Antique collecting and dealing isn’t just a hobby for Brenda and Mark Kilgore – it’s their very livelihood.
The proof of this is present in every room of their home. Look around their cozy farmhouse in the rural Kansas City area and you’ll see knick-knacks and bric-a-brac from decades and centuries long gone, lovingly displayed for visitors. The proof also lies in the intangible, such as the friends Brenda and Mark have made as they continue traveling America, buying and selling antiques at shows both big and small. It lies in the hours upon hours of hard work the couple put into repurposing old items and readying them for sale. It lies in the love of vintage items that they have passed on to their adult children.
Brenda and Mark have both shared a love of antiques since long before they met each other. But he, a country boy who enjoyed the solitude of living in a rural area, and she, a city girl who relished the hustle and bustle of a larger burg, obviously had their differences when it came to their idea of paradise.
From big city to quiet country
Twenty-five years ago, living in Excelsior Springs, MO and desiring a change of scenery, Brenda and Mark took on the mammoth task of finding a new place to live just one car ride away.
“It was like pulling teeth to get her out of the city to start with. I was raised in the country, and I tried living in town for a while, but I just couldn’t take it,” Mark recalls, chuckling as he sits with Brenda in the living room of their home on a sunny but chilly afternoon in early February. “I missed the quiet, the privacy. “We had a beautiful house in town, but you could look out your window and see your neighbor doing their dishes.
“We were just out driving one day – we went out every weekend to drive and look around – and we found a house for sale over that hill,” he says, pointing behind him. “We were looking at it, but then we walked on top of the hill and saw this little farmhouse sitting there. We asked, ‘What’s that?’”
It was a house that belonged to a recently deceased family member, and had yet to be listed for sale. The couple took a peek inside the small, four-bedroom, pea green farmhouse and instantly fell in love with its charm.
But there was work to be done — the house had no bathroom and no plumbing — and the Great Flood of 1993, which inundated parts of Missouri and threatened great swaths of land surrounding cities, didn’t help matters. Brenda recalls crying with her husband as she feared their dream basement would never come to fruition.
Another kind of retirement
Another trait Mark and Brenda share — their strong work ethic — helped them see the house’s renovation step by step. Some parts of the original house, they kept, including a wooden support beam that stands at the center of their living room, as well as the original wood floors, painted the same stunning, clean white as the walls and high ceilings.
“The floors were all natural wood,” says Brenda. “Over the years, they turned pumpkin orange, and it’s taken us a couple of years to paint them.
“We did most of the work ourselves, but we splurged on windows. We wanted to see why we were here — nature and all of that,” says Brenda, adding that only one room in their house has curtains of any kind.
For two people who have made antiques their life’s work, the hard work wasn’t unlike Mark’s former career in construction, from which he recently retired.
“I stay busier now than I ever did in my old job,” he laughs.
When they’re not repainting, rewiring, reupholstering, and renovating antiques, they’re loading up their RV and driving throughout the country – to shows both big and small, where they hope to sell their wares and find a few treasures for themselves, too.
The couple employs pickers who are dispatched throughout Kansas and Missouri to search for what Brenda calls “scores,” or purchases. They travel to one or two large shows every six months, she says, and when they’re not on the road, they’re in their barn behind the house, where much of their prep work is done. If the weather is uncooperative, as was the case during this winter’s harsh cold snaps, they simply take their work indoors to their house. After all, the show will arrive, whether or not they’re ready.
Home a homage to a bygone time
Drive up the winding gravel roads on the way to the Kilgores’ farmhouse and you’ll see it clearly — the small, picturesque house on top of a hill. The entrance to the property is marked with an old wagon wheel, and on your right is a small pond. Get out of your car, and you’ll see the small barn where Brenda and Mark do their renovation work — in warmer months, at least. Vintage metal signs adorn the exterior of the structure (Brenda says Mark has a special spot in his heart for vintage advertising).
