Monday, December 29, 2008

Reuse and Repurpose: Have a Ball!

Over the years we’ve collected so many Christmas ornaments that we don’t always know what to do with them when it comes time to put up the tree. This year, though, Veli took some of our silver, glittery orbs and grouped them around a red-robed Saint Nick that he perched atop my favorite John Derian cake pedestal. They sit behind the living room railing and look down into the dining area, brightening the room with a bit of unexpected holiday cheer.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details. Pre-order now on and

Friday, December 26, 2008

Crafty Creations: Hard Candy Christmas

Even though the economy has us cutting back this year, you can’t put a price tag on using your limitless creativity for making one-of-a-kind holiday cards that everyone will remember. In years past, I’ve cut out snowflakes from silver paper, repurposed old Christmas wrap and stamped and glued for holiday cards that I enjoy making, and hopefully, recipients enjoy receiving.

This year I took two of my favorite photos-- one of a duo of Christmas votives painted by my mother and paired with an add-water-to-grow snowman that Veli bought last year, and the other of a pile of broken candy sticks heaped into a vintage candy dish accented with bows and ribbons – and affixed them to cards with old-fashioned photo corners.

Inside the card featuring my three handsome snowmen, I wrote a traditional wish for the season. But for the candy-themed card, I wanted to send a funny message that hopefully made people laugh and looked to one of my all-time, favorite tunes, “Hard Candy Christmas” sung by Dolly Parton in the film, “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. ”

“I’ll be fine and dandy. Lord, it’s like a Hard Candy Christmas,” she sings. “I’m barely getting through tomorrow, but still I won’t let sorrow bring me way down.”

Here’s to a hopeful 2009!

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details. Pre-order now on and

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Easy Entertaining: Mugs Up

Almost everyone I know has a hodgepodge of coffee mugs that have little in common and hog up too much cabinet space. However, if you can narrow the themes of your mugs and eliminate the ones that don’t fit in, you can create an instant collection that appears curated and exudes personal charm.

When I was in Palm Springs photographing the home of GQ creative director Jim Moore for my book The Find, he showed me a collection he created with mix-and-match mugs featuring logos from local businesses. And then when I came home for Christmas just a few days ago, my mother had done the same thing with all the colorful mugs she’d collected over the years and set them in a silver-tone tray just waiting to be filled with a fresh cup of coffee or warming mulled cider.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details. Pre-order now on and

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Gift of Thrift: Hooch for the Holidays

My friend Aimée Morris may seem all sweet and innocent on the outside, but snap open the hooch bag I gave her for the holidays and that image may be dashed straight away!

I found this marvelous bag at a thrift store that was going out of business -- its price knocked down to a couple of dollars. I was attracted to its caramel coloring, its matching suede insets and the intricate metal work around its clasped opening. This thrift-store treasure could have lived comfortably among a collection of fancy Miu Miu bags, but instead it hung unceremoniously on a pole among beach totes and plastic purses.

Just like Aimée – demure with delicate features – the bag is the perfect foil for a tempting pile of contraband: miniature bottles of booze, sinful chocolate half dollars and rolls of mints emblazoned with fake $500 bills. But for Aimée’s true sweet side, I added a package of Boscia California Orange blotting linens, a container of Ole Henriksen black currant complexion oil and a tube of DKNY Be Delicious lip balm.

So watch out boys! Aimée’s ready to whoop it up in the New Year with a minibar to-go, a bag of chocolate delights and a beauty touch-up kit all wrapped up in one hooch bag!

Here’s to tons of hoochie-coochie in 2009!

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details. Pre-order now on and

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reuse and Repurpose: Breaking the Mold

As I’ve been showing off galleys of my book The Find, which will be published by Clarkson Potter in May, this sculpture is always greeted with rapt curiosity. I snapped this image as I was scouting fashion designer John Bartlett and master framer John Esty’s West Village apartment for print consideration. And it most certainly appears a couple of times in The Find, professionally photographed, of course.

