Falling for antiques

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Kelly Rinzema tries to get to the Allegan Antiques Market as close to opening time as she can. “We like to go first thing so we can get there before the crowds,” she explains of her shopping strategy. “I go to every one if I’m in town. It’s close to home and the vendors are great.”

Rinzema, who writes the popular blog the Lily Pad Cottage (, is among the many collectibles and home decor enthusiasts who look forward to the monthly markets, held seasonally the last weekend of the month. “I never really go with anything in mind, just whatever catches my eye,” she says. “I tend to stumble across unique pieces that I just have to bring home with me.”

At the recent August sale, Kelly and her mom, Pam Rottschafer, were on the hunt for anything interesting. Rain threatened, but that didn’t deter the determined pair, who came prepared with cash, both clad in gingham shirts and Kelly in stylish rain boots. The weather luckily held out as they perused the more than 400 indoor and outdoor booths that make up the sale, held from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. at the Allegan County Fairgrounds (just look for the giant concrete chicken at the gate and you’ll know you’re in the right place).

Summer may be on the wane, but there’s still plenty of time to enjoy one of the many seasonal antiques shows before the weather forces Michiganders indoors.

Allegan adventure

The Allegan market draws dealers from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois as well as shoppers from all over the state. Some – like Mallory Bohl and Allie Bauman of Otsego – left laden with repurposed desk or other signature pieces of furniture designed to give their home both charm and sure-fire conversation starters. Both are proof that antiques fans know no age limits, says Mallory’s mom, Kelly. “We love coming here,” she admits. “They’re young and they love it too. We always find something we can’t live without.”

Victor Sturgis and Jackie Baker had just bought a 1920s Cape Cod in Grandville, near Grand Rapids, and were on the prowl for things to furnish it. “We are looking for decanters for the bar, vases, an end table and flower pots,” Victor, pulling a metal cart laden with shopping bags, says of their day’s wish list. “We try to come every month,” he explained. “There’s a lot of really cool stuff here.”

While there are plenty of large pieces – from salvaged columns to recycled lockers perfect for instant mud-room storage – fans of “smalls” are never disappointed. Battle Creek dealer Terri Kipp of Those Girls Antiques doesn’t miss a market, and has stocked her cheerful booth with vintage kitchenalia – brightly patterned aprons, quirky salt and pepper shakers, distinctive dishware. “Unless it’s pouring down rain, we’re here,” she explains. “Kitchen ware is hot, especially Pyrex, vintage linens and tablecloths and anything mid-century,” she says.

So is salvage and the industrial look, says Merriam, Indiana, dealer Tom Bireley, who was selling an old metal nursery basket that had been converted into an edgy lamp for $95. Metal pieces once relegated to the garage and workroom now add unexpected appeal when reworked as lighting, kitchen islands or savvy storage. Fans of HGTV shows such as Flea Market Flip know all about repurposing, and there was no shortage of pieces waiting to be resuscitated as well as plenty that already had been.

Fortunately for my budget, many of the best buys of the day were already sold when I got there (for more shopping tips, see sidebar), but I just wasn’t up to leaving at 5 a.m. to make the three-hour drive from Metro Detroit in order to be there earlier. I told myself I was going for research purposes only (yah, right!) and took my chances with a later arrival. I still came away with a vintage Irish wool sweater for $5 (unfortunately, something I will need in the coming winter weather).

Shabby still strong

With regret, I passed a chippy white drop leaf table that was a steal at $68 but wouldn’t have fit in my car. If Allegan was any indication, shabby chic is still going strong in the Midwest, even if it’s less popular on the coasts. There is still lots of romantic whitewashed and pastel pieces, including those being sold by Edwardsburg, Michigan, dealer Pam Donis, who drove from near the Indiana border to set up under the canopy of her vintage 1963 camper.

Kelly Rinzema left with a vintage plaid wool blanket perfect for coming chilly days, while Pam scored some antique pulleys she plans to use as bookends. “It’s the first time I’ve seen any with blue paint, they’re usually just black,” she explains. Both will be back, searching for new old wares and new sources of inspiration.

“I like unique pieces and integrating them into my home,” says Kelly, who says that vintage goods add character to new construction. “I just like the eclectic feel they add.” She enjoys sharing the pieces were her kids and talking about history as well as reminiscing with her mom. “I like pieces that have a past and a story and I love how they make my house feel older than it is. I usually bring $100 but if I find something amazing, the budget goes out the window.”

Good advice, indeed.

Khristi Zimmeth writes the Trash or Treasure column for The Detroit News’ Homestyle section. You can reach her at

Upcoming Antiques Events

Thrifter Sisters Flea Market: Fowlerville Fairgrounds, Sept. 11-13 (

Saline Antiques & Vintage Market: Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds, Sept. 12 and 13; Nov. 22, Dec. 6 (

Utica Antiques Market: Sept. 12-13 (

Michigan Antique Festivals: Midland County Fairgrounds, Midland, Sept. 18-20 (

Annual Farmgirl Flea: Sept. 26, Hudsonville fairgrounds

Allegan Antiques Market: Allegan County Fairgrounds, Sept. 27 (

Michigan Antique Festivals: Springfield Oaks County Park, Davisburg, Oct. 3-4 (

Antique Market and Sale: Centreville Fairgrounds, Oct. 11, (

Ann Arbor Antiques Market Repurposed: Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds, Oct. 17-18; (

Top Tips

I’ve shopped antique fairs and flea markets from Brimfield to Budapest, and have found that whatever the location, all share a few shopping strategies.

Go early – or late. Early birds get the best selection; late arrivals the best prices.

Cash counts. Many take credit cards, but don’t count on it.

Negotiate – but nicely. Try asking “Is there any wiggle room on the price?” advises dealer Terri Kipp. No one wants to hear how your grandma threw the exact same thing away or how you sold one recently for next to nothing at your garage sale.

Have a plan/wish list. But be open to serendipity and surprises.

Enjoy the show. Whatever your budget, people watching is free.