Charlotte Strait knows the decor in her Minneapolis apartment isn't for everyone.
There's the wall of leering Halloween masks ... the "mashup" of old teddy bears impaled above a doorway ... the decapitated doll heads and other vintage toys arranged on shelves.
"Some think it's super creepy," she conceded. "But I like it. I like to surround myself with things that make me happy."
Josh Miller's Minneapolis apartment is equally offbeat, filled with ancient taxidermy, teeth and bones, religious relics and terrariums inhabited by live beetles and cockroaches.
"People get creeped out," he said of his quirky decor. But he finds it fascinating, not grim. "I'd never kill something to get it," he said. "I don't like new taxidermy. These were processed before I was alive."
Weird, even macabre artifacts are finding their way into more homes and onto more home-decor retail shelves, according to Tina Wilcox, CEO of Black, a retail brand agency. Millennials, in particular, value "oddities and curiosities" as an alternative to generic, mass-produced furniture and accessories, she said.
"People in the antique world complain that millennials don't buy antiques — not true," Wilcox said.
While they may turn up their noses at big pieces of formal furniture, they're snapping up quirky accent pieces, including vintage barware, smoking paraphernalia and gambling-related objects.
"They like odd stuff ... items with a story," Wilcox said. "They don't want silver, china and crystal. They don't entertain that way. They spend a lot of money when they like something."
Not the same old stuff
Strait picks up a lot of her finds for under $10 or $20, but she recently splurged on an arcade "crane game" for her living room. "It lights up, and it works!" she said. "I paid $350. I always wanted one."
When she occasionally wanders into a mainstream home store, "I can't even get myself to buy stuff," she said. "Everybody else has it."
She prefers hand-me-downs, flea markets and Hunt & Gather, the southwest Minneapolis vintage emporium where she's worked for the past seven years. Many of the store's customers are younger — mid-20s to mid-30s — she said, and "looking for that one piece that makes your shelf interesting. Everyone is tired of mass-produced everything."
Hunt & Gather stocks a vast trove of vintage artwork, home goods, offbeat artifacts and parts waiting for creative makers to put their personal spin on them to create one-of-a-kind items and home environments.
"People are searching to be different now — not like everybody else," said owner Kristi Stratton. "They're looking for their own identity instead of cookie-cutter" style.
There's nothing cookie-cutter about Strait's apartment, an ever-evolving mélange of toys, vintage signs and lighting and holiday decor, such as the "heap of sheep" — molded plastic figures from manger scenes — currently piled in her living room. "I like seasonal decor all the time," she said. "I'm just super random. Like the circus came over, threw up and left."
Strait has been collecting since she was a child. "I've always liked old stuff," she said. Nicks, dings and layers of chipped paint aren't flaws to her, but marks of character. "I like it when things are worn, and used and used and used. You know this stuff isn't going to be made ever again."
Miller, too, has been collecting a long time. An Iraq combat vet and now a paramedic who works internationally, he's acquired a lot of his artifacts overseas, such as the stuffed owl he brought back from Bulgaria, and the dung beetle he picked up in Afghanistan.
"One of the best places to get taxidermy is in Eastern Europe," he said. "But it's difficult to get stuff back here. You have to ship it. You can't carry a caribou head on a plane."
Collector Cameren Torgerud, St. Paul, also is drawn to exotic species from other countries, such as bats from Indonesia and rock hyrax from South Africa.
"I have three monkey skulls — baboon, macaque and vervet," he said. He found his first animal skull, a raccoon, along railroad tracks and set it on his bedroom shelf.
"I got the itch and wanted to get more," he said.
He unearthed scores of skulls in the woods, and before long, had two basement tanks filled with hundreds of special flesh-eating beetles to clean them down to the bone.
After a while, Torgerud had so many skulls that he decided to open a store, Studio Payne Art Gallery and Oddities in St. Paul, where he also sells other offbeat collectibles, including taxidermy, polished fossils, "wet specimen" animals floating in jars, teeth jewelry and vintage medical tools. The shop also doubles as an artist workspace and gallery, currently with a creepy Halloween-themed exhibit.
Collectors of quirky stuff have long found ways to incorporate their finds into their homes. But now more people are getting into the act, thanks to technology, according to Wilcox.
When it comes to home decorating, there are "creatives" and "copiers," she said. "Creatives are the ones who can spot an object and have an idea for it," such as seeing an old church bulletin board at a flea market and turning it into a chalkboard for their kitchen. Copiers would have to see a picture of the idea first, then copy it.
Now, with websites like Pinterest and Etsy, everyone has creative fodder at their fingertips.
According to Wilcox, "these sites feed the millennial generation tons of ideas that translate to heightened sales of oddities, old objects, wrecked industrial stuff and general junk to make stuff for their homes."
Staff writer Lynn Underwood contributed to this report.