Made out of four triangular terrazzo molds, the treasures held inside inspire the imagination: an old clock, a misplaced ruler, chair spindles, a paint brush and a rusty horseshoe thrown in for good luck.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details. Pre-order now on and

Friday, December 19, 2008

Easy Entertaining: Take it Away!

I love having a special memento from a fantastic party – one where the hostess tapped into her creativity for a personalized affair. When I invite guests over, I like to offer them the same, especially when there are copious amounts of food left over that I know I will never be able to consume.

Instead of packing extra goodies up on paper plates or in plastic containers, I always reach into my supply of odds-and-ends china plates that I’ve picked up on my thrift shopping adventures and load them up with a tasty treat for the road. I never worry about any markings on their reverse sides – just that they are attractive and free of cracks and chips. I even let partygoers select their own plates, perhaps one that they’ll be able to use once they get home, or pass it along to someone else who will enjoy it as much as they, and I, once did.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details. Pre-order now on and

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Find: Chain Reaction

I think I was in fourth grade when my dad surprised me with a silver-plated ID bracelet from JC Penney for my birthday. A few years ago, I started wearing it again and thought of my dad each time I wrapped the chain around my wrist; I cherished the tarnished patina and the sentiment it embodied. But it had a tricky clasp and would fall off when least expected, and sadly, my bracelet vanished about a year ago.

Recently, I found a “temporary” replacement that carries with it much of the love and warm memories as the original. Handcrafted by Elizabeth Teich of ETC Modern Vintage (, the bracelet enchanted me with its Boy Scouts pendant -- one that reminded me of my own brief stint in the club where I learned things like decoupage and Native American beading. The pendant is paired with a vintage Belgian coin from 1954 -- one she may have found at a Long Island antiques dealer whom she adores visiting. “It’s like visiting your grandfather with a zillion stories to tell.” And then there’s the brown plastic bead – unassuming with just enough color -- that I found intriguing.

Liz told me it came from a necklace once owned by her mom, a jewelry dealer who taught her everything she knows about jewelry making. “The spiral wire design inspired by Hopi Indian designs, which has become my signature in my work, is the last thing she taught me before she passed away when I was just eight years old.” As Liz related her story, I fell deeper for the bracelet. She told me about her dad, an antiques dealer who is also named Stan, and about how she dumped an advertising director job to pursue her dreams as a jewelry designer.

The new bracelet carries the same weight as the old and clinks against my computer keyboard just like the other one did. And knowing its story makes me love it even more. “I also hope you keep enjoying your bracelet, but still find the one that your father gave you,” Liz wrote me. “The world works in mysterious ways, and I have a feeling you'll find it when you least expect it.”

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Easy Entertaining: Table Talk Update

For those of you who wanted a closer look at the ceramic frog bud vase I featured in yesterday’s post, here he is. I love the expression on his face, just as if he let out a resounding R-I-B-B-I-T to attract a mate on a balmy summer evening. Perched upon a vessel shaped like a horseshoe, it may just be his lucky day!

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Easy Entertaining: Table Talk

Sometimes a sentimental thrift find combined with an everyday objects you already have on hand can transform into unexpected centerpiece for a holiday table that sparks conversation and evokes whimsy.

One of my favorite estate-sale discoveries is a ceramic, horseshoe-shaped bud vessel that I found while thrift shopping with my pal Ruth Handel in Los Angeles. When I found it, I was immediately attracted to the funny frog perched on the arc of the container.

I’ve used him for several years as a decorative accessory in my apartment, but never to his full floral potential. So when it came time to create a holiday centerpiece, I moved him from the bedroom, placed him on a John Derian cake stand that my friend Veli Ivanic gave me last year as a loving Christmas gift, and the inspiration started to flow.

I looked over to the fruit bowl and noticed I had pears, miniature apples and shiny oranges all ripe for the picking. I arranged them around the container and then ran downstairs to the deli and bought $7 worth of white freesia and glossy red berries, which I cut into tiny sprigs and placed them into my bud vase.

