Florida is an antiques and art lover’s dream, so put on some comfortable shoes, pack your wallet, grab a shopping bag and discover these favorite shops and galleries.
By Lynn Waddell
Living in a land of vintage rhinestones, antique stained glass and artists as colorful as their paintings, I never have to see the beach to feel like I'm on vacation. As an A-1 professional-grade shopper of vintage objects (bordering on clinical), and a glutton for original art, I relax by finding a bargain on an antique brooch or losing myself in pop art.
A melting pot of rural Southern heritage, international cosmopolitan flavors and Northern retirees, Florida is an antiques and art lover's dream. Compared to the North and the West Coast, antiques retail relatively cheaply here.
Many world-famous artists call Florida home, and if you visit local galleries you just might discover the next James Rosenquist (who happens to live in Aripeka).
Put on some comfortable shoes, pack your wallet, grab a shopping bag and follow me to my favorite art galleries and shops for antiques in Florida.
First stop is historic Havana, located north of Tallahassee, where treasures echo the exotic tastes of the area's former land barons and the country flavor of its Southern farmers. Named for its tobacco farming, Havana has since become north Florida's antique town. You can find everything from a 13th century Asian bowl at Mirror Image and a mission-style pie chest at The Planters Exchange, to candy cigarettes and jaw breakers at Havana's Little River General Store, all within a short walk.
I'm drawn to the traditional Antique and Design Center, and come across a floor-to-ceiling walnut china cabinet that's big enough to hold every dish, pot and pan I've ever owned. Unfortunately, it will also take up one-third of my house. I leave my husband, James, to the manly relics of baseball and militaria inside Mirror Image and sneak into Cindy's Chapeaux to look at vintage rhinestones. I say "sneak," because James issued a moratorium on my bling-bling purchases. Being an obsessive-compulsive vintage jewelry collector, I can't stop myself and am tickled to find a bargain-priced Weiss rhinestone brooch like one I regretted giving away last year. Karma.
By the time we finish our shopping, we feel like we've hiked the world. Afterwards we drive to nearby Quincy, where an antique brass bed awaits us at the historic McFarlin House Bed & Breakfast. The grand, former land baron estate has an original Tiffany window. No better way to cap off an antiques shopping trip fit for a baroness.
Antiquing to the Max
No place makes more of old age than Renningers Antique Center in Mount Dora. The legendary center is the largest source of antiques in the Southeast. Located on 130 acres, this is one of the best places to shop for antiques in Florida. Individual booth owners are available to answer your questions and assist you with purchases.
Unfortunately, I don't have his wallet, but I like to pretend I do. During a non-event weekend (the center is only open on weekends), I wander wide-eyed through the cavernous enclosed building portion among 200 air-conditioned booths. I spy a solid oak buffet that I attempt to psychically transport to my dining room until my husband physically removes me from the booth.
On the off chance you can't find what you're looking for in the center, schedule a trip during one of the fairs and extravaganzas. Antique Fairs are held the third weekend of every month except November, January and February. There are more than 100 additional booths at the antique fairs. Don't miss Renninger's Antique Extravaganzas on the third weekend of November, January and February, when more than 800 booths of antiques and collectibles are available to peruse. Dealers and shoppers, from throughout the United States, come to these events.
Be sure book a hotel reservation in advance. My favorite, the historic Lakeside Inn, is within walking distance of quaint downtown galleries, vintage bookstores, restaurants and more intimate antiques shops.
Vintage Antiques in Orlando Area
Beyond the shadow of mouse ears I find Orlando's Ivanhoe Village, reminiscent of bohemian Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Appropriately named, there's no telling what treasure you might snap up in this two-story warehouse.
A youthful lunch crowd fills the redbrick patio of the White Wolf Cafe, where coffee tables and chairs are spread alongside the sidewalk outside, and inside people dine under chandeliers with dangling price tags. Across the street at Rock 'n' Roll Heaven I find a vinyl Beatles White Album that I wished I hadn't tossed at the advent of CDs.
