Trash or Treasure: Vintage expert shares tips in new book

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to the Detroit News
Bob Richter's new book, "Vintage Living."

Antique fans know Bob Richter as an interior designer, stylist and lifestyle expert as well as the author of “A Very Vintage Christmas” and star of PBS’s “Market Warriors.” Richter has been thrifting and collecting treasures since he was 6 and shares his shopping secrets and how to pull off a retro-style interior in his latest book, “Vintage Living: Creating A Beautiful Home With Treasured Objects From The Past" (Rizzoli; $35).

Through a selection of historic homes, the 224-page book with more than 200 photographs illustrates how to live stylishly with vintage finds and collections. Besides lots of enviable eye candy, there are practical tips and more sure to have you ready to redecorate (or at least head out shopping).  He shared some thoughts with HomeStyle recently about how to live comfortably and stylishly with pieces of the past.

What is the one item in your many collections that you would save if there was a house fire?

Most certainly it would be the oil painting by my brother, Johnny. He went to Parsons School of Design and passed away when he was 27 and I was 15 so I didn’t get to own any of his work. I later found this one at a flea market in New York City. It was a miracle to find something with such a personal connection. 

 What do you think vintage brings to a home?

Collectors are as varied as anyone…there are purists, or completists, or people like me that only buy what they love. People who collect only Disney or Civil War items are of a different mindset. My home isn’t a collection of this or that, but a representation of who I am.  

My sweet spot is things from the 1920s to the 1940s. I love Art Deco. Vintage objects bring a sense of history to your home, whether it’s personal history or actual history. You learn a lot from the objects a person collects. You don’t have the same sense of a person if they exclusively decorate with things from a big box store.

What is something unexpected that collecting brought to your life? 

I didn’t realize when I started how robust the community would be that I would build as a part of the journey. It’s a real passion. I never feel alone when I go to a flea market. We all speak a similar language.   

What is your Holy Grail item, of the things you keep searching for? 

I love art work, especially pieces by McClelland Barclay, a commercial artist whose original work is very limited. He died in World War II when his submarine went down. Or maybe a special Art Deco piece from the S.S. Normandie. Those things are absolutely out there.  Anything is possible!

People say younger generations aren’t interested in antiques. Do you find this to be true? What do you wish they knew about collecting antiques?

I actually think millennials get a bad rap.  Maximalists scare them off. They do want things, just not what we want them to want. They may not want the old dining room table but they do want some of our things from the 1980s or pieces with a more contemporary style. If we can pass on some of the stories that go with those items so they resonate there is a lot of hope. 

Millennials are staying away from “antiques” – technically defined as anything 100 years or older -- but they love vintage. Vintage can be stuff from the 1970s or 1980s. Their number one thing is that they don’t want their house to look like a flea market or an antique shop. Period rooms, in which everything matches and is from the same era, are also a thing of the past. Today it’s all about mixing. There are ways to modify vintage so its feels current today.  

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

Jodi: FYI

Credit for the book must read: © Vintage Living: Creating a Beautiful Home with Treasured Objects from the Past by Bob Richter, Rizzoli, 2019.  Images are to be credited © Daniel Yund and/or Blake Drummond.

ISBN: 978-0-8478-6531-4 / Rizzoli / Release Date: April 2019