Et voilà! A focal point on a holiday table that looks good enough to eat -- and we did!

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Gift of Thrift: Fully Framed

This summer while touring the Istrian Coast of Croatia, I ran into a duo of tourist information panels that my Parisian travel pal Catherine Jouault and I thought were so funny that we had to capture them in photographs. The signs were at the entry to the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec alerting tourists as to what was forbidden within the church grounds: bikinis, copious cones of gelato, cigarette smoking, pointers or cocker spaniels and mobile phones.

The graphics of the signs caught our attention – one in contemporary black and white and another in realistic pastel sketches. So when it came time for Catherine’s visit just a few days ago, I wanted to offer her a memory of our wonderful time there, so I created this thrifty duo out of next to nothing.

I touched up the images a bit on my Mac, printed them out on photo paper and then placed them in black metal frames I found at Housing Works for 75 cents apiece. The themes of the images and the black frames tie them together as a unit, but the style of each one makes them a unique set of original art for Catherine to take back home to Paris.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Easy Entertaining: You've Been Tagged!

Throwing a party at home always inspires me to discover ways to incorporate what I have and to find new vision for objects beyond their intended uses. The holiday season is a perfect time to start training your creative eye to experiment with ways to make your celebrations memorable – and ones that your RSVPs are responded to with a resounding YES!

None of my champagne flutes match, and I like it that way. Matchy-matchy is boring, whereas a whimsical assortment invites intrigue. Because of the clear, luminescent qualities of my glasses, they always look good together, whether they are crystal-cut Waterford or Pier-One bargain, especially when the champagne sparkles within their shimmering confines.

I always stay away from paper or plastic cups, not just because it’s not ecological, but because it doesn’t seem worthy of a fine champagne. But even when my glasses don’t match, guests can never seem to remember which one they started drinking from, especially as the evening progresses.

So to avoid confusion, I found paper tags that I had purchased at Staples, wrote each person’s name on them, affixed a fanciful sticker from John Derian’s Target collection and tied them to each glass. And yes, this time I added a martini glass to the mix, especially for my fabulous friend Mark Ciolli who would prefer a good, stiff one over the bubbly.


In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Find: A Treasure of a Tree

One of my favorite diversions is thrift shopping with my dear friend Ruth Handel. We will hit the streets of Santa Monica at the crack of dawn, and cruise by driveways strewn with colored glass bottles, milk crates full of 1960s record albums, wooden chairs draped with skinny neckties and metal tables heaped with vintage cookbooks.

We will eagerly spend hours discovering potential treasures: a carpenters box loaded with outdated tools, a pile of grocery shopping bags from stores that no longer exist or maybe a canister loaded with old kitchen utensils. Ruth is my voice of reason: she will calm me down when I become over-excited about a book demonstrating pinecone crafts or develop an impractical affinity for a funky glass vase that might be too difficult to carry back on the plane. She never encourages extravagant purchases, and firmly believes in thrift karma: if you love it, buy it; but if it’s way out of your budget, leave it be.

But on an outing a few years back to The Santa Monica Outdoor Antique and Collectible Market, our discovery was too phenomenal to ignore. Hanging in a booth was this framed Christmas tree encrusted with 1960s costume jewelry. It had working, twinkling lights nestled among an intricate, bejeweled symmetry of brooches, earrings and pendants. It was beyond my budget, but Ruth, on the only occasion I can recall, said, “Buy it!” She fronted me the bills and my glittery evergreen was packaged up and sent to New York where she leans in all her shimmering glamour against my living room wall all year long shimmering glamour.

