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A Junker's Guide to Brooklyn

By Amy Hughes | May 6, 2013 7:32am
 Amy Hughes, a DIY guru and architectural salvage expert, scours Brooklyn for the best pre-loved items.
Junking in Brooklyn
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BROOKLYN — You could wait until the weekend for the Brooklyn Flea, or get immediate gratification and often better deals on vintage furniture and accents at some of the borough's best brick-and-mortar thrifts.

A few of the shops are so close to one another, it's almost like being at the flea, only minus the hipster facial hair and home-cured salumi.

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Fork + Pencil (18 Bergen St. in Cobble Hill)

Climb a few steps into this hidden side-street boutique filled with high-quality antiques from different eras. There are the requisite mid-century teak tables, Murano glass pendant lights and starburst clocks. But you’ll also find art deco-era barware, baroque-style gilded mirrors and crystal chandeliers, hand-carved Victorian-era armchairs and silver tea sets and servers worthy of Granny’s best guests.

It’s all on consignment, so some prices seem a little high depending on the seller. That said, there are plenty of steals and all reasonable offers are considered. And, like a few other shops on this list, the owners of this one give a portion of the sale proceeds to charity.

Note: Fork + Pencil has a second, more visible, yet smaller storefront around the corner on Court Street that specializes in vintage knickknacks and tabletop items.

2. Time Galleries (563 5th Ave. in South Slope)

For vintage furniture freaks like me, it doesn’t get much better than this estate-sale clearinghouse. You'll find picture dressers, desks and coffee tables from Heywood-Wakefield, Paul McCobb, and Stickley Brothers stacked to the ceiling. There are curio cabinets packed with colorful art glass and mid-century ceramics and walls lined with vintage oil paintings — many of which are quite good.

They've thrown in a few faux-bronze statues and the odd Ikea sofa just to keep things real — and to keep prices in check. There’s also a wide selection of period light fixtures, and a smattering of architectural elements salvaged from demoed or remodeled Brooklyn brownstones to entice neighborhood rehabbers. A workshop on the lower level offers furniture refinishing and repair.
3. Housing Works (two locations, at 266 5th Ave. in Park Slope and 122 Montague St. in Brooklyn Heights)

It’s your source for vintage washtubs, wingtips and stilettos. The selection isn’t huge, but all the housewares and clothing are well curated and reasonably priced. At the Park Slope location, for instance, I nabbed a butter dish and salt-and-pepper-shaker set by David Gil for Bennington Pottery for just $16, and a barely worn Mark Jacobs spring frock for $85. A cool, Atomic Mod desk was $250, though the maple veneer was a bit chipped. As with all Housing Works thrifts, the merchandise turns over fast, so if you’re on the fence about an item, don’t expect to come back later and find it's still there. On the bright side, there will be a whole new stash of tempting trinkets to consider. The money you spend at Housing Works goes to help homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.

4) Build it Green! (69 9th St. in Gowanus)

If you’re about to embark on a home-restoration or interior-design project, start your search for building materials, fixtures, finishes and furniture at this nonprofit reuse center. Since November 2011, the cavernous warehouse along the Gowanus Canal has been supplying resourceful Brooklynites with cut-rate deals on reclaimed lumber, period pedestal sinks, paneled wood doors, granite countertop remnants, claw-foot bathtubs, kitchen cabinets, and pro-style appliances that were either salvaged by Build it Green’s deconstruction crew or donated by contractors or homeowners. You’ll also find new items, such as mosaic backsplash tiles or engineered wood flooring, that come from kitchen and bath showrooms and building product suppliers — all priced for about 60 percent off retail.  

5) Film Biz Recycling (540 President St. in Gowanus)

Don’t get your heart set on the rubber body parts or vintage Chinese food menus; they’re not for sale. But go ahead and swoon for the "Leave it to Beaver"-era tube television and Sputnik table lamp, which can be yours for cheap. All the items at this 10,000-square-foot nonprofit prop shop, which are either for rent or sale, are donated by set designers and production folks in the movie, TV, advertising or theater business. So if you feel like you’ve seen that fire engine red Crock-Pot before, then you probably did on some show or commercial. Just don’t expect Film Biz Recycling to give you the provenance. The sources for donations are confidential to keep profiteers from hawking "Mad Men" ephemera on eBay.