail glass lamps or vases glint like jewellery.

Kitchenware is a practical, colourful addition that contrasts nicely with contemporary appliances. Look for hot collectibles like vintage Pyrex and Fiesta ware dishes: they’re inexpensive, durable and easy-to-find. Mismatched dishes can add a breezy insouciance to a summer table; pick a theme such as florals or a colour such as Jadeite.

If you really love something, it’s worth the price, so raise that paddle. And it can serve as a lasting reminder of a lovely day in the country once the snow flies and you’re back in those pyjamas.