This year, I gave my jewel-box-of-a-tree a place of prominence in my dining room where she spreads her exotic splendor over the coming festivities. At night I plug her in and she lights up, and I’m reminded of the day that Ruth and I made this true holiday find.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Divine Inspiration: In Bed With The Empress

A home that’s decorated with love and attention is sure to endure the ages, even when the owners have long packed their bags and fourtunes shifted with the tides of time. I credit decorator Mark Ciolli, principal of the design firm Carl & Co. (, for introducing me to such a home – one where original details have been exquisitely restored, and the glamour and the glory of Napoléon Bonaparte and his beloved Joséphine continues to reign.

My friend Catherine and I recently took a train and a bus to arrive at the royal residence of Malmaison, located on the outskirts of Paris. At first, the name doesn’t sound so appealing, with the word mal taking prominent position in its name. But despite the label, Malmaison is a lasting testament to the adoration a couple shared for each other, even after Joséphine was forced to divorce the emperor in 1809 when she was unable to produce an heir.

While married, Napoléon and Joséphine acquired Malmaison in the late 1800s, and the husband left it to his wife the responsibilities of renovating and redecorating. As any royal would, she enlisted the top architects of the day, Percier and Fontaine, to provide luxurious details and sumptuous décor – all the efforts of which blew her budget. Upon his return, Napoléon clearly forgave his wife for her extravagant decorating venture that turned Malmaison into what is still considered today a pilgrimage for the most serious decorators.

The richest of Malmaison’s décor is found in The Empress’s tented bedroom. While traveling in Milan during the summer of 1812, Josephine decided to have her old bedroom freshened up a bit by architect Louis-Martin Berthault. Imagine the delight she must have experienced upon discovering her new bed created by acclaimed furniture maker Jacob-Desmalter – one watched over by golden imperial eagles and flanked on either side by romantic swans and abundant cornucopias.

A more modest space, yet fresh and upbeat by today’s standards, is The Emperor’s Bedroom. The regal bed originally came from the Tuileries palace and was used by Joséphine’s son from a previous marriage, Eugène de Beauharnais. Once again crafted by Jacob-Desmalter, the busts of a lovely ladies realized in bronze and decorated in gold, must have kept the emperor in feminine company each night.

The yellow silk fabric with a black trim was just as at home in a royal residence in the 1800s as it would be today in a Palm Beach sun room. It exudes a bright outlook with its light creamy hue and a contemporary twist of bold, optical black trims, which are echoed in the facing draperies.

From the tented ceiling in the Counsel Room to the velvet covered, gold leafed chairs flanked by painted swans whose image of power is reflected in a coordinating, round Aubusson, the riches continue to flow at this glorious home, and the story of a couple truly in love still warms the halls of Malmaison.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reuse and Repurpose: What the Looking Glass Says

Mirrors are powerful, yet thankless objects. They are not judgmental, but nothing comes of their reflections when left to their own volition. They are demanding, though, requiring consistent nurturing to emit any emotions at all. When their qualities are properly tended to, their shiny properties are capable of capturing and projecting the soul of their surroundings or illusions of the people who chance to peer into them.

In his 1961 book, The Château, William Maxwell recounts the tour of a young American couple who visits France just after World War II. As I was reading this fantastic story that roams the romantic French countryside, the lines below, uttered by an aged deaf fellow lodger at the château who was impervious to an on-going conversation, jogged my thoughts:

“….cats are indifferent to their own reflection in a mirror. ‘Dogs often fail to recognize themselves,’ she said, as they all stared at her in surprise. ‘Children are pleased. The wicked see what other people see…. and the mirror sees nothing at all.’”

I was reminded of an inspiring mirror in my Croatian friend Marino Krstacic-Furic’s hallways. Always filled with enthusiasm and creative energy, Marino gets an idea in his head and attacks with gusto, sometimes resulting in a bull-in-a-china-shop situation like the one that resulted in the broken mirror just a few days before our arrival to his charming home in Rjieka.

