Why Vintage Housewares Are a Smart Buy

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Everyone wants to save money in the kitchen these days, perhaps spurred on by the hit reality show Extreme Coupononing. But how can you save on things likes plates and silverware? Think old school.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on surging interest at some vintage-oriented flea markets, one of which has seen a 40% jump in attendance over the last few years. The economy has forced a number of people to consider vintage items for the kitchen, largely because they’re not only wildly inexpensive but often have an incredible life span.

When Tereasa Surratt and her husband purchased a rundown summer camp in Wisconsin, Camp Wandawega, she set about returning it to its rustic glory. Inspired by the discarded treasures she found there — vintage Boy Scouts memorabilia, board games, midcentury aprons, and Fiesta Ware — she set about building them into collections that would make the camp a step back in time — everything old and nothing new.

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“If you were to go today and buy any sort of a spatula or a strainer spoon from Target, it might last you four or five years — not 70 years like the ones I use every day,” says Surratt. “It’s remarkable the way they still last.”

Surratt chronicles her vintage decorating adventures in her wonderful new book Found, Free, and Flea: Creating Collections from Vintage Treasures.

Because most vintage kitchen implements aren’t especially sought after — with rare exceptions like this toaster that sold for $511.72 on eBay — it’s often just as cheap to buy many kitchen wares at flea markets, antique stores, or online. Plus, they look cool, and vintage finds come with a history. “I like walking into a room that’s full of antiques that all have a story,” Surratt says. “Restoration Hardware and Kmart are not the same as a serving platter that saw three wars and four weddings. The fact that it costs like 2 bucks is a great bonus.”

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I have to admit, some of my favorite vintage kitchen and dining room necessities are my 1950s casino-themed highball glasses (25 cents each), carnival glass serving pieces ($3 each), and a ’50s-era tea kettle.

So, go on clipping coupons, but don’t ignore the benefits of vintage kitchen accessories. They’re more interesting, they’ve stood the test of time and, with a few exceptions, they’re probably at least as affordable as the stuff you can get at Walmart.