New curiosity shops: Guide to buying vintage homeware online

Vintage homeware websites are making second-hand our first choice. Kate Watson-Smyth sifts through the best
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The Independent Online

As recyling and being eco-aware become ever more fashionable, it has become quite the thing to furnish our houses with what used, rather sniffily, to be called "second-hand furniture".

These days, it's positively bragging to admit that you found that shabby-chic chair languishing in a neighbour's skip, or that your wobbly stool used to belong to granny.

However, for those of us who haven't had the luck of finding a marble fireplace lying in the road or a Chippendale chair waiting to become landfill, there's an ever-proliferating number of vintage-furniture warehouses springing up around the country, most of which have websites. Of course there's plenty of trash out there, but some of the shops sell treasures. These are the best.

Despite its name, this Nottingham-based company offers a lot more than just art: it also has furniture and textiles, as well as old film posters and decorative items, all of it dating from the period between 1880 and 1980. You'll find both American and Scandinavian designs as well as postwar British. The slightly annoying thing is that a lot of the pieces on the site have been sold, which is great if you want to get a flavour of what the site does, but vexing if you wanted to buy the object though as it's just been Christmas perhaps we'll forgive them that. Also, you have to enquire about prices, which aren't listed. Still, if you like this kind of stuff and were wondering where to get it, then you'll be happy that Retroart has managed to source it.

(0797 630 2612; 0115-847 5945)

Located in an old garage about half an hour away from Newcastle upon Tyne, this shop and website has a vast collection of unusual objects and furnishings for home and garden. If you want to find the really original things, you need to visit, as the one-offs reside in the shop, but a browse through the website will also unearth some real gems such as these pendant lights made from old metal jelly moulds, and picture frames made from recycled metal.

Bishops Yard, Main Street, Corbridge, Northumberland (01434 634 567)

Based in Perpignan, in the Catalan-region of southern France, this small company is a treat for those with a nostalgic bent. The two women who run it have a passion for reusing and recycling, and are full of original and quirky ideas. So, you can buy a Noddy apron that might once have been a pair of curtains in a child's bedroom in the 1960s, for example, or an illustrated 1950s handkerchief that has found a new life as a stylish cushion cover. Check out, too, the French antique kitchen containers and the wonderful old toys, which can be very decorative. For children, there are also some fabulous tops made from old cloth storybooks. The emphasis here is more on home accessories than actual furniture.

12 bis rue Denis Diderot, 66000 Perpignan, France (020-7871 1447; 00 33 08 70 46 67 97)

Set up by two nurses with a passion for interiors, this shop has an enormous range of objects sourced from both home and abroad, which they paint and restore in soft, chalky colours. Expect to find everything from milk jugs and 1950s eiderdowns to French cupboards (right), Victorian chairs and retro vinyl seats. They don't do online ordering, so you will have to visit, or if you are desperate for something you have seen on the site but you can't get there, they will arrange courier delivery.

17 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire (01993 811 655)

This site doesn't necessarily offer vintage or reclaimed objects: it is a massive collection of things from small designers who haven't got space in the shops. Some 350 small businesses are under the umbrella, so it helps if you have some idea of what you are looking for. Having said that, the owners, Holly Tucker and Sarah Cornish, have tried hard to help browsers: there's a daily list of 40 selected products, as well as a gift finder. Pick up anything from British sculptor Finn Stone's ball chair for 155 to jewel-coloured alpaca throws for 59.50 to contemporary lighting.

(0845 259 1359)

Recently expanded from just French furniture to include designer toys from Germany and bird tables from Sweden, this site has everything from candlesticks and cutlery to beautiful copper basins and consoles. It's not cheap, but then it's not Ikea, and at least you'll know that not everyone in the street has the same stuff. Much of the stock is made by small family firms in France and has a vintage feel to it even though it's modern. Look out for the striped quilts made from mattress ticking.

(0870 901 4547)

Many die-hard vintage hunters will already be aware of this site, but for those of you who are new to the reclaiming game, know that this is one of the best out there. There's masses of stuff that's completely recycled, and plenty of new objects made from old planks and doors. Plus, it offers a huge section of eco-household products from cleaning fluids to besom brushes as well as old clocks, phones, French bistro chairs and lampshades. The owners, as you can guess from the site, are screamingly stylish, and their home is often featured in interiors magazines. They have produced a book (available for purchase at the website) so that you can recreate all the fun in your own home.

Whitecross Farm, Bridstow, Herefordshire (01989 561 931)

A mixture of new and vintage pieces of contemporary art, furniture and accessories, many of which are one-offs. The product philosophy is simple: things that you won't find anywhere else. That makes this shop great for buying presents, or if you are hunting something specific. If you like to see before you buy, visit their space at the Kingston Antique Centre, London Road, Kingston upon Thames. Owners David and Debbie Jenner, who began this as a hobby, leave no stone unturned to find unusual and interesting objects they once arranged for a thermometer to be rescued from a derelict garage in an outback town in South America.

(020-8224 3550)