For some people, a cracked mirror would signal doom and gloom. But for Marino, it offered a canvas of opportunity to display hope and joy. He drew attention away from the broken corner of the mirror by covering it with a duo of framed prints: one of peppy, colorful exclamation points and another of a dark forest. And when you study the reflection further, you take away a bit of Marino’s hopeful attitude. At the top of the picture of Marino's looking glass, you'll notice a tried and true symbol of luck leaning against the floor molding -- a rusty old horse shoe!

Sometimes we ignore what the mirror is capable of telling us and become distracted by what we view as ugly or hideous. Beyond that cracked image is there a patina of beauty? A twinkle of hope? Look closely. It might be right in front of you.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Divine Inspiration: Royal Reflections

When we gaze into the looking glass, it’s not so much the reflective surface that inspires us, but the image that it casts.

The most regal mirror of exquisitely beveled lead glass, even when framed in exotic wood and finished with in rarest of gold leaf, has disaster potential when the reflection it projects is unappealing.

In my book The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details, I discuss ways to place mirrored surfaces so that they effectively cast an illusion of depth, add a sparkle of light-filled elegance or even repeat an attractive motif or pattern throughout a decorated space.

So when American artist Jeff Koons displayed his reflective objects of pop culture banality in the Palace of Versailles, we witness the living space of Louis XIV come to life in the shimmering surfaces of a pink overblown balloon dog in the Salon of Hercules, a giant red heart reigning over a royal staircase or a stainless steel moon rising within the confines of the glorious Hall of Mirrors.

At first glance, the pieces are humorous with their pop culture references and the odd juxtaposition within surroundings that was home to the French court. But then you focus on the ears of Bunny, a stainless steel sculpture in the Salon of Abundance, and notice the symmetrical reflections of windows, doors and paintings in it surface. Magically, this silly silver bunny has opened your eyes to a room from a whole new angle, one that architect Louis Le Brun may never have imagined.

As you enter the celebrated Hall of Mirrors with its 357 linked mirrors that represents the glory of France during the reign of The Sun King, a gigantic stainless steel moon rises over the far end, adding to the magnificence of the royal setting. You experience the hustle and bustle of a room that has been doubled in size decoratively as passersby are reflected in its metallic surface and camera flashes emulate a glittering candlelit flicker.

Look closely at the photo I took below and you can pretty much see the entire hall with its number of crystal chandeliers increased by two-fold and its light amplified by this looming metal lunar structure.

Koons succeeds in presenting Versailles with a brand new vision, bringing new life into a structure that has been a destination of taste, power, passion and invention for decades. It’s so easy to imagine that his creations were specifically designed for their temporary surroundings to accentuate the luxury of royal living.

Louis XIV would be proud.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Gift of Thrift: A Bevy of Beauty

I believe in thrift-store karma. Sometimes you just know you’ve gotta’ have a specific object – a beaded bag, a nostalgic paper fan or a vintage greeting card, and you aren’t even sure why. So you proceed to take your goodies home, and then, mysteriously, the gods who reign over thrifty discoveries eventually make their intentions clear.

Back in October, I was creating a hooch bag for my friend Allison and went to Housing Works in Greenwich Village to look for the right kind of clutch in which to pack full of flight-sized booze and funny money. I found the perfect model for Alison, but at the same time I ran across a satin, beaded clutch from the 1960s in perfect condition that I ended up buying at the same time, even though I was unsure of its potential owner.

As I was making Allison’s hooch extravaganza, I remembered a treasure trove of vintage shopping bags I had saved from the recycling pile, and there amongst relics of shopping sprees spanning more than 30 years was a signature, violet covered Bonwit Teller tote hearkening back to the iconic New York retailer that finally shut its doors in 1990. The bag reminded my of the stories my best pal Bevy Smith told me about her parents purchasing school clothes for her and her siblings and the warm memories she holds for a department store that only lives in memory. That’s when the beaded bag’s ultimate purpose was revealed: it was to become an essential element of a gift I would offer Bevy on her birthday, a date only a few days away.

