Experience Wisconsin

A Wisconsin Vintage Treasure Hunt

Photo by Brad Thalmann/Harle Photography 

Vintage shopping is an activity that has its own magic—the thrill of the hunt, scoring one-of-a-kind finds and exploring shops and markets that are as far from big-box as you can get. Wisconsin holds many antique shopping gems, along with vintage-inspired inns and restaurants to turn it into a weekend to soak up the past. Whether you’re searching for mid-century furniture, farmhouse treasures or if you’re longing to stay in a B&B steeped in history, Wisconsin has you covered.

MADISON

As one of the premier antique malls in the state, Odana Antiques boasts 30,000 square feet teeming with wares purveyed by 115 dealers who have gone through a carefully-vetted process. Items range from the early 1800s through 1970. If salvage is more your style, visit Deconstruction Inc., a wonderland of architectural pieces, barn wood, ceiling tins and lighting. And you can be assured that you’re buying local—90 percent of the materials have been sourced in Dane County. Then hit up Monona’s Booth 121 for beautifully upcycled gifts and decor pieces made by over 100 area artists. Adorable throw pillows, on-trend clothes and cheeky jewelry await.

AND DON’T MISS:

The Graduate Madison, just a hop, skip and a jump from the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus and filled with delightful, summer camp-like vintage decor. Providing 72 rooms and two eateries, walking into the lobby feels as if you’re stepping onto a Wes Anderson set—chandeliers made from canoes, a vintage trophy case and old-school artwork. Portage Pi is a walk-up coffee and juice bar next to the lobby, and the new Camp Trippalindee restaurant features decor derived from 1980s camp movies, modern Wisconsin fare and an outdoor deck with Adirondack chairs and fi re pits.

APPLETON

For they-don’t-make-them-like-this-anymore furniture, stop at Harp Gallery, famous for their impeccable antique pieces that include bookcases, chests, chairs and collectible art. Head downtown to The Vintage Garden, a boutique that focuses on the popular farmhouse trend and restored antique furniture. Dressers, tables, books and found objects are plucked from Midwest markets and auctions, and presented in a lovely, curated space.

AND DON’T MISS:

Franklin Street Inn, a stately Victorian home that’s been restored to its former glory and transformed into a bed and breakfast. The downtown inn, built in 1897, features two bedrooms and two suites with private baths. Guests can even dine in one of the distinctive historical turrets. Amid the Victorian decor, you’ll find current touches such as whirlpool jet tubs, gas fireplaces and Wi-Fi. After all that relaxing, satiate your appetite at RYE, a nearby restaurant swathed in bygone-inspired materials like rustic wood and brushed nickel. The offerings are equally-classic—artisan cocktails, small plates for sharing and plentiful seafood options. Lobster roll, anyone?

MILWAUKEE

The state’s largest city holds a wide array of vintage options, from mid-century looks to well-loved items. Orange and Blue Co. on Hubbard Street is a weekend-only boutique that supplies highly-curated vintage finds with a bohemian, 1970s vibe, along with handmade goods like jewelry and kitchen essentials—many made by women makers. (The owners are also starting a restaurant that connects to the space: Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern, set to open this year.) If you’re questing for mid-century pieces, visit National Avenue’s Joint Effort Studio to find the motherlode—a sizeable collection of designer modernist furniture and top-notch period housewares. The retail space is a collaboration with Brew City Salvage, an architectural utopia located next door. If you voyage beyond downtown, don’t miss Brookfield’s Th e Bee’s Knees Homestead, a vintage and handcrafted marketplace in an 1877 barn. Highlighting the products of over 50 vendors, the shop specializes in repurposed decor, homemade candles and antique objects—stop here if you’re searching for the perfect farmhouse-style sign. If you can, plan your trip around re:Craft and Relic, a vintage market with a cult following. Housed in the Milwaukee County Sports Complex and held three times a year, this stylish and savvy market features over 150 artists, makers and “junkers,” sharing wares like customizable jewelry made with vintage bits and baubles, chippy furniture and DIY workshops to make your own repurposed masterpiece.

AND DON’T MISS:

The Iron Horse Hotel, a Milwaukee institution known for its storied decor. A century-old warehouse made over into a sought-after destination for travelers, the hotel is styled in exposed Cream City brick, wooden beams and industrial light fixtures. If you’re looking for a swanky place to have a nightcap, go to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge. This year, the establishment is celebrating its 80th anniversary and was the first bar to hire licensed female bartenders in Milwaukee. It stays true to its historic roots, pouring Depression-era cocktails like Old Fashioneds, Jack Frosts and Hawaiian Eyes. If you’d prefer to get out of town, book a stay at Cedarburg’s Washington House Inn. Built in 1886, the inn is smack dab in the historic district and offers complimentary continental breakfasts, wine and cheese social hours, and decor that harkens back to a yesteryear trip to the country.

DOOR COUNTY

Ellison Bay’s Summer Camp Antiques & Gifts, slated to move into their Highway 42 location this summer, carries noteworthy primitives and re-purposed, handmade pieces—painted items, classroom maps and vintage pennants abound. Sturgeon Bay’s Door County Traders on Third is a local mainstay that showcases antique clocks, sought-after records and costume jewelry. Olde Orchard Antique Mall has been an Egg Harbor favorite for 30 years, presenting 19,000 square feet of fine glass, garden decor and collectibles.

AND DON’T MISS:

The Chanticleer Guest House, an idyllic inn in Sturgeon Bay. With an abundance of antiques on display, the accommodations include oh-so-charming suites, cottages and cabins. The Whistling Swan of Fish Creek is Door County’s oldest operating inn, originally built in 1887. Today, it’s an inn-meets-dining destination, with a sophisticated restaurant famed for its soups, fish and decadent desserts. For a standard Door County fish boil with a side of history, go to Ephraim’s Old Post Office Restaurant, which— you guessed it—resides in an early 20th-century post office and serves 30,000 pounds of whitefish every summer.

LAKE GENEVA

Downtown, you’ll find The Design Coach, curated by designer Philip Sassano. His retail location is equal parts studio, workshop, showroom and shop that’s open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a treasure trove of rustic, re-imagined curiosities, lined wall-to-wall with old suitcases, sepia photographs and industrial signs. For one of the best flea markets around, drive 20 minutes to the Elkhorn Flea Market. Peruse over 500 dealers and discover ageless furniture, vintage pottery and other wish-list items. This year it’s held on May 20, June 24, August 12 and September 30.

AND DON’T MISS:

The Maxwell Mansion, built in 1856, takes a turn as a luxurious hotel that honors the past. It has 26 well-appointed guestrooms equipped with whirlpool tubs, smart TVs and beds with memory-foam mattresses. There’s a bar with an old-fashioned pharmacy theme called the Apothecary Bar, and for a 1920s throwback, head to the Speakeasy, open Fridays and Saturdays—just be sure you have the password, available on Facebook. The equally-elegant Baker House is a 130-year-old lakefront home with four opulent guestrooms and spa treatments. No Lake Geneva trip is complete without a stop at Boxed and Burlap, a sweet coffeehouse decorated in reclaimed barn wood and subway tile, serving up espressos and lavender lattes in vintage cups and saucers.


This article originally appeared in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

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