Story and Photos by C.L. Shoemaker
Judy is an avid vintage lover, antiques collector, thrifter extraordinaire and self-taught interior decorator. Her home, situated in historic Guelph, Ontario is a delight from the moment you walk in the door. The abode immediately impresses visitors with its gorgeous vintage design. Filled with beautiful tapestries, antique china and lovely wooden pieces the home gives off a vibe of expensive, lavish charm. You would never guess that many pieces have been thrifted, rescued, reclaimed or restored by the homeowner herself. Judy has spent over thirty years lovingly designing her country chic home with items obtained from thrift stores, found at church rummage sales, salvaged from the curb or donated by friends. She has the amazing ability to see the potential in a damaged item, to refinishing lacklustre furniture and turn one’s castoff piece into another’s vintage dream. And the best part is that she does it all on a dime.
I was kindly invited into Judy’s vintage home and gorgeous garden to explore her delightful designs and learn from a vintage thrifting queen. As we walked through the house exploring each room, Judy proudly pointed out each piece she had rescued, refurbished or redesigned for a new life in her design castle. She was adamant that you could have a luxurious and magazine cover-worthy vintage home on a shoestring budget, and all it simply took was time, a keen eye, a taste for out of the way thrift locations and the ability to be creative.
On the main floor of her home, Judy staged a beautiful farmhouse table. The item was a second hand find that she repainted; its legs and tabletop were now a bright white. Behind the table, stood an eye-catching antique hutch, painted a similar glossy white to give it a fresh look, and used to store decorative items. To the left of the hutch was one of Judy’s prized possessions, an antique ironing board which she picked up for only five dollars. Similar boards sell at antique stores for over a hundred dollars. The ironing table had originally seen better days, but it could be fixed. After Judy gave it some TLC and a fresh coat of white paint it looked as good as new. First pro tip: White paint can fix all basic damage you can’t repair. Judy styled it with a number of sewing themed items (buttons and fabric) in glass canning jars with an antique sewing machine for a country chic vibe.She pulled the whole space together with a gold framed mirror and a wreath designed from antique plates.
On the floor of the entryway sat a number of rugs all handmade by Judy. She collects fabrics and clothing from thrift stores, cuts them into strips, and uses them for rug hooking. The beautiful masterpieces decorate the floors of her two-story home, showcasing her talent and ingenuity while keeping feet warm in the winter. Her favourite rug, located in the kitchen, is a bright patchwork design with stars to capture your attention.
The kitchen is a cozy, farmhouse style with baskets and faux plants decorating the top of the cabinets. The main wall is taken up with a near floor to ceiling china cabinet that holds her collection of vintage dishes, while her teacups are kept in large wicker baskets on top of the cabinets. When I asked about her love of vintage china, Judy observed, “I’ve always loved teacups and saucers. I have over 100 … I lend the out to people who are having wedding showers or baby showers. Trying to get them back [unbroken can be] hard” she noted with a laugh. “I’m so thrilled I can go to thrift stores [and pick them up].” Her baskets overflow with delicate bone china teacups in floral prints, vintage designs and pastel colours, many in her favourite colour, pink. They’re perfect for a summer tea party or sipping lemonade with friends. When I inquired about her amazing eye for savings she gushed about her latest treasure, a full China set of Bridal Rose: “I [found] thirty-five pieces for twenty-five dollars [at the thrift store]. They were [marked down]… and they’re just beautiful.”
How does Judy know what to collect to make her home vintage chic and gorgeous? Judy’s answer was rather simple: collect what you love and keep a healthy balance. Once you have your key pieces, you can move them around to find the right set up. You want to surround yourself with items you love, items that catch your eye and make you smile. She also warns about the “I should have got it” regret. Vintage pieces are all unique and therefore, not guaranteed to be for sale tomorrow. If you see it and love it, snap it up or someone else will:
“Sometimes you see something, and you think, I don’t know where I’d use that piece,” Judy recalls. “Buy it because somewhere down the line you’ll go, I wish I had that.”
“And it’s all about balance.” Judy donates and sells a number of her vintage items to keep the house from being cluttered; she even shares antiques with her friends. Like an archivist, you have to carefully curate what comes in and what stays in your home. Starting a vintage swap and share group is a great way to recycle furniture pieces and clothing items while helping other vintage collectors create their ideal home. Remember to pass on the vintage goodness.
Upstairs, the bathroom has Edwardian advertisement wallpaper and hanging antique wooden racks to showcase the embroidered towels she picked up at thrift stores and markets. For a pop of color, she brought in an old outdoor hand pump painted in bright red. A clawfoot tub adds elegance to the room along with a bowl of colourful, pressed soaps. Simple touches like decorative soaps and embroidered hand towels add charm to the space.
The bedroom next-door showcases multiple antique hats displayed on the wall while a second wall holds vintage purses. Judy listed these vintage accessories as her most prized possessions as she rescued them from a dumpster. Her comment forced me to pause. “Did you say dumpster?” I had to hear that story. When I inquired, Judy explained. “I knew the people. [A younger generation was cleaning out the house. The] family threw everything in the dumpster. So, I went there and [rescued] all the old hats and purses.” Apparently, the family didn’t care for the antiques or their history; “It wasn’t special to them. It was stuff they had to live with.” But Judy adored the vintage items: “I loved [them]. I dusted [them] off and [they were] just fine.” Now her guest bedroom has an amazing collection of hats from the 1920 to the 1960 and purses that would make any antique collector green with envy.
Traveling back down the stairs and out into the backyard, we are greeted with a garden tented gazebo filled with plush floral sofas, golden mirrors, flower wreaths and a table to enjoy tea or lunch in the summertime. Her garden blooms with hundreds of flowers, all planted by her husband who does landscaping as a hobby. Judy appreciates the flowers as she picks them regularly to take into the house; “They’re much nicer than going over to the store because they’re kind of wild.” They add a touch of outdoor beauty, make the house smell amazing and bring a smile to your heart. Judy even repurposed an old teapot with a broken lid as a vase, noting “It works fine for the kitchen.” Rescue, reuse and Re-purpose.
As the interview came to a close, I asked Judy if she could give Marjorie readers her best tips. She was happy to share her knowledge and encouraged everyone to go treasure hunting. You never know what you might find in a thrift store, a re-store or at a small town garage sale!
Corrie Shoemaker is a lecturer and author (historical fiction, mystery, children’s lit and poetry) with a love for all things mystery. She was thrilled to work with the Stratford Festival of Canada and Bard on the Beach (Vancouver) when researching Canadian identity on the Shakespeare stage for her PhD. Corrie has written articles for The Stratford Festival Reviews, Vocamus Press, Guelph Mercury Tribune and Marjorie Magazine. Her children’s fairy tale “Penelope Aurora and the Enchanted Map of Parma” was published with MacroMicrocosm (2014) and her sci-fi story “Operation Reflection” received honours mentioned with the Writers of The Future Contest (2018). Her poetry has been showcased on Canadian radio. Her upcoming novel “The Frenchman’s Daughter” is a historical mystery set in 1890s France and England. You can follow all Corrie’s writing adventures at her website The Write Stuff: Literature with Charm or on Facebook at C.L.Shoemaker.