From there, everything started to fall magically in place. I took the beaded bag and filled it with miniature bottles of rum and vodka and nestled them among bills of faux dough. Bevy's own hooch bag suddenly materialized! Enough money in the world couldn’t buy Bevy the jewels she deserves, so I settled instead on the gloriously photographed book, Alchemy: A Passion for Jewels by Temple St. Clair, the inimitable jewelry designer, and wrapped it up in lavender tissue. The crowning moment came when I propped a fan from the 1960s honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. and Bobby Kennedy inside a bed of silk violets that I bought in Manhattan’s floral district, all peering out of the top of the shopping bag. At the same place I acquired the fan, Vintiques on Kansas City, Missouri’s River Market, I turned up a sweet vintage birthday card of two fancy ladies see-sawing against a background of girly pink.

For a gift label, I found a photo of the Bonwit Teller charge plate and super-imposed Bevy’s name on its surface, along with a credit card number comprised of numbers gleaned from the recipients date of birth. Bevy, hope you enjoy my gift to you as much as I delighted in creating it. And, remember. Your credit limit with me is unlimited!

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Reuse and Repurpose: The Mosaic Man

When I moved into an apartment in the heart of the East Village in the late 1980s, it was an artsy, rough-and-tumble neighborhood -- one that co-workers couldn’t believe I had decided to call home. “Don’t live any where east of Second Avenue,” one said, adding that it would also be prudent to stay out of Alphabet City, where then avenues take on A, B, C and D names. I had already chosen to live on Fourth Street between First and Second Avenues, so being a fresh-faced Midwesterner, those warnings only prompted my curious exploration.

In those days, Upper East and West Siders called it slumming when they risked going down to the East Village. Many of them -- investment bankers, advertising professionals and retail executives -- decided they liked it so much that they would just move in. They certainly were getting a bargain price for housing compared to their previous neighborhoods. Soon the phrase, “Die Yuppie Scum,” started appearing painted on sidewalks and smeared on building facades.

There was a mini-demonstration in front of a Gap store when it opened on the corner of Saint Marks Place and Second Avenue. You would avoid being noticed just looking in the window for fear you would be confused with one of the hated, capitalist traitors new to the neighborhood. In those days, I worked in the Wall Street area, where a woven shirt and tie in the office was required. So before leaving my apartment every morning, I would tuck my tie into my black and red French messenger bag so I wouldn’t be mistaken with the offensive invaders.

The summer of 1988 was the time of the Thompkins Square Park riots, where police on horseback and in riot gear tried to force skinheads, punks and homeless people out of the park, which was the centerpiece of gentrification in the neighborhood. I remember phoning my poor dad on that early August afternoon, with police helicopters hovering over my building, keeping watch for any breakouts of violence in the streets. That September, I discovered Wigstock, the fabulous drag extravaganza made famous by the iconic The Lady Bunny, and a stimulating music and arts scene that I had never experienced back in Kansas City.

It was also the summer I noticed beautiful mosaics popping up on light poles around the neighborhood. Made of broken pieces of glass, china and pottery, these fanciful mosaics brought a cheery softness to the street, and a sense of surprise when discovered practically out of nowhere.

For some 20 years, Jim Power, a homeless Vietnam Vet who lives in a tent in the street, has personally decorated and maintained the East Village Mosaic Trail. But its time may have come to an end. According to Power on his blog,, he can no longer afford it. “Too much for one guy and a dog Jessie Jane to handle,” he says in a blog he posted at the end of October, noting that he spent $2,000 a year maintaining his art, only to make $200 in return. “What a joke,” he adds, but “just remember, I was willing.”

My hope is that someone will step forward to save Power's art. Every time I see one of his other-worldly creations, I feel comforted knowing that he preserved the beauty of what might have been a delicate tea set that accidentally got knocked off the table or a funny face salvaged from the demise of a vase that tumbled off a mantle. One man’s destruction becomes another’s selfless form of self-expression – one that nurtures new life and that for yet another moment, is viewed as whole.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Living Memories: Sound Check

For the last time this morning, I pulled the lever on one of New York’s old-fashioned voting machines. When Election Day rolls around next year, New York State will have replaced the bulky, metal hulks, whose origins date back to the 1890s but went out of production in 1982, with optical scanning devices.