I gravitate to a rack of bell bottoms and chiffon '50s dresses outside Déjà Vu Vintage, and spend an hour trying on duds from the past, including a '70s polyester jumpsuit. (A fashion mistake both then and now.) Welcoming a jolt forward, I visit the contemporary furniture and floral arrangements of Saxon-Clark Home Furnishing and Interior Designs. Then it's off to the Fredlund Gallery in Winter Park to look at featured artwork from 15 local Florida artists, including wildlife art and sculpture.
Central Florida's Antiques Loop
If your shopping style leans more toward the classics, you have to explore Florida’s Antiques Loop. Located in central Florida on Highways US 27, Florida 70 and US 17, the Loop includes Lakeland, Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, Plant City and Lake Wales.
A modified trip, with judicious selection of stops, can be made in a weekend, but if you’re a true antiques buff, you’ll want to block at least four days to cover all the stops along the way.
Lakeland is known for several things: it’s the home of the largest single site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designs (at Florida Southern College), Publix Super Markets have their headquarters here, and it was the site of the very first Red Lobster restaurant.
Lloyd's Lakeland Antiques is a two-story, multi-dealer mall located in Lakeland's historic downtown district. This is an “old curiosity shop” type of place with many items including art, pottery, glass, furniture and collectibles still in the affordable price range. Art pottery on hand includes Majolica, Wedgwood, McCoy, Roseville, Weller, Rookwood, Fenton, Depression and Early Pressed Glass. 301 North Kentucky Ave., Lakeland. Phone: 863-682-2787.
Thom Downs Antiques is run by Thom Down, who travels the world sourcing quality antique furniture pieces. The warehouse-sized shop is a veritable warren of furniture, lighting and art pieces that are excellent examples of their individual styles. You’ll find fabulous furniture, both single pieces and entire suites, many of which feature intricate carvings, impressive scale or hand-chased bronze work representing many styles and periods. Occasional pieces, chests and armoires can also be found here, as well as many fine reclamation items such as period fireplace mantels, doors, windows and garden pieces. 235 North Florida Avenue, Lakeland. Phone: 863-688-3269.
If your trip around the Loop calls for an overnight stay in Lakeland, you must stay at the Terrace Hotel, a member of the Preferred Boutiques and Historic Hotels of America. Built in 1924, the Terrace Hotel boasts period black-and-white ceramic tile and nostalgic furnishings.
The hotel's signature restaurant, The Terrace Grille, extends into the main foyer and features a superb Art Deco ceiling and fabulous food. A wide porch located at the entrance to the hotel is complete with comfortable seating and cocktail service, so you can enjoy a post shopping, pre-dinner cocktail in gracious style.
Winter Haven, known for its “chain of lakes,” is also home to a few antiques antique stores in Florida that are chock full of wonderful goods.
Classic Antiques was established in 1989 and is one of the area’s premier antique shops. The complex comprises over 4,500 square feet of antiques that include art glass, pottery, furniture, fine art, sterling silver and thousands of other items. One of the best antiques malls in the Antiques Triangle. 279 W. Central Ave., corner of Third St., Winter Haven. Phone: 863-294-6866 or 800-287-6866.
Stop by Treasure House Antiques (3309 Havendale Blvd., Winter Haven; phone: 863-297-3046.
Like many other Florida towns, Lake Alfred is experiencing a resurgence in its downtown historic district, which now boasts outdoor events, tree shaded sidewalks for strolling and many dining options. Biggar’s, which owns a large building in the heart of downtown, hosts several businesses including Biggar Antiques.
Packed with antique finds of all kinds, Biggar specializes in advertising signs, period store and retail items, Americana, architectural antiques, music, furniture, glassware, fishing/hunting gear, sporting goods, household items, an extensive line of gifts and the unusual. You just never know what you’re likely to fall across at Biggars. 140 W Haines Blvd, Lake Alfred. Phone: 863- 956-4853.
The Barn carries antiques big and small – armoires, sideboards, tables, chairs, beds, dressers and primitives, stained glass, cut glass and decorator pieces.
In addition, there’s The Stable, which contains designer wreaths, flower arrangements, baskets and a selection of prints, brass décor items, candles, holiday decorations and more. You’re going to be here a while, so you may as well have lunch at the Backporch Tearoom, where kids can have their very own teddy bear picnic.
