En route to the Barn Bazaar Art & Antique Show, my friend and I ventured down a dirt road neither of us had driven, in search of rural property we’d never been to, owned by people we’d never met.
“This is a different kind of shopping,” muses Fielding Chelf, who operates the Two Women Art & Antiques showcase in a barn-turned-store on their property in Spangle with her mother, Dianna Chelf.
Bucolic and refreshing, our excursion to the Barn Bazaar on Sept. 11 was a far cry from the chaos routinely awaiting consumers in River Park Square or NorthTown Mall on a bustling weekend.
A serpentine line of vendors circled the Chelfs’ pastoral farmhouse in flea-market fashion, flanked by bluegrass musicians and artisan food merchants.
“With the economy, people are looking for alternative ways to furnish,” says Fielding. “And right now, there’s a big trend in crafting and antiques — kind of like there was in the ’70s.” The trend Fielding refers to is a growing grassroots industry, a budding network of businesswomen (and men) that has blossomed in recent years.
Known as “junking,” or “shabby chic,” the vogue turns shopping into a communal treasure hunt, fostering individual vendors who’ve established a signature crafting style or business profile.
Its adherents elevate one-of-a-kind items that are salvaged, distressed, reclaimed, refurbished, embellished, repurposed or handmade to a level approaching high art. It’s something that seems to have caught on here since Spokane’s homegrown phenomenon, the Farm Chicks, started hosting shows in 2002.
“I think gone are the days of people spending money for real expensive pieces that you’ll find in the furniture stores,” says Gladys Hanning, who, along with daughter Celia, runs Junebug Furniture & Design.
On Oct. 1-2, the Hannings will give junk lovers another opportunity to find new treasures when they host their second annual Mad Hatter Vintage Flea Market at the historic Five Mile Prairie Grange.
Widely successful the first time around in 2009, this Wonderland-themed extravaganza sells the neat, the old and the whimsical, enhanced by a storybook backdrop of twinkling trees, 8-foot character replicas, 17 vendors and a tea-party spread in the grange’s lower level.
While giddily divulging plans to hang old petticoats from the grange’s light fixtures, Gladys says she likes to be resourceful with unusual knickknacks — be it forgotten vintage dolls extracted from a hoarders’ house to old scrapbooks encasing sentimental trinkets like rings and half-smoked cigarette butts.
“The worn stuff is really cool,” she says. “Even if it’s ripped and tattered, it has character.”
Once, after purchasing an old dresser and cleaning it out, Gladys discovered a 1948 newspaper with a letter hidden beneath.
“Written to ‘Sharon,’” she remembers, “from some guy that was in boot camp. He was 19 years old and writing this girl, even though he had never met her. … He said she was easy on the eyes. He wrote down his favorite song, wrote down the kind of car he had, his weight, and said his hair color was brownish.”
The backstories, the Hannings say, are what customers like to keep alive.
“It’s like going back a couple of generations,” says Hollie Eastman, co-owner of the Funky Junk Antique Show. “People are wanting to find things that are special. … A lot of times there’s a story that goes along with the piece.”
Junking is also green. As in “reused.” And cheap.
Perusing the Barn Bazaar, there’s an uncanny correlation to Anthropologie and Restoration Hardware — for a fraction of the cost.
A gorgeous full-sized kitchen hutch, repainted a quaint shade of eggshell, was listed at $65. A mint-condition chartreuse Gurgle- Pot — a trendy brand of water pitcher all the rage in swanky home boutiques — was selling for $29. (I recently purchased a brand-new one for a friend’s wedding. And paid $48.)
“We were looking at Pottery Barn gift magazine online, and they have a whole entire display of vintage-inspired lights and all these little different cubbies,” says Celia. “They’re all reproductions. That’s all stuff we find along the way when we’re doing our junking.”
Sure, essentials like “new vacuum cleaner” or “hamster food” have their time and place. But for house furnishings and eccentric whatnots, professional junkers like the Hannings can find more bang for your buck.
Mad Hatter Vintage
Flea Market • Oct. 1, 5-9 pm; Oct. 2, 9 am-6 pm • Five Mile Prairie
Grange • Admission: $4 • Visit: http://junebugfurnitureanddesign.blogspot.com