By Max Anderson
You could bang on all day about why vintage and second-hand stores in the Adelaide Hills are worth a look. Lovely villages, friendly folk, quality goods, etc, etc. But really it comes down to one thing.
If you’ve been to the big cities in the eastern states over the last 20 years, you’ll know that the prices of vintage collectibles – and we’re talking everything from tools to toys to rustic depression-era furniture – have gone through the roof.
It’s about supply and demand: the big markets of Sydney and Melbourne have been hot for vintage for a long time, and much of the local second-hand stuff has already been sourced and even re-sold several times over. Result? Prices are up.
Adelaide and its immediate rural surrounds makes for a much smaller market and has been, by comparison, relatively off-trend in its love of well-worn gear that’s been recovered and upcycled. Not unrelated, there’s still a lot of fresh pickings waiting to come on-stream.
This means prices are low – so low in fact, that dealers from the eastern states regularly come through regions like the Adelaide Hills on buying sprees. They especially love the region’s dusty barns in small family-owned farms, those old sheds out in the paddocks and the stone cottages needing a spring clean.
“It’s true,” says Adelaide Hills vintage dealer and enthusiast, Craig Pollard, “We’re way cheaper than the east. As an example, I’ve just sold a day-bed. It was possibly Victorian era and certainly Victorian-style with some nice castings, and I sold it for $195.
“That would easily sell in the eastern states for $500.”
Craig is in the business of buying and selling vintage goods in the Adelaide Hills, a substantial region that’s just 20 minutes from the city, but spreads out to the Riverland in the east and north all the way to the Barossa. It encompasses a lot of rural production including small-scale dairies and fruit growers, and boutique vintners. Each week he does the rounds of auctions, clearances and garage sales, or simply answers the calls of people who want to raise a bit of cash by clearing out their overcrowded homes.
He and his wife Sarah on-sell these vintage goods through their business, The Warehouse@Woodside.
Iron patina of a past age
Much of it is sold through a large tin shed off the main street in Woodside, which is open on Fridays and Saturday mornings. It’s a vast space stacked to the rafters with all conceivable manners of stuff, ranging from the useful and beautiful to the obscure and just plain hard to find.
Some of the most fashionable pieces, however – and at the moment that includes white-painted ‘chippy’ furniture, blacksmith tools and ‘anything old and industrial with a tripod’ – are also listed for sale online via Instagram and Facebook.
As something of a testament to Hills pricing, no small number of these pieces get snapped up by out-of-state buyers. “That day-bed actually went to a buyer in Darwin,” says Craig. “The buyer is getting it picked up by a courier and shipped all the way from Woodside, so that gives you an idea of the value they saw in the price.”
Craig is also no stranger to the other Hills vintage outlets dotted around the region. This is because he’s an obsessive collector himself.
The couple live in an 1890s farmhouse which is filled with their own collected treasures, including vintage farm implements, old engineering tools and depression-era Australian furniture, reflecting their love for what they call ‘anything that’s served its purpose and lived its life’.
“On my Instagram page, I like to show people what I do with old materials – it might be a garden sculpture fashioned from a piece of scrap iron with lovely patina, or an old wooden pigeonhole arranged with natural artifacts. It’s creating a look out of nothing, sometimes from stuff that would cost you $30. But when you see it you go, ‘Wow, that looks fantastic, how do I do that?’
“People are always looking for that ‘pop’ of uniqueness to make a statement. I’m saying you don’t need to spend a fortune to achieve it.”
Six of the best vintage shops in the Adelaide Hills…
Where: Shop 1, 87 Main Road, Hahndorf
What: Billing itself as ‘Vintage, Décor, Antique, Retro’, Hugo’s is a fashionable nook of pre-loved shabby that’s heavy on the chic. It’s all down to Maureen, who looks like she’s stepped out of a Broadway production and clearly has an uncanny sense of style. Prepare to double-take at otherwise drab items presented in a way that transports you to Provence, Hollywood and Babylon.
Craig’s take: “It’s the sort of place where you go in looking for a unique gift. You might spend anywhere from $20 to $200, and you’ll come out with something great. Maureen’s been in the vintage game for a long time – she’s the sort of person you can always learn from.”
Windmill Hill Salvage and Save
Where: Nixon Road, Hahndorf
What: Windmill Hill is something of a Hills institution, and part of a wider (and very successful) scheme by Finding Workable Solutions that sees people with a disability employed in the good-karma business of upcycling and repurposing. The substantial shedding is alongside the Windmill Hill transfer station, and as such rescues all manner of discarded household items that have still got a bit of life in them yet. In addition, designers and craftspeople take salvaged timber and items to create interesting household and garden décor. Some things (like their garden wicking beds) are such a hit they can’t keep up with demand.
Craig’s take: “A lot of people rave about Windmill Hill. It’s the classic treasure hunt in the recycling sheds – very hit and miss as to what you’ll find, with all the excitement of the hunt.”
Adelaide Recycled Timbers
Where: 1189 Greenhill Rd, Uraidla
What: One of several Hills’ demolition and salvage businesses, Adelaide Recycled Timbers is a constantly changing landscape that heaves with gear rescued from demolition. As well as hard-to-find floorboards (which is as good as a bankable currency these days) and a veritable forest of old doors, they stockpile lovely old cookers, period lights and yummy century-old door furniture made from old-school steel and brass.
Craig’s take: “There’s a good feel in there, it’s filled with interesting stuff. I like to push between the doors, look into boxes, see what I can find. It’s not too sterile, not too precious – how a salvage should be.”
Where: 147 Mt Barker Rd, Stirling
What: Aptos Cruz would be shocked to find itself in the same company as Adelaide Recycled Timbers and Windmill Hill but it is eclectic and equally fascinating for the constant turnover of unique pieces. The uber-smooth exhibition spaces (all fragrant and sounding to classical music) are fashioned from the interior of an 1860s sandstone church: the front half of the building is given over to antique acquisitions from all over the world (including centuries-old cabinets from China and Japan); by contrast, the back is mostly filled with the work of contemporary furniture designers, some of it priced to make your eyes water.
Craig’s take: “I’m talking really top end, but I used to go in here all the time. The owner has lovely style — he gets in a lot of cool art, as well as tribal material from Africa and the Pacific islands. But I also like it because he’s got a magnificent collection of books on art and design, which are great for reference.”
Grass Roots Vintage
Where: 30 Main Road, Hahndorf
What: A relative newcomer to the vintage scene, Grass Roots is a bit of a chance find itself, tucked away in a little courtyard and keeping Friday and weekend hours. The collection is really sweet and has plenty of nice rustic implements with a strong agricultural bent. Look out of for occasional pop-up market stalls on a Sunday.
Craig’s take: “The bloke who runs it has a got a good eye and there’s a nice feel to his shop. When I went in there, he had some lovely shearing stencils and old timber pigeon holes, the sort of generic stuff I really like. I’m a sucker for a rusty old tricycle – find a nice spot for them in the garden and they can look great.”
Where: 51a Onkaparinga Valley Road, Woodside
What: Open on Fridays and Saturday Mornings, The Warehouse@Woodside is how you want a vintage store to be: every inch of space seems to offer something. Along the back wall you’ll find the shelves with boxes of ‘bloke stuff’ – screws, fishing reels, widgets — whereas the central areas are often dedicated to the sort of aesthetics that appeal to home makers and garden lovers. Craig and Sarah get lots of repeat customers from Adelaide including renovators and collectors, as well as a surprising number of artists looking for unusual materials to work with.
Craig’s take: “A brilliant vintage outlet! Though I am a bit biased…”