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Antiques, imagination help Grosse Pointe Farms collector craft one-of-a-kind home

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Wreaths and plates adorn a vintage window in the living room

“Vintage,” “thrifted,” “salvaged” and “free” are all words Heidi Sanders likes to use to describe her home and chosen decorating style. “I’m not really sure what to label it,” she explains. “I suppose the overall aesthetic is cottage. I’m inspired by photos of French and English cottages, home décor magazines, Instagram accounts and several home décor blogs,” she explains.

Coming home

She and her husband, Michael, were looking for a Colonial when they moved back to Detroit from Cincinnati in 2007. After considering more than 25 possibilities, they decided on a 1,400-square-foot 1936 Tudor cottage on a quiet Grosse Pointe Farms street. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the three-bedroom home’s enviable stained-glass windows, vaulted living room, coved plaster ceilings and original tile that ultimately attracted the couple. “We bought it because it had space in the backyard for our daughter’s swing set,” Heidi says with a laugh.

Unfortunately, it also had “boring” tan/cream walls, 1980s oak kitchen cabinets and dusty rose-colored tile. “I spent the first few years finding fault,” Heidi remembers of their early days in the vintage home. “We did a little painting, a little planting and replaced all of the windows except the stained glass. In hindsight, I’m glad we waited to tackle the bigger projects,” she said. “By then, I had grown to like the house and was capable of making design decisions.”

Period projects

Bigger projects that followed included re-glazing the bathroom tile, renovating the kitchen with new cabinets and countertops from IKEA (“Basically the only big box store I shop at,” Heidi says) and repainting both the living and dining rooms in the fresh blue and brown palette she favors.

Her carefully chosen paint colors (Benjamin Moore Stratton Blue in the living room; Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue in the dining room, Valspar Ante Meridian in the kitchen, Valspar Inhale in the master bedroom and Paris Mint in the guest bedroom) make perfect backdrops for the antique items she favors and considers “her weaknesses.” “I’m drawn to ironstone, transferware (brown and light blue), vintage Christmas ornaments (especially Shiny Brites), and architectural salvage, including doors and windows,” she explains.  

Salvage style

Evidence of that is found throughout her house. A door salvaged from her brother in law is a highlight of the family’s dining room, where a wall of ironstone plates also draws the eye. Heidi added “Dining Hall” to it with letters she bought off Etsy.  “I enjoy the creative process that comes when I find secondhand items and try to figure out how I can incorporate them into our home. I collect what I think is pretty and I love things that have a story. ... I have an active imagination and like to think about the Sunday dinners that were served on the ironstone platters and eaten off of the transferware plates. There’s a soul that exists in these pieces of the past.”

She’s a long-time collector, starting with teddy bears when she was young, later graduating to items with cherries on them in honor of her Traverse City childhood. “As the collections have grown and space becomes more limited I find myself being more judicious with what I choose to bring home. While I certainly understand that my décor style isn’t for everyone,” she says, “friends and family give kind compliments and say it’s pretty, cozy, creative and welcoming. Most people are surprised when they step inside and tell us it feels much bigger than it looks on the outside. ... My favorite comments come from the people who ask “Where do you get all this cool old stuff?”

Secret sources

Sources, she says, include estate sales, thrift shops and garage sales. “I’ve even been known to find interesting pieces on the curb,” Heidi admits. Ask her to identify her favorites, and she laughs. “To choose one would be like asking someone to choose their favorite child,” she says. “My top three, in no particular order, are the church pew I found at the thrift store, the vintage baker’s rack spotted by my best friend at an outdoor market and the Faygo crate and display rack purchased at two separate antique shops,” she says. Both have a place of honor in the kitchen. “My family will tell you I can’t resist anything.”

Future projects include transforming the yard maybe adding a potting shed or pergola. “My head is full of ideas that I hope to make a reality.”

She also dreams of finding an elusive ironstone cake stand – an avidly sought after treasure –someday. “That’s my unicorn,” she says. “It’s out there. I could go on Etsy or eBay but I want to find it in somebody’s garage.  It’s totally about the thrill of the hunt,” she admits. “That is what sustains me and keeps me going.”

Antique appeal tips

Heidi offers the following tips for others looking to decorate with vintage style,

Don’t Wait. “If you see something & you love it/can afford it, buy it. ... You’ll find a place for it.”

Shop often. You won’t always find what you’re looking for/or can afford, but you’ll become familiar with what you like, what things cost and it will help you become a more informed buyer when the time comes to make a purchase.

Look around: Be open to shopping in a variety of places: thrift stores, antique shops, outdoor markets, estate sales, garage/yard sales, Craigslist, even the curb. You never know where you’ll find treasures.

Get the word out: Tell friends/antique dealers what you’re looking for. It always helps to have a second set of eyes on the lookout.

Rotate: You don’t have to display everything all at once. 

Be patient. When collecting something, take your time. It takes time to curate a collection. The hunt is part of the fun!!!