On your left, a small stone path leads up to the farmhouse’s front door. Enter it and you’ll be in the small sunroom where vintage planters hold a colorful array of plant life. The couple added the sunroom when they moved into the house, and it’s attached to the kitchen, splashed in elegant, clean, white paint. The appliances there are modern, but the vintage touches still exist, such as a wooden sign above the sink that reads, “Wm. J. Fry Dried Herbs.”
Directly off of the kitchen, an open room has at its center a small table flanked by small, twisted-metal chairs, the kind you might see in a 1950s malt shop. A series of small hand brooms are precariously stacked on the wooden tray of a chalkboard hanging on one wall of that room. Keep walking, and you’ll marvel at an entire wall of the dining room, which features floor-to-ceiling cabinets, also painted white. Their glass doors reveal all manner of ceramic cooking vessels utensils stacked neatly inside. At the dining room table, in the place of cloth or plastic placemats are slabs of slate.
Natural light pours into the high-ceilinged living room, where Brenda says she enjoys watching the sunrise and sunset each day. On the coffee table, a large, wooden bowl holds a ball of string as large as a grown man’s head. Across from the coffee table, a big block of wood resembling a tree stump has been polished smooth and is used as an end table. It’s the large pieces, like the coffee table that appears to once have been a big wooden crate that Brenda likes best.
Upstairs in the Kilgores’ home, ceramic jugs are stacked atop a wooden icebox in an open area Brenda where Brenda does her paperwork for the couple’s business. The guest room, meanwhile, is small but cozy, with a much lower ceiling; a bed with an iron frame is the centerpiece, and hanging next to it and above the nightstand is a series of small mirrors and frames.
At the antique shows, furniture is the biggest seller for the Kilgores.
“We had amazing hardwood cabinets the last time, and the time before that, we had a 50-foot counter. Two people came to our booth and said, ‘Ralph Lauren needs that for his store!’ And we’d go, ‘OK, do you have his number?’” Brenda chuckles.
Every merchant at every antique show has a centerpiece to their collection, the one piece that draws the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the crowd.
“You have to have an ‘Oh my god!’ piece,” Brenda says. “For instance, once, we had an oyster shucking table, and it was beautiful. It had black legs. You always want that ‘Wow’ piece, that piece that makes you go, ‘I’ve got to have that!’ Usually, it’s furniture.”
A few keepsakes here and there
Yes, the mirrors are ever present in most rooms of the house. Though they make their living in selling antiques to collectors, there are a few pieces in their own home that Brenda and Mark say will always be priceless to them. One such piece, a larger, white, framed mirror, hangs in the couple’s guest bathroom.
“That mirror is one of my favorite items. It belonged to my grandpa,” Brenda says, adding that she grew up going to auctions with her father. “When I was 13, I asked my dad if I could have it, and he told me to go and ask my grandpa. Of course, he gave it to me, but I was scared to death.”
Another item, a large, wooden room divider, was originally to go on the road to be sold, but Brenda found she simply couldn’t part with it. So, it remains a permanent fixture in the corner of the farmhouse’s living room.
“We put it in that corner until it was time to take it to a show,” she explains, “but we loved it, so … ta-da!”
That love of gently loved items won’t pass on anytime soon, thankfully. Brenda and Mark say their sons, though once disinterested in antiques, have adopted their parents’ passions.
“They hated shopping at flea markets,” she recalls. “Whenever we would stop at one, they would hurry me up and push me through. Now, one of them is actually in the business, and he made a piece for me. The other son, he always needs stuff. But back then, they hated it.”
In the same way that their sons have acclimated themselves to life around antiques, so, too, have the Kilgores settled into their life of peace and quiet, surrounded by the things they love, both at home and on the road. It’s a life of hard work that they relish, and the two wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is it,” Brenda says, shrugging and smiling. “This is our life.”
Corbin Crable’s retirement plans include renting an RV and driving around the continental U.S., so he’s certain he’ll bump into Brenda and Mark Kilgore at an antique show in Texas someday. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words Corbin Crable
Photos Patti Klinge