I’ve been to some of the best antique markets in England – here’s what always gets snapped up fast

From bobbins to bamboo and everything mid-century modern, here's what the pros are searching for at antique markets

antique shopping
(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens / Victoria Maria / JAM)

Antique shopping is kind of my 'thing'. You know how some people run marathons or play an instrument – I'm much more at home with a 4:30 am alarm and a field of vintage gems to sift through. 

At this point, it has become a running joke with my friends that the only plans I want to make are those that involve a thrift store or a road trip to collect my latest Facebook Marketplace score. 

So, as someone who has frequented some of the best antique markets across England, I feel somewhat qualified to give you a rundown on the things that the experts are hunting out. We're talking interior design teams and some of Instagram's best vintage sellers who roll up, cash in hand, to source, snap up, and fight me for unique, timeworn treasure to fill their trolleys with. 

If you are looking to start decorating with antiques and fill your home with old-meet-news, transitional design pieces with a storied past, here are the 7 most popular things interior designers and vintage aficionados are scouring antique markets for.

7 Things The Experts Are Sourcing From Antiques Fairs

A light wooden console and a vintage dining chair with light green cushions

(Image credit: Gieves Anderson / JAM)

If you’re prepared for an early start and plenty of walking, antique fairs can be one of the best and most affordable places to buy decorative pieces for your home.  Avoiding that mass-produced, cookie-cutter home aesthetic that can easily be purchased online and copied by all your friends, antiques help you to showcase your personality, interests, culture, and hobbies; and they help your home to feel entirely unique. 

In case you were looking for some pointers for the pieces those with the most trained eye are after, keep reading for my rundown of the most popular, fastest-selling antique pieces at markets, fairs, and vintage stores right now.

1. Bobbins: chairs, stools, and shelves

vintage kitchen with an antique bobbin stool

(Image credit: Danielle Chiprut / Raquel Langworthy)

Trust me when I say this, as you enter a fair the first thing you're going to see is people with arms or pull-along trolleys full of bobbins. They will be some of the quickest items to get snapped up. Why? For starters, they have a rich history.

Originating in the States in the 17th century, the earliest bobbin furniture trend was to see this playful motif on the spindles or legs of tables and stools to mimic the look of a spool. With contemporary designs going equally made for circular, bobbin shapes, the best and most authentic way to hop onto the trend is by sourcing vintage pieces. Nowadays, it can be found on furniture as well as mirrors, shelves, and darling corner chairs. If you come across a bobbin piece in your local thrift store, you'd be wise to pick it up.

I have a bobbin stool in our family bathroom and downstairs powder room and they look adorable sat in the corner with a large clam shell filled with spare toilet rolls or a leaning piece of artwork on top. Equally, a bobbin stool looks just at home in the kitchen, as shown above in this transitional kitchen design.

2. Mid-century modern everything

japandi style living room with tan leather sofa

(Image credit: Studio Duggan)

It will probably come as no surprise to you that everything from the mid-century modern design era is hot property. From Togo sofas [seen above] to golden G-Plan and Ercol wooden furniture, sputnik lighting, and the boldest and bravest artwork, mid-century modern decor remains steadfastly popular.

Characterized by clean lines and classic shapes, mid-century modern spanned from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. Everything was crafted from solid, warm wood like teak, cherry, and walnut and seriously, these pieces last a lifetime. Looking both sleek and stylish, you best be ready to sharpen your elbows and keep a beady eye out for these pieces. But before you do, be sure to read up on the questions to ask before buying vintage furniture.

3. Retro lighting

floral wallpapered bedroom with leopard print blind and a retro wall sconce

(Image credit: Cathy Nordström / Fanny Radvik)

A somewhat blanket category, but lighting is ever popular with vintage shoppers. Think solid brass lamp bases, crystal chandeliers, toleware sconces, or quite possibly the most sought-after: Swedish lighting of all categories. From wall sconces to clip-on desk lamps, there's something so charming about these Scandinavian-style lights.

I have made it my personal mission to try to source as many Swedish or Danish lighting fixtures for my remodel that we have been slow renovating for well over a year now. Much like the sconce in this print-heavy bedroom above, designed by Cathy Nordstrom, she teamed a nature-inspired bedroom wallpaper with a quintessential Swedish wall lamp. It's super cute and makes for handy task lighting for reading (or scrolling) in bed.

There's one thing to be wary of when shopping for vintage lighting, or any electricals, and that is being sure to check the wiring or plug over fully. Be prepared to have to get the piece rewired by a qualified electrician and of course, you need to know what type of bulb the fixture requires. 

