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How To Shop for Vintage Decor at an Antique Show

This week I attended an event that I look forward to every year. Twice a year actually! It’s Texas Antique Week, and each October and April, thousands of dealers bring their wares to small Texas towns like Warrenton, Round Top and Carmine, creating a stream of tents filled with antiques and collectibles. Rather than being a mere week, this event actually lasts for two, depending on where you focus your efforts. Swarmed with hungry shoppers, the area becomes the hottest destination in the state, attracting thousands of people from all over the country. Luckily I don’t live too far away!

As I prepared for my day trip to the festival, I went through my checklist–what to pack, what to look for, how to be prepared for the Texas heat (yes, even in early October), and how to plan my day when time was limited. Today I thought I’d share my tips and tricks for antique show shopping.

There’s no one right way to do it, but there sure are some universal helpful hints that make the experience all the more enjoyable. And worth your time! So read on, then share your antique show stories by leaving a comment at the end of the post…

The Appeal of Antique Shows

With dealers filling online sites with incredible merchandise (such as eBay, Etsy and 1stdibs), why even bother going to an antique show that requires you to traipse through dusty fields while hauling your finds? Because there’s an amazing amount of merchandise (both vintage and antique) in one place! Merchandise you can see in person, evaluate, touch, and picture in your home before buying. Plus, there are great deals to be made! Below we see an image from my trek. This is Excess Field in Warrenton, where dealers selling chic industrial finds set up camp. It may look rough around the edges, but there are some pricey finds in this section of the show. My first stop each year is Excess Field, which brings me to my very first tip…

DSC00594 001 How To Shop for Vintage Decor at an Antique Show
Industrial finds at a Texas antique show

Tip #1: Make a plan for your day.

That’s right–even if you don’t stick to it, have a general idea of where you’ll be at key times of the day. I took the morning and part of the afternoon off for my trip. Which means I still had to do some work when I returned home for the evening. There was no time to dilly-dally. I knew that I would start with Excess Field (shown above and below), spend no more than an hour there, then head to the outer edges of the festival where the excellent deals were waiting. If time, I would hit Carmine, TX to see the goods featured in that part of the show. I never made it to Carmine, so I was glad I started with the areas that interested me most!

DSC00595 001 How To Shop for Vintage Decor at an Antique Show
Vintage loot at Excess Field in Warrenton, TX

Tip #2: Make a wish list.

Yes, before you begin shopping, make a list (even a mental one) of what you’d love to find throughout the course of the day. Think about your interior. If your home features Mid-Century modern decor like the space below, you may be searching for tabletop decor to fit in with the style, or perhaps more furnishings. Are there any surfaces or shelves that you’d like to fill with treasures? [the home of Andrea McArdle, featured on A Beautiful Mess]

Home featuring Mid-Century modern furniture and decor
Home featuring Mid-Century modern furniture and decor

Are there specific items you collect? Retro pitchers? A certain brand of vintage dishware? Canisters? Pieces of a specific color? At an antique show or festival, there is so much merchandise in one place, you’re bound to come across some of your wish list finds! We’d love to hit a festival with Sherri Bemis from the bands Eisley and Perma, whose impeccably curated shelving is pictured below in a home tour post from A Beautiful Mess. She definitely has a unique style that’s all her own. When it comes to collecting vintage pieces, what’s your style?

Collection of vintage kitchen and dining pieces
Collection of vintage kitchen and dining pieces

Preparing for the Antique Show

Even when you’ve made a plan for the day and you have your wish list in hand, there are still some items to tend to before you hit the open road (or in my case, the open fields)! Let’s talk about what to pack…

Tip #3: Pack a bag filled with water, snacks, and bags for hauling loot.

You will definitely need plenty of water, as well as snacks. Yes, most festivals sell food and drinks. But if you’re like me and you find yourself at the far end of the show in the middle of 90-degree weather, you won’t feel like leaving the shade of the merchandise tents and making the trek to the food booths at 2:00 in the afternoon on one of the sunniest, hottest days of the fall season! I was glad to have some provisions in the bag I was toting! [from Magic Travel Blog]

Water and snacks for the trip ahead
Water and snacks for the trip ahead

Tip #4: Wear comfortable shoes.

This one’s not optional, folks… Comfy shoes are a must, must, must. In many cases, you’ll be walking through dusty, grassy fields, so you may even want to wear sneakers or other closed-toe shoes. My pick: Sketchers GOwalk shoes! With the look of flats but the feel of sneakers, they’re a great way to be comfy and fashionable at the same time. Also, and this goes without saying, don’t forget a hat and sunscreen! [from My Bits and Bleeps]

GOwalk shoes from Sketchers
GOwalk shoes from Sketchers

Navigating the Antique Show

You’ve made a plan for the day, you have your wish list, and you’re ready to begin the day! What now?!

Tip #5: Start early.

