By Lauren Flynn Kelly

Cute things like an ice bucket left out on trash day are hard not to take home.
Credit: Lauren Flynn Kelly

Given my well-documented love of thrifting and repurposing, it shouldn’t surprise you that one of the first things I planned to do when fully vaccinated was revisit the thrift store. Providing me an extra layer of freedom during that long-awaited third week in May, my father took the kids to New Jersey for a week of Zoom school from the beach. Meanwhile, my first post-vax trips to Value Village and Village Thrift were disappointing. Champagne flutes from the bygone Caesar’s Pocono Resort or what appeared to be the entire inventory of a dress supplier were sad reminders of shuttered businesses — possible byproducts of the pandemic? 

The art I perused on my latest trip to Value Village was exceptionally bad. I was transfixed by one portrait in particular: an amateurish rendering of two children that I imagined once proudly hung above their parents’ mantel. At one point did they realize, “It’s kinda bad … maybe someone else would like it?” Turns out, that someone else would be fellow thrifter and Hyattsvillager Pat Padua, whose thrifting adventures have been featured in this column and who ended up adding it to his gallery wall, as Instagram informed me.

Defeated by my thrift store experiences, I headed to New Jersey to reunite with my girls and continue helping my dad transform our late 1970s beach house into his forever home. In the past few years, this has meant having to get rid of some crucial but crumbling details — like a chevron-pattern exterior wall that for years felt dated — which were, in retrospect, very cool. And yes, we tackled the many-shades-of-brown Formica kitchen that literally looked like photos of wood adhered to cabinet doors. We renovated the kitchen, brightened up the bedrooms with new paint and gave prominence to favorite pieces of furniture and art while donating the rest. In a forever home, we finally had the freedom to curate rather than maintain your standard rental by the sea. And renters, in my experience, don’t appreciate the vintage kitsch as much as I do. 

She sells seashells: The author found this vintage scallop shell print through a seller on Instagram.
Credit: Lauren Flynn Kelly

COVID-19 put a pause on our efforts, as we decided to keep our distance until my dad and I could both be vaccinated. In the meantime, I got my thrifting fix online and found that Instagram can be a great place to find curated pieces and connect with like-minded collectors. Kate Geyer, who has been featured in this column and runs Lost + Found Handworks from her University Park home, sold me a beautiful set of vintage Otagiri mugs she’d posted on Instagram. The pattern on them reminded me of the gulls that fly over our deck in New Jersey, where the mugs now reside. And by following the #vintagebeachhouse hashtag on Instagram, I found a fellow enthusiast who has been upping the vintage flair of an old North Carolina beach house, complete with a gallery wall of sailboat paintings. She also sells vintage wares and shipped me a Marushka scallop shell print that was the perfect addition to my “updated” bedroom. 

From what I’ve seen on trash day in the small island town where my dad lives, most people are tossing this kind of stuff, and if I could rescue it all, I would. One Sunday night, I scanned the streets to see what people had left out after another weekend of removing the last vestiges of the ’70s and ’80s from their homes. I carried home a glass-topped rattan table. Then I went back with my car for an oversized bamboo mirror and a crescent-shaped ottoman with its cover missing (challenge accepted). The next morning, my dad asked me to pick up his mail at the post office. I came back with a Lucite (i.e., fancy plastic) ice bucket covered in sailboats. This made my dad laugh out loud, as it undoubtedly brought back memories of my late mother going for a neighborhood stroll and coming back with her curbside finds.  

Maybe the thrift store is a bit light on quality inventory right now, but I’ll keep searching the streets (and the ’gram) for those salty secondhand finds.