To stay on top of the latest retro treasures in her Wisconsin city, Heidi Anderson and her husband John, are always scavenging for secondhand items. Their shop Unearthed Vintage is a discovery itself, constantly updated with the greatest odds and ends. When you come across rare finds like a vintage clown costume or steel bank door, it’s no surprise that Heidi and John were there first. After considering a move to Madison ourselves, we got the lowdown on Heidi’s favorite local haunts and her inherited sense for “the hunt.” Read on before planning your own trip to the Midwest.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Unearthed is about “character pieces,” those architectural and vintage objects for the home and garden. My husband John and I sell online and also have displays at Sundance Cinemas in Madison’s Hilldale Mall and host viewings by appointment at our warehouse at 1041 South Park Street in Madison.
Where are you from and where do you currently live?
We live and work in Madison, Wisconsin.
What is the most awesome thing in or about your neighborhood?
The walk-friendly area that we live in. There are two lakes that border the isthmus and center of the city where our home of 25-plus years resides. We also love the Monroe Street retail area of small, independently-owned shops plus library that is within a five-block distance.
List the top 5 places you go locally to discover hidden treasures.
Do I have to??! Okay, I like going to Catfish River Antiques in Stoughton, the Odana Antique Mall of Madison, Passementerie of Middleton, Wales Antique Center of Delafield and Waterloo Antique Mall.
As a kid, were any of your toys and clothes hand-me-downs? Stories please!
I have a sister that is 18 months older than me. We were dressed as twins. My mother, who would’ve been a designer if she wasn’t busy raising six kids, found her creative niche in dressing us up and decorating her home. She had staw hats made for us(!) for Easter and would buy one dress and have a seamstress duplicate an identical one for the other sister. I remember clearly many stops at the fabric store and the local farmhouses to see what was available for sale. I get my sense of “hunt” from my mom.
Today, how often do you go to garage sales, flea markets, etc.? What is your modus operandi? Any personal tips you’d like to share?
I keep an eye on the trends of others who are in businesses similar to mine. We are all trying to find a unique mix, but it often involves a bit of imitation. I do love antique malls in small, out-of-the-way midwestern towns. And when I’m searching, I trying to do a quick round and then go back again, looking floor to ceiling and standing back to see what stands out. If you find a good source, keep going back to it. You can continue to benefit from that person or place as they continue to execute a good eye. Flea markets are fun, too. I’m stepping up a bit more these days to what is often called “Antique and Art” exhibits. The prices may be higher but the objects can be really special.
Have you ever taken home an object you found in the street or dumpster? If so, what was it? And where is it now?
Oh yes. An old porcelain sink found in the back of Catholic Church. We had it in our back yard for years as a bird feeder. Birch tree and “Walking Stick” tree branches that were dragged home into the living room and are decorated with lights. Old dressers, bins and boxes curbside. A wonderful old chair that I found curbside and put into my (at the time) young son’s wagon and pulled it home to be reupholstered in a barkcloth cowboy fabric. It was his favorite reading chair well into his twenties.
Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
Somewhere in between hoarder or minimalist. I like to buy but I like to sell! So luckily, there are very few items that I get so attached to that they have to stay forever with me. My home is an open plan so we keep it pretty lean. But our basement and attic, well, that’s another story.
What is your most cherished thrifted, secondhand, vintage, upcycled object you possess? What’s the story behind it?
My husband found two yellow oil cans at a shop once. One is very tall with a long-necked spout and the other is short with a more curved spout. When he saw them, he said to me, “This must be what we look like when people see us out walking together.” John is 6’3″ and I am 5’3″. The yellow oil cans stand proudly on our mantle.
Do you create/make things? What are you working on these days?
We’ve been making lighting fixtures. We have a very successful line of antique seltzer bottles with etched engravings as pendant lights (hardwired and plug-in) offered in clear or blue glass. People love them. We are about to introduce a new series of pendants from found objects.
By the way, what’s your day job?
This, indeed, is our day job. John and I were both in the marketing field until we started this business about ten years ago and bring our work-experience to bear on it. We push hard to make an actual living buying and selling and marketing our objects. It’s tough, but really rewarding to do something you love.
The Short List
Unearthed Vintage Online
Unearthed Vintage’s Krrb corner