4. Rustic wooden boards, jugs and pots

dark red burgundy kitchen cabinets with yellow walls and loads of antique accessories open shelving

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

Vintage, rustic wooden breadboards from Turkey or France are a mainstay at most antique fairs. And with good reason. They're beautiful, add warmth, and are full of patina. Perfectly at home in a modern rustic kitchen, these boards are usually off-loaded in giant palettes and bought up in droves. 

These were typically used for kneading bread and displaying baked goods at bakehouses and patisseries. Often, they're solid and thick, rectangular in shape, and made from a dark wood such as walnut and will still bear the markings of the past. These boards work great propped up in pairs along a kitchen countertop or hung from open shelving for a modern rustic wall decor idea. If you're wondering how to bring vintage pieces into a kitchen, this is it.

Equally as popular, and just as charming, are the antique terracotta pots that the same vendors sell. These beautiful Turkish pots date from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century and were used for storing olives, oil, preserves, pickles, fruits, and other goodies. Some have a hint of glaze and some have a little pattern. I'm looking to fill up my kitchen windowsill with an assortment of these beautiful vessels. 

5. Rattan, wicker, and bamboo mirrors

wallpapered vintage bedroom with rattan mirror

(Image credit: Cathy Nordström)

Aside from the large, gilded gold antique mirrors that you typically associate with decorating with vintage, there's a slightly more cottagecore style mirror that's proving just as popular. As you know, it's the small details that make a home. By taking the time to collect vintage mirrors for your home, you're guaranteed to make that space feel curated and designed.

The style of mirrors I see selling out repeatedly are those with a more boho background. I'm talking bamboo (big, square, and beautiful in a bathroom), rattan, and wicker mirrors that can be hung up in bedrooms, bathrooms, dressing rooms, and even kids' rooms for a cute and practical piece of wall decor

The real money-maker? Vintage Italian rattan pieces. And double points if you find one by Italian designer and architect Franco Albini. I have one in my downstairs bathroom that I managed to buy off Facebook Marketplace for a steal, and it's still one of my favorite pieces in the house a year on.

6. Art - of all styles

neutral bedroom with yellow upholstered bed and layered artwork

(Image credit: Victoria Maria / Belen Imaz & Pedro Bermejo)

It's no secret that shopping for vintage art has become "cool" of late. Some of the best, most renowned interior designers can be seen talking up some of their favorite pieces they have sourced for client's projects. And let's face it, art is expensive and a bit of a minefield to begin your decorating with art journey so one of the easiest and more affordable ways is to shop second-hand.

Shopping for antique artwork, picture frames, and even vintage plates to hang on the walls has been a process I had to learn to trust. I've been far too guilty of falling into the trap that art is permanent. But it can always be moved around the home to refresh a space with a simple interior design tweakment like a new frame or adding it to a gallery wall.

When considering how to decorate with vintage art, there really are no rules. Don't be afraid to pick up pieces from different eras, with a mix of shapes and sizes. And always move quickly, someone else will come along after you and grab that oil painting from under you. Don't have buyers regret.

7. Large vintage rugs and runners

neutral dining room with vintage rug and fabric chairs

(Image credit: Studio LIFE/STYLE)

Antique rugs, runners, and carpets are an easy way to enhance your room instantly. They add layers, textures, and colors that can soften or dramatize a space. When shopping for vintage, you of course want to take into account the condition of the rug and how cleanable the fabric will be in the future, or as soon as you bring it home. 

On a souring trip last summer, I managed to buy three rugs in one day for our home. One is a beautiful, reversible flat weave rug that works great atop our tiled floor in the snug, the other a more traditional wool carpet that is vibrant in both color and print (and was taken out of an aging rock star's home I was assured by the seller), and a floral embroidered runner that I will either use in our kitchen or hallway. 

These rugs add as much to the room as artwork does, adding visual interest and helping to pull a room scheme together. You wouldn't leave your walls blank, so give your floors the same treatment.

Whether you're new to antique shopping or are a seasoned thrifter, it's always interesting to see what pieces are trending right now. Not a term often associated with vintage, there's not exactly stats available to prove it, but through some serious journalist research (me, out shopping) I've managed to pull together a comprehensive list of some of the most popular vintage pieces to add to your wish list. Happy shopping!

Charlotte Olby
Content Editor

Charlotte is content editor at Homes and Gardens, having joined the team the week before Christmas 2023. Following a 5 year career in Fashion, she found herself working at many women's glossy magazines including: Grazia, Stylist and Hello and most recently working as Interiors Editor for British heritage department store Liberty. Her role at H&G fuses her love of style with Charlotte's passion for interior design, and she is currently undergoing her second home renovation in Surrey - you can follow her journey over on @olbyhome