The quiet acres around the Snelling house stretch so far and flat, it’s as if they’ve been shaped with a rolling pin. Only a speck of one other house is within sight. Anyone not familiar with rural settings might mistake the location for the middle of nowhere. But inside the Snellings’ bewreathed pale-blue front door, proof of the Hoosier life is rampant.
Baskets, bowling pins, chipped signs, carpenter aprons. Benches, crates, simple suitcases. Assembled on a sideboard. Arranged in an open cabinet.
Dolls, rakes, thread spools, stamps. Pottery, buttons, blueprints, game pieces. Tucked into cubbyholes. Grouped on a wall.
For Holly Snelling, vintage has been a lifestyle since she was a kid. Growing up in Bismarck, Illinois, close to the Indiana state line, she and her mother would “go junking” a lot. She learned that what this area has in abundance is primitives, the kind of thing that farmers offload in estate sales when they retire and move to town. Over on the East Coast, early American furniture is
common. In Florida, thrift stores overflow with rattan and glass-topped tables. California has mirrored Hollywood Regency decor and elaborate upholstery.
When Snelling was in college, she opened her first booth in an antiques mall, bitten by a bug: buying a tchotchke for a quarter and selling it for $10. She then opened a storefront, but the strict hours and required property maintenance weren’t a good fit. Once they had a family, she and her husband, Scott, thought they would be traveling dealers, trucking to markets around the Midwest. At least until they made a grueling trip to Minnesota with a trailer of stuff and cleared just a few hundred dollars.
Then the couple organized their first pop-up sale at the Covington Beef House Banquet Center. They got 800 people. That model has grown into a business called Hobnob Market with four events a year in Indiana, where they now live, and nearby in Illinois. They choose a venue with a cool atmosphere, and select vendors who can merchandise a booth to look like a polished mini boutique. The selection incorporates makers, crafters, vintage dealers, and boutique owners. Hobnob draws about 24,000 people per year and supports the Snelling family of four.
These days, many vintage shoppers are minimalists. “They want one statement piece,” Snelling says. “One basket or a sign. Back in my mom’s day, people collected things.” Despite keeping in touch with trends, Holly is a maximalist. She collects, piles, layers, arranges, and groups.
White walls in the four-bedroom, two-story farmhouse just northeast of Veedersburg—the same house Scott grew up in—provide a backdrop for a riot of colorful, charming antiques and a few statement objects. The anatomy of it goes like this: a few big architectural pieces, including two horizontal store signs, half a windmill fan bolted to the wall like a sculpture, a grid of wooden yellow pegs once a balloon mold, and a large scroll of architectural blueprints displayed above the sofa with an unframed still life. An arrangement of industrial signs in a stairwell. Curated vignettes of curiosities big and small. A trained eye—or a Veedersburg local—might spot pieces of famous Martz pottery, which put the tiny town on the map in the middle of the 20th century.
For many, it’s not easy to decorate with these soulful old relics and “little pretties,” as Holly calls her smaller collectibles. They can feel random and out of place. A few of her tricks include a wall shelf of cubbyholes for holding teeny treasures, such as stamps with ice cream flavors, figurines from Scott’s baby mobile, wee cards with Bible verses, and delicate vials of powder used to make dye for China. She makes seasonal arrangements on cabinets and carts, which creates an excuse to swap out items in her collection. She gathers around specific themes: advertisements, goofy things, dessert references, garden goods, hardware store aprons, paper party supplies like garlands and little crepe-paper place settings.
Occasionally, an item tugs at her heart. In a lot she bought at a family auction was a handwritten school paper: “How to Be a Good Person.” A boy had listed deeds like “If you slice an apple in half, give them the bigger half” and “If you meet a lady, take your hat off.” That boy had died in World War II. “I read it every time I walk past it,” she says.
When Holly goes junking, she shops by flashlight, pre-dawn, as vendors are setting up. “You just keep circling. We’re a bunch of vultures,” she says. She heads to Ohio for primitives that aren’t as common here. “You find early-1800s paper goods rather than late 1800s. You find stuff that’s older, and they see it more than we do, so it’s a normal price, whereas if we found it here, it would be considered amazing.” Several of her signs came from the Indy Ad Show, a semi-annual sale in Lebanon—which is where Hobnob is heading next, to the Boone County Fairgrounds on March 25 and 26. Oh, and if you spot a hardware store apron, do let Holly know.