The other day I woke up to the sound of rain pounding down on my window. I opened the curtains and examined the sky in the hope that a speck of blue might instil some hope in my outlook for the day. That was when I saw a lonely white wooden chest of drawers which had been abandoned outside the Adrian Robbins furniture shop in Guildford Road. I quickly enlisted a Helpful Man to drag the heavy drawers into my bedroom. However, as soon as it was there I knew it was too big to fit in the room without making it look like the Ikea warehouse for odd furniture. Unfortunately, I was in love. I spent the rest of the day re-arranging every one of my belongings in order to accommodate the new addition, and as I did so I began to realise how few of my things I’d actually bought in a shop. I have a bookcase that I found in the street at Seven Dials; a mirror that I bought for £2 at a car boot sale; a 1970s record player with a matching amp and speakers that was lovingly assembled for me via eBay, Snooper’s Paradise and various charity shops with huge, dusty vinyl collections. Then there are my ornaments and paintings – my happy stuff – which seem to somehow draw me in to the perfect place at the perfect time. And don’t even get me started on my books. At a birthday party the other day a friend asked me where I bought my bag and I told her it was yet another charity shop purchase. She looked bewildered and said: “Every time I ask you where you got something you say a charity shop but whenever I go in there everything is ugly and smells bad.”
This got me thinking. Are some people just lucky to walk into charity shops and past furniture stores at exactly the right time? Or is there some unquantifiable talent that makes you notice the good stuff that other people, unaware of, would walk by? I believe that for me it is almost a habit. I used to walk around happily holding a conversation without noticing the haphazard piles of dog-eared books and video tapes on people’s doorsteps. When I was with my boyfriend I would get a swift pull backwards and hear something like, “Look! It’s a free coffee percolator! Let’s take it home!” There’s something amazingly rewarding about finding little treasures hiding in dusty corners of charity shops or sitting on a doorstep with a ‘please take’ sign on them. But for all those I-never-find-anything-nice people here is my little guide to Brighton scavenging. The ultimate find is always the one book you’ve been wanting for ages just left on the top of a pile for you to take, and I’ve never seen anywhere with more spare books than Seven Dials. Do the rounds up Davigdor Road and down Montpelier Road and I guarantee you will find at least one house with a pile of wonderful treasures you never thought you needed but now can’t live without. I have found computer screens, fans, bookcases, cooking implements and paintings, to name a few. One of the garages on Farm Road belongs to a woman whose home must be a vast storage space for incredible things. On summer weekends, she is sitting there, surrounded by clothes, jewellery, ornaments, mirrors, paintings, books, games and furniture which she sells for a very moderate price. I can’t wait for her to open up again, it’s well worth going. Make sure you’re ready to haggle though, she drives a hard bargain.
As for Brighton’s infinite charity shops, here is my personal collection of where to buy what. Books – Amnesty International Bookshop in North Laine has almost every book you could wish for and the volunteers who work there are book-lovers as opposed to the spotty teenagers with a Saturday job in Waterstone’s. Vinyl – Shelter on Western Road has a huge, charmingly eclectic collection of records and they are really well organised, which helps you avoid the horrible backache that comes with searching through stacked boxes on the floor. Clothes – Oxfam on Western Road and Age Concern in St James’s Street always have some great vintage cardigans, blouses and jeans. Don’t be put off by a stain or a wrong size, if something’s cheap enough it’s usually worth getting nifty with a basic sewing kit and making it your own. Furniture – there is a YMCA shop at the beginning of London Road, opposite the Duke of York’s cinema with loads of cheap furniture and wall hangings. Odds and ends – Spiral on Norfolk Square is my personal favourite Brighton charity shop. It has a really nice feel to it and it stocks so many interesting and charmingly strange things that I could – and have – spent hours going through their stock.
So there you have it. I wish you the best of luck, and one last word of advice as I stare at my over-cluttered bedroom: if you are going to take home a huge piece of furniture, even if it is free, make sure it actually fits in your room before some Poor Man has to carry it all the way up the stairs for you.
Sirena Bergman www.sirenabergman.blogspot.com