All the fun of the antiques fair: where to shop for vintage homewares — and how to do it

Wish list: antiques fairs can offer all sorts of finds, but it’s best to have an idea of what you’re after before going (Michelle Mason)
Wish list: antiques fairs can offer all sorts of finds, but it’s best to have an idea of what you’re after before going (Michelle Mason)

From Sunday garage sales to local flea markets and European antiques fairs — the sheer number of vintage and antique shopping opportunities and the amount of items available when you get there can often feel overwhelming. Here are my favourite places to source the best pieces, as well as my tips to bag the best finds.

Novices should start with a local, mid-size vintage market or country brocante. Look for the regional listings in home interest and antiques magazines or search online. Sourcing at antiques fairs offers the chance to meet dealers, find the best bargains and sift through what’s on offer, which will give you a better eye for when you’re shopping online, too.

Sunbury Antiques

Kempton Racecourse, TW16 5AQ

Getting there from London: Kempton station has direct links from London Waterloo and a free car park, though you’ll need to pay a nominal entry fee between 6.30am and 8am.

Best for: English antique furniture, rustic French ceramics, Eastern European glassware, enamel advertising signs, vintage French linens and crockery.

A one-day event held every first and last Tuesday of the month at Kempton Racecourse, just south of London. The market is easy to navigate but is large enough to find good rustic, antique and mid-century furniture, vintage glass and ceramics and industrial salvage.

There’s also an indoor section dedicated to vintage ephemera including fine jewellery, textiles, books and china. As well as the British dealers you’ll also find Dutch, French and Italian and it’s worth arriving when the gates open at 6.30am as the market is very popular with stylists, designers and dealers.

Next market is Tuesday, May 30.

Henley Decor Fair

Henley Showground, RG9 3AS

Henley Decor Fair is good for garden salvage (Michelle Mason)
Henley Decor Fair is good for garden salvage (Michelle Mason)

Getting there from London: You can take the Elizabeth line from any of its central London stations to Twyford, changing to a local bus.

Best for: Architectural and garden salvage.

One of the most picturesque settings for an outdoor event has to be Henley, in Oxfordshire, where the Decor Fair pitches up twice a year by the Thames. With a good spread of exhibitors, expect to find collectables, artworks and antique ceramics, mirrors and garden salvage and statuary.

Next fair will be in September, dates to be confirmed.

Newark Antiques Fair

Newark & Nottinghamshire Showground, NG24 2NY

Getting there from London: Trains from King’s Cross to Newark Northgate take as little as 1h 14m, plus a 10-minute drive to the showground.

Best for: Barn and garden salvage, statuary, antique and vintage garden furniture.

The International Antiques and Collectors Fairs stage some of the largest shows in Europe. The fair at Newark & Nottinghamshire Showground, held on a sprawling 84-acre site, is one of my favourites and you’ll encounter dealers from around the UK, Hungary and France.

Next fair is June 1-2.

Antiques fairs are a chance to meet dealers, find bargains and see what’s on offer (Michelle Mason)
Antiques fairs are a chance to meet dealers, find bargains and see what’s on offer (Michelle Mason)

Shepton Mallet Antiques Vintage and Collectors Fair

Royal Bath & West Showground, BA4 6QN

Getting there from London: It takes about three-and-a-half hours from London via trains from London Paddington to Bristol, Castle Cary or Temple Combe and onward taxi.

Best for: Antique and vintage lighting.

Shepton Mallet hosts more than 600 dealers offering reclaimed lighting, vintage clothes and textiles, British ceramics and china and antique furniture, among other items.

Next fair is June 16-18.

The Dorset Brocante

Larmer Tree Gardens, SP5 5PY

Getting there from London: Trains to Tisbury station take 1h 46m from London Waterloo. It’s a 20-minute drive from there.

Best for: Rustic French crockery, textiles, artworks and homewares.

The bi-annual Dorset Brocante, every May and November, is well worth a visit for its country garden location. You might even spot one of the park’s peacocks, parakeets and exotic birds. Expect a friendly gathering of vintage dealers with tempting refreshments to enjoy.

Next fair is the Christmas Brocante, November 10-11. Tickets on sale in summer.

How to shop at an antiques fair

  • Create a wish list before heading out to the flea markets and salvage yards.

  • Write down what you need but be realistic and flexible — you might not stumble across that Louis Philippe mirror or mid-century stacking chairs but there will be other items to unearth.

  • If you don’t have specificpieces in mind and prefer a random approach, think about colours, shapes and textures. For instance, if your home has a neutral palette focus on anatural, rustic theme or if you’re drawn towards pieces withpatina and layers of paint, head towards the salvage stalls and industrial antiques.

  • It’s also worth thinking about where your collection will go. If space is limited keep an eye out for smaller items such as ceramics and artworks and style up a kitchen shelf or bedroom wall.

  • Furnishing a whole room or a workspace will consume stock quickly so consider main pieces first, such as seating, and work up towards the details, visualizing how each piece will coexist.

  • Having a fixed budget is a good way to cap spending. It will also determine the quantity and quality of your purchases and give an idea of how far funds will stretch once you’re at the markets.

  • And, as most vendors only accept cash, make sure you’re well prepared as cash machines are not always available at the smaller events.

Love Vintage: Sourcing, Collecting & Selling Vintage & Decorative Antiques by Michelle Mason, £12.99, Pimpernel Press, is out 23rd May

 (Pimpernel Press | Michelle Mason)
(Pimpernel Press | Michelle Mason)