The earlier it is, the less competition you will have! And if it’s a hot time of the year, you’ll get in some good morning shopping before the worst of the heat kicks in. Not to mention, if you’re driving in from out of town, you’ll have less traffic to deal with. Fewer people around you means you get first dibs on the day’s goods… [from The Brenham House]

A booth in Round Top, Texas
A booth in Round Top, Texas

Tip #6: Obtain a map of the festival.

You need to know your way around. How else will you know where to look for the specific items you just have to find?! If they’re handing out maps for the festival, grab one. If you’re lucky enough to be navigating the show with someone who has attended before, ask for his input. If you know what you’re looking for, ask someone who looks like she knows where she’s headed! You may not be able to pinpoint that one booth offering that one vase you absolutely must have, but someone is likely to remember a space that prominently displays specific items, such as the vintage letters shown below! [from Maine Seasons]

Vintage letters at the Brimfield Antique Show
Vintage letters at the Brimfield Antique Show

Tip #7: Be willing to stray from the fancy tents to find a good deal.

If you’re at a fancy antique show, there’s nothing like air conditioned tents, beautifully displayed merchandise and free beverages. Yes, at the same antique festival I attended, my mom found herself in a cool, pristine tent where they were passing out free margaritas! Who’s complaining?! But often we must leave the loveliest spaces behind and be willing to dig a little if we really want to find the bargains. Below we see a shot of Excess Field in Warrenton. Doesn’t look fancy, right?! Even so, this is one of the nicer areas of the festival. AMAZING finds, folks!

Architectural finds at a Texas antique show
Architectural finds at a Texas antique show

So to find the items I was after (and for a super reasonable price), I eventually left Excess Field behind and made my way to the outer edge of the Warrenton festival. Some might call it “no man’s land.” For me, it’s paradise! Fewer crowds, better deals…

Texas Antique Week in Warrenton, TX
Texas Antique Week in Warrenton, TX

There was still shade under the tents, amazing merchandise, and fabulous bargains! Let’s just say I walked away with five gorgeous pieces that will be prominently displayed in my home. And I spent no more than $30. I’ll share the finds with you at the end of the post!

Shopping for antiques and collectibles in Warrenton, TX
Shopping for antiques and collectibles in Warrenton, TX

The Ins and Outs of Vintage Decor Shopping

How do you know when you’ve found an amazing item that you just can’t live without?! Some call it a gut feeling. Others describe the sensation of putting the piece down, walking away, then knowing they can’t live without it! Yes, we’re just talking about stuff here, but when you’re traipsing around in the elements and it’s been an hour since you’ve spotted anything worthwhile, something primal happens when you spot your next find! [from Apartment Therapy]

Colorful buckets at the Brimfield Antique Show
Colorful buckets at the Brimfield Antique Show

Tip #8: Carefully examine an item before purchasing it.

Before you hand over your cash, take a good look at the item you’re about to buy. A really good look. Check for cracks, dings and other irregularities. Does this mean you won’t purchase the item? Maybe not! I have several ’80s Deco vases in my home that are far from perfect. But I know that it’s unlikely I’ll find others like them, so it’s worth it to me to snag them. But if we’re talking glassware patterns, chances are you won’t want to sip out of a cup with a sharp edge, especially when three tents over, they’re selling the same cup in pristine condition. Which brings me to my next tip…

Vintage glassware at the Brimfield Antique Festival
Vintage glassware at the Brimfield Antique Festival

Tip #9: Know how to bargain.

A good deal is hard to find. But not that hard. First of all, if the item is damaged in any way, you should always ask if the dealer can give you a discount. In addition, I typically ask “What is your best price?” before I open my wallet. Some folks are more bold and brazen, freely offering phrases like “I’ll give you $5.” Whatever works for you. I used to be an antique dealer, and I know how much work goes into hauling, cleaning and displaying merchandise, so I phrase my bargaining queries accordingly. But there’s nothing wrong with being more direct. Always ask–just understand that if the price isn’t as low as you like, there’s probably a reason! [from Our State North Carolina]

Beautifully stocked antique festival booth
Beautifully stocked antique festival booth

Tip #10: Stay late.

At the end of the day, vendors are more likely to make you a good deal. Maybe they’re ready to pack up. Maybe they haven’t sold as much as they like. Maybe they’re in a good mood since their work is almost done! Whatever the reason, some of the best deals are made at the end of the day, or the end of the festival. For a two week festival, it might pay off to attend near the end of the second week. I once attended Texas Antique Week on the very last day. I can’t tell you the number of 50% off tables I encountered. Gotta love it! [from The Holland Blog]

Glass bottles on an antique show table
Glass bottles on an antique show table

So how did I fare on my journey? I found one ’80s Deco vase, one small lead crystal bowl, one gorgeous quartz mineral sample, and a pair of hand painted brass and porcelain vases from Holland. Yes, all for $30 total. Check it out:

Vintage finds from Texas Antique Week
Vintage finds from Texas Antique Week

The road to home was filled with air conditioning, bottled water, happy memories, and dreamy thoughts of where to put my new finds!

Headed home after a long day of antiquing
Headed home after a long day of antiquing

I’d love to hear about your antique show experiences! If you have any tips or great stories, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Happy shopping!

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