Lyn Gardener’s Guide to Vintage

Lyn Gardener is passionate about all things vintage. As well as sourcing treasures for her Melbourne store Empire Vintage since 1994, Lyn runs a country guesthouse which she restored and styled herself, and offers personal advice on decorating with pre-loved pieces through her service Gardener and Marks. Here, she shares tips with Notebook readers for successful vintage shopping.

Search far and wide
Markets, garage sales, op shops and secondhand salvage yards are where you discover the best treasures. But you have to be patient! You might spend hours rummaging and still walk out with nothing – just keep looking and enjoy the experience. I never set out searching for a particular item unless I’m trying to source something for a client. I generally prefer to be spontaneous and see what I unearth. Search for old crockery with age marks and crackles in the paint, weathered wooden tables, or linens softened by years of washing. An old item of any sort might be a treasure, as long as you love it! Finding a piece you truly adore is what it’s all about. And that can happen almost anywhere.

Trust yourself
It’s best to trust your instincts when you’re searching for vintage pieces, unless you are buying very serious antiques. In that case, do some research and make sure you’re buying an authentic piece. Look around, speak to dealers, go online and learn as much as you can before you buy. Mostly though, it doesn’t matter if a piece is made from Huon pine or old wooden milk crates, if it’s fifty years old or a hundred, or what other people might think of it, as long as the finished object stands out for you and has character.

Keep it simple
I keep most of my pieces in the condition I found them in. Having said that, don’t leave a piece behind because it needs a good wash or a nail or because the handle has dropped off – it’s so easy to do a small bit of maintenance or find another handle at a salvage yard. Even if you find a gorgeous mismatched handle, or whatever else is needed but not quite a perfect fit, that can look fantastic, and being a little creative is a wonderful thing! If an item is truly falling apart, it may not be worth sending if off to be repaired (this might cost you a small fortune), but some pieces can be smartened up with a coat of paint in a colour you love.

Buy for love
You have to live with whatever you buy so you need to love it the minute you lay eyes on it. I’ve never bought for the financial value I can see in a piece. If I can afford it and I love it, I don’t hesitate. If I did buy for the resale value I’m sure I would have made many mistakes and I certainly would not enjoy the pieces in the same way. It’s such a wonderful feeling to walk out of a shop or market with something that makes your heart sing!

Learn from the experts
Most people have a good sense of what is right for them, but if you’re not sure about which vintage pieces might work in your home there’s nothing wrong with looking around for inspiration or help. Magazines are great for getting started: look at all the lovely work stylists do and learn from them. You might see pieces used in a way you hadn’t considered, or see surprising combinations that work well. I love looking through interior magazines for inspiration. And if you do bring something home and it just doesn’t feel right it’s not the end of the world! You might also like to talk to an interior decorator if you really don’t have the confidence to mix and match on your own. Having someone visit your home for an hour or two can put you on the right track instantly – just make sure that whoever you choose genuinely loves vintage!

It’s worth the work!
Taking the time to find a vintage item makes the piece more special. Part of the history of the piece will be about how and where you found it, whether you were travelling around the countryside or stumbled across it in a secondhand store that’s just down the road. Vintage pieces are one-offs, because no object ages in exactly the same way, and nothing is more charming than a unique piece. Things that are shiny and new are usually mass-produced and never look as special. I don’t mind the odd new piece mixed in among the old, but buying an entire house full of new is just too predictable and shows nothing of your personality.

Empire Vintage, 63 Cardigan Place, Albert Park 3206, Melbourne, 9682 6677,

The White House guesthouse, Daylesford, can be viewed at

Gardener and Marks interior design service is


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