Local vintage vendor shares tricks of the tradeNov 30, 2020 04:24PM ● By Alison Brimley
“I‘m not an IKEA person,” said Stephanie Gardner, who rescued and refinished this vintage piece. “I don’t want to put my furniture together. I want something that is solid and dovetailed.”
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]
Stephanie Gardner has had an eye for design and decoration for as long as she can remember. “First I wanted to be an architect,” she said. “But that was all boys when I was in school.”
So she got her degree in business management, and her interest in design was funneled instead into vintage furniture. For years before she began her own business, she would regularly attend local vintage shows, including Market Beautiful and The Vintage Whites Market in Salt Lake City. Attending shows was something she and her younger sister loved to do together.
Eight years ago, Gardner’s sister was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 38. Shortly after her diagnosis, the two sisters were at a vintage show together when Gardner was struck with an idea. “Hey, next year, let’s do this,” she remembers saying to her sister. They had the passion, they had the know-how. It was time to make it happen.
“She didn’t make it to the next year,” Gardner said. “That was my jumping-off point.”
The now-or-never spirit that her sister’s diagnosis inspired gave Gardner the motivation to make her dream a reality. Today, she and her husband, Justin Gardner, are full-time sourcers, refurbishers and vendors of vintage furniture. They maintain an Instagram account, @gardenof8s, but primarily sell from brick-and-mortar shops: Funky Junk in West Jordan and The Old Flamingo in Holladay.
“It’s like being a buyer for any shop,” Gardner said of her job. She scours thrift shops, yard sales and estate sales for forgotten furniture, then brings it back to life.
In addition to reinvigorating individual pieces, Gardner has a passion for styling them in full designs, creating spaces that are “meaningful” and unique. One of her most memorable projects was part of the Millcreek Arts Festival, where they did a booth showing how to “transform” a room using vintage pieces.
It’s all about “mixing the new and the old,” she said. She aims to bring personality into a space by using one-of-a-kind pieces that no one else is going to have.
Funky Junk, located on Redwood Road and 9000 South, opened in 2016. It’s a cooperative shared by eight different vendors, each of whom pay an equal share of the rent: $700 per month. “A cooperative is great because you don’t have to stock a full store,” she said.
Gardner and her fellow vintage vendors have certainly felt the economic impact of COVID, but because their model allows them to spread out the expenses, the burden of rent doesn’t all fall on one person.
Still, the pandemic has taken its toll. The second weekend of November, a large annual event was supposed to take place involving both shops where she sells. “In years past, these would be $7,000 days,” she said. “That’s kind of off.” But she is confident in the relationships she’s built with customers over the years and said they will continue to shop with her. Now more than ever, it’s important to shop small businesses.
As a mother of six children ages 15 to 20 (including a niece and nephew adopted in 2010), she’s put her family before her shop. But now that her children are aging into independence, she’s been able to give full-time hours to her business.
And her children share their parents’ passion for treasure hunting. “I can send my boys out now to find stuff,” Gardner said. “They have an eye, too.” One son curated his own selection of old comic books within the shop.
Gardner has worked to instill in her children the principle that you don’t always have to buy new. “Sometimes the clothing and furniture you can find secondhand is a hundred times better than what you can find new,” she said.
And vintage is coming back, Gardner said, especially with the 30-and-under crowd. She’s right: the secondhand clothing market is growing 24 times faster than traditional retail, driven largely by millennials and Gen Zers who have a strong desire to shop sustainably while also finding unique pieces. Thrift and secondhand shopping in general is booming around the globe.
Stephanie’s expert tips for finding secondhand gems? First, frequent a lot of different shops. Don’t limit yourself to one area. Next, have a goal, but go with an open mind. Finally, patience.
“Say you’re [at a yard sale] looking for green depression glass,” she said. “Of course you’re going to be able to spot it, but be patient. Don’t be afraid to get down and dig through the piles. That’s where the very best treasures are sometimes. It takes time, effort and consistency.”
And if you just don’t have the time? That’s where Garden of 8s comes in. Pop into Funky Junk to find a curated collection of unique pieces—no digging required.