Incorporating Vintage Items Into Your Home’s Style
Author | Nicole Hostetter
View of Heartworn Vintage owner, Allie Motyka's, beautiful vintage inspired dining room.
My home’s style is eclectic, but that’s because the items inside it span the decades and the spectrum of style. Still, it is cohesive because the constant thread through all of it is me.
As I walk from room to room I’m sometimes reminded of the way a museum displays its collection — purposefully and with the intention of telling a story: My great-granny’s red catalin radio. The giant floral needlepoint my mom stitched during the sleepless nights after my birth. A wooden Swedish rolltop desk I thrifted. The dogwood printed juice glasses my daughter uses at meals. My grandma’s Rosenthal wedding china, which she passed on to me at my bridal shower. The small copper saucepan I keep at eye-level in the china hutch.
I don’t remember how the saucepan first ended up in my kitchen cabinet, but there it was: A ramekin-sized vessel with a little handle the length of a popsicle stick.
To anyone else, it would probably be tossed into the donation bin. What’s a person to do with a pan barely big enough to warm a half-cup of milk?
But to me, the pan was a reminder of who I am and where I came from; it had belonged to my great-grandfather, Nino, an Italian immigrant and the maître d'hôtel at the Drake Hotel in New York City during an era where dining out meant graceful waiters and tableside meal preparation. He created the classic dish Steak Diane, a spectacle of flames and sizzling, butter and steak. The little pan in my china hutch played a part in that theater, touched by his hands and now by my children’s.
My house is eclectic because pieces like this pan are scattered alongside other vintage and antique items, and among the Target cube shelves. Things passed down, things thrifted, but all enjoyed by my family. It’s not cohesive necessarily, but it works for us.
I wanted to talk with Allie Motyka about incorporating vintage items into your home’s decor because she’s an expert, evidenced by the gorgeous photos of her home she shares on instagram and by the nature of her work: Allie and her mom, Kathy Hurst, co-own Heartworn Vintage (@heartwornvintage) in downtown Harrisonburg’s Agora Marketplace. They opened in June of 2017 and have been specializing in the vast and eclectic field of vintage, with an emphasis on items from the 1960s and ‘70s, ever since.
“Vintage offers so much more than a big box store,” Allie says. “First of all, you're choosing something that has already existed for forty-plus years instead of buying something new.” She also points out the sustainability of buying vintage — using an item already in existence rather than sending it to a landfill. And, the quality is generally high in older items, along with the uniqueness of having a piece that may be uncommon because of its age. “When you buy vintage, it's usually going to be something that will be unique to your home,” she says.
Allie’s own home is a beautiful mix of modern design and vintage decor. With a recently redone kitchen, her main living space is a showcase for the beauty and function of vintage items she’s collected over the years and her modern design sensibility. Yellow, orange, and turquoise play big roles in coloring her space, with shades of green and pink cycling through depending on her mood.
“I am drawn to neon florals and mod geometric patterns,” she says. “Then throw in a splash of oddities: Collected moths, butterflies, and other insects, snake skins, bones, stones, and shells mixed in with X-rays and old medicine bottles.”
The effect is simultaneously warm and refreshing.
Allie’s interest in the field developed honestly; when she was young, she often accompanied her parents as they visited thrift stores and auction houses.
“I found it boring, and hated being stuck in a flea market or antique mall for hours while my mom searched for all the ‘treasure’ — [which was] not treasure to me at the time,” Allie recalls. But, she adds “I'm grateful for our thrifty way of living, and eventually, I came to appreciate it. I do remember, at some stage of my life, I went through the phase of embarrassment for all our secondhand items, but I don't feel like that lasted long. Secondhand is my first instinct now, so I can thank my parents for that.”
These days, customers visit Heartworn looking for all sorts of items, (specifically planters and barware), but often will leave with another item or two they didn’t anticipate finding.
One of the keys of incorporating vintage items into your home is simply that you use them. Banishing them to a bin in the attic renders them useless, a relic of the past with no future. Incorporating them, using them, looking at them — this is the way you honor them. And if you find that they really serve you no longer, take pictures of the item to keep in a scrapbook, and pass them on.
Allie relates to this notion. “If I am not fond of something that was from a family member or a gift, I will find another home for it. I am appreciative of the thought, of course, but I just can't keep everything,” she says. “I have plenty of pieces that I have formed my own attachments to, that's for sure.”
And that’s the beauty of vintage. Whether bought for looks or inherited from family, as we use the objects around us in daily life and create our own value of these items, we prepare the next generation of vintage items for the future.
Hopefully by keeping my little saucepans and my mom’s needlepoint on display, my kids will develop a connection to seeing them and one day they will want to have them in their own homes too.
Invest in a container of Restoration cleaner for old linens. “We have found that this product works to get almost all stains from fabrics. This was a game-changer! So, don't ditch your favorite vintage piece because of a stain!”
When thrifting, use your senses - especially your nose. “One tip, which is way more difficult to do right now with masks, is to smell the furniture or fabric. Mothballs are my worst enemy. I can't stand the smell, and it is an extremely difficult smell to get rid of.”
If you get overwhelmed by thrifting home goods, do a general scan rather than looking deeply at every item. Keep your eyes open for “Bright colors, and funky patterns, and the shapes of furniture,” are good markers for finding unique items, Allie says.
If you’re hunting for Pyrex, do some research. “Pyrex is something I'm always looking at, but I can't keep up with all the absurdity that follows this. I have always used it in my own kitchen because it's gorgeous and, well, useful. But man, people go bonkers over certain patterns, so I keep my eyes peeled for things I've never seen before.”