One of the most beloved is Sherman’s Antiques, owned by Al Kitzmiller and Jerry Sherman. Located in a building that was also Lake Alfred's first post office, Sherman’s offers antiques, artwork, furniture, glass collectibles and more, all artfully staged and presented by Al (who regularly stages the interiors of homes for real estate open houses).
What makes Sherman’s unique is that it sells period dolls and stuffed animals, and houses a Doll Hospital, presided over by Jerry. Being a doll doctor is truly a dying art, so Jerry’s expertise is appreciated by loyal customers all over the world. Jerry lovingly restores dolls for private clients and museums and fashions doll clothing to suit each doll. Don’t leave without trying the freshly made popcorn they usually have on hand. 155 E. Haines Blvd. Lake Alfred, FL 33850. Phone: 863-224-0395
Last but not least is the Back Yard Garden Shop, offering garden and lawn accessories that run the gamut from topiaries to fountains to garden architecture. While walking the property, stop by the dock and feed the always-hungry native fish. County Road 557, Lake Alfred. Phone: 863-956-0691
You’ll also want to stop by Potpourri Antiques at (144 W Haines Blvd, Lake Alfred; phone: 863-956-5535).
At Collins Street Junction (117 N. Collins St., Plant City; phone: 813-659-2585), you’ll find 5,500 square feet of antiques and collectibles housed in an historic downtown building. Antiques & Treasures (107 N. Collins St., Plant City; phone: 813-752-4626) is a multi-dealer shop featuring glassware, linens, pottery, tools and much more.
Nearby: Speaking of antiques, check out nearby Dinosaur World, where you’ll find over 200 life-sized replicas of various species of dinosaurs. There’s also a museum, fossil dig, movie cave, playground and gift shop.
In downtown Lake Wales, a commercial historic district offers visitors important examples of architecture from the period of the Florida land boom of the 1920s, as well as many antique shops and dining venues.
You’ll want to stop in at Inglenook Antiques & Collectibles (3607 North Scenic Highway, Lake Wales; phone: 863-678-1641), housed in a quaint pre-1920s home. This shop is filled with an eclectic variety of by-gone collectibles and antiques, as well as reference books, herbal products, and alternative health books.
A James Stewart Holiday
Year 'round, Dade City has the charm of It's a Wonderful Life. During the holiday season this aura is even stronger with storefronts decorated with garland, strands of light and red bows. Angels of various materials are common in the gift shops and galleries.
Complete with a town square footed by a red brick courthouse, Dade City is more laid-back than Renningers, and more traditional than Orlando's Ivanhoe District. I relish parking spaces along storefronts and no long lines. Several distinctly feminine shops beautify the district.
A must-visit is Lunch on Limoges. In business since 1908, this historic café shares space with a mercantile and is part of William's Fashion Center, an accordion of stores selling home décor and women's clothing. For dessert, amble down to Olga's Bakery & Deli, right next to the Florida Women's Bowling Association State Office.
Home, Thou Art
After a whirlwind shopping tour around Florida, my adventure doesn't end when I return home to St. Petersburg, known as the "city of the arts." Along with impressive museums, the St. Petersburg area has enough galleries and openings to fill your social calendar from January to December.
On the second Saturday of the month James and I go to the Second Saturday Art Walk, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. We stroll through galleries, view art, talk to the artists, nibble cheese and sample wine (a light and easy dinner). At my favorite Central Avenue gallery, Florida Craftsmen, a co-op of artists from around the state showcases everything from pottery to artisan-made jewelry. Only a few steps away, The Morean Arts Center sells contemporary artwork.
Some of my art havens are off the beaten path. Local artists brood, create and display their masterpieces of varied media in their studios at Artworks, just south of downtown St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg Clay Company, inside a former train station, is another gallery where you can watch artists at work. Pick out a unique bowl or vase, and maybe catch a potter with her hands covered in clay. Nationally renowned jewelry artist Evander Preston creates his jewels within walking distance of the sands of Pass-A-Grille Beach. I walk the shore, wistful for one of his spectacular rings (hint, hint, James). Like many a conniving woman, I lure my husband there under the guise of looking at Preston's eclectic collection of antiques and artifacts. Come Valentine's, I'll see if James got the sparkling suggestion.
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