Vintage seller Michelle Mason shares her advice on buying and styling second-hand homewares

— by Alyson Walsh

Photos of Michelle Mason by Neil Mackenzie Matthews


It’s a small world. I hadn’t realised that my old friend Michelle Mason actually went to school with Carolyn Denham the founder of  Merchant & Mills until after I’d published the recent Creative Women at Work feature. What are the chances of that? Michelle is a vintage seller, stylist and author. We met as students in Manchester, Michelle was a friend of a friend, based down in London, but often up north for a Haçienda night out.

After studying illustration at Chelsea College of Arts she went on to complete an MA in digital media at Central Saint Martins. Success in her early career led Michelle into designing numerous homewares collections, from there she moved into selling vintage homewares through a shop Mason & Painter on London’s Columbia Road. After 10 years, Michelle now sells online via her Instagram and website, and pops-up at the flower market on Sundays. ‘It’s been really good,’ she says of the latest venture, ‘ I really wanted to make the move for a long time and it’s given me more freedom.’


Mason & Painter vintage homewares


What have you enjoyed most about your latest career move ?

My business has grown organically. I’d taken on the shop but after 10 years I needed to diversify and grow in a different way. And, I had to do it. My daughter was about to leave school and I’d hardly spent a weekend with her. When I had the shop (up until 10 months ago), I used to make more time to do something special in the school holidays such as little trips to Charleston House or the seaside, and lunch and an exhibition at the Tate. We’ve done lots in the past year, now I have Saturdays free – we saw the excellent Biba exhibition last week and are going to the theatre this week to see Rufus Wainwright’s Opening Night in the West End.


How did you get into vintage?

I’ve always been interested in vintage. When we were at school, I couldn’t afford Topshop, it wasn’t a ‘pocket money’ spend and so I bought second-hand. I loved going second-hand shopping with my dad in Sheffield. I was too young for punk but saw how Siouxsie and all the bands were dressed in vintage and so I carried it on.

Earlier in my career, I designed a few homewares collections for high street stores and the London Transport Museum, and went on to sell vintage from there. The community is really lovely, willing to share advice and help others, that’s why I wanted to write books about it. And I love meeting my customers, from people in their 80s to students who want a vintage jug to put tulips in and make their room look nice. Today buying vintage is a conscious decision – it’s about the environment.


What’s popular right now? What should we be buying?

Mid-century paintings are really strong at the minute. I wouldn’t really have considered selling 1950s and 60s abstract art when I started out, but now I buy a lot of paintings, they sell really well. I’ve had some fabulous pieces recently and been lucky enough to find several paintings from the studio of a celebrated botanical artist, and currently have abstracts by Swedish mid-century painter Arne Cassel who is on display in the national museums of Sweden.





Please can you share your tips for buying vintage homewares online

Look for really clear photos – not filtered or messed around with because the colour might not be quite what you imagine. Pictures from every angle will give you a good idea of what the item is like and so you won’t be disappointed when it arrives.

Make sure the seller provides measurements. Without measurements you might think you’re buying a big oil painting and when it comes through it’s the size of a postage stamp…

If it’s not provided, ask for a good description and details e.g. any dates and signatures on paintings, labels on items. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, ask the seller.

Sounds obvious but if you’re buying furniture, measure the space where it’s going to live. Some vintage sellers don’t take returns.

It’s difficult to spot online but if you’re buying a piece of wooden furniture ask the seller if they’ve checked for woodworm. No one wants that in their house.


Do customers haggle?

Yes, all the time when I had the shop! But my prices are quite reasonable, I don’t hike them up – nevertheless, I spend quite a lot of time on ‘ customer relations’.



And what’s your advice for styling vintage at home?

Mix it up, is my mantra. Homes look better if styled with a range of eras and pieces rather than sticking to all Victorian or all 1930s, for example. The clean lines of a modern home are perfectly suited to an Arts & Crafts dining table or a rustic French dresser. It’s the details and decoration that pull everything together  – it may take a bit of practice but I think a healthy mix of new and reclaimed can look really effective.


Who’s in your secret address book?

The Mercantile London for clothes. They sell new pieces but the edit is so good and they sell only conscious clothing, or small independent brands.

The Townhouse Spitalfields for vintage homewares, cards and books. And there’s a coffee and cake shop.

The Broadway Bookshop, Broadway Market for reading matter from a lovely independent bookseller

Spitalfields Antiques Market for books, fashion and vintage homewares.

Vout, Columbia Road has a good selection of vintage clothing brands and sunglasses.

Retrouvé, Wilton Way, Hackney. A treasure trove of vintage clothing from 1920s evening dresses to great 1970s pieces.

Alfie’s Antiques for a fabulous choice of homewares and fashion.

Kantha Beach for reclaimed blankets and quilts. (Instagram @kanthabeach)


Vintage vases and botanical prints from Mason & Painter


What’s next, Michelle?

Last year I designed and developed a range of wallpaper and I’m currently working on more wallpaper designs to launch this autumn. I’m also working on book number four to publish Spring 2025. It’s with the same publisher (Pimpernel Press) as my other books on vintage and vintage shops and I’m looking forward to some good weather so that I can go out and start taking photos.

Check out Michelle’s vintage homewares website Mason & Painter and follow her on Instagram HERE.




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