Where I grow up in Independence, Mo., the state shifted in the 1970s to a punch ballot system – the same one that left the miserable hanging chads in Florida. But I still remember as a kid entering one of those time-honored booths with Dad, parting the mysterious dark curtain and watching him flip levers in columns that ran the width of the machine.

The grand finale came when he registered his vote with an authoritative chug-a-chug that echoed as he heaved the red metal bar to the left. It’s a sound that makes you feel like your vote really means something, like it might be etched in stone or stamped solidly into history.

I imagine that the metal-on-metal assurance that my voice was heard will be replaced by a click and a whoosh. Let’s just hope our votes will always be counted.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Gift of Thrift: Hoochie Coochie!

Nothing speaks luxe better than a signature orange Hermès shopping tote straight from 24 rue du Faubourg St. Honoré in Paris …you know the one elegantly stamped with the iconic jaunty horse and carriage that is usually reserved for waitlisted Kelly bags or chic equestrian themed silk scarves. To my delight, I spotted one of these eye-catching shopping bags a couple of months ago, tossed mercilessly into the recycling bin of my building. Who could have done such a wicked thing to such an elite bag? (Well, I know who, but the former owner is far from evil and is a neighbor!) I snapped up my deep citrus-hued discovery and whisked it across the hall to my apartment where it would wait for a respected incarnation. I might even carry it myself, since anything looks instantly more intriguing packed up in an Hermès shopping bag!

It sat carefully folded in my kitchen with other vintage shopping bags – event Bloomingdale’s bags from the 1980s and one from the now shuttered Fifth Avenue luxury emporium Bonwit Teller – until the other day when I met up with Allison Hemming, an old and trusted friend who is the founder of the creative talent agency, The Hired Guns ( Allison was flipping through the dummy pages of my book, The Find, and graciously sharing ideas for promoting it when I led her to The Object of My Desire to show her a recent entry about a jazzy party in Brooklyn with a prohibition undertone that inspired me to make a glamorous “hooch” bag for my friend Heather. “I want a ‘hooch’ bag!” Allison exclaimed.

An image of the ultimate “hooch” bag appeared in my mind, and it was awaiting me at home in my kitchen. For its contents, I was sure that a quick thrifting spin would fit the bill. My first stop was at Housing Works in the West Village where I found a faux croc mini bag in vinyl that made no claims at being Hermès verité. I loaded it with fake “mad” money, topped it off with travel-sized bottles of booze and made a gift card out of an old postcard I bought at a flea market at the Spancirfest festival in Varazdin, Croatia, this last summer. I attached the repurposed postcard to the golden buckled closure with black raffia. I nestled the whole creation in the Hermès bag among layers of shimmery tissue paper and more faux dough. After having sealed the bag securely shut with cellophane tape (You never know what could be in an Hermès loaded with cash, albeit fake, so I didn’t want to tempt any messenger!), I attached an address label made from a postcard I bought at the Marie Antoinette exhibit in Paris last May.

Allison, à ta santé! Et à bientôt!

Tomorrow’s my birthday, so if anyone wants to send me a big wad of cash stashed into a fancy shopping bag, leave me a note and I’ll send you delivery instructions.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

Divine Inspiration: Welcome Home

You learn so much about people when you enter the spaces they’ve decorated with care, putting their heart and soul into every detail they’ve mined from within. Creating a home that expresses character and charm is a personal journey --– one that taps into the sensibility of the inhabitant and reveals a personal expression of the one who dreamed it.

Since entering into a one’s private world is considered such a sacred admission, I was amazed that when writing my book, The Find, out in May 2009, with the openness with which people who live in those inspiring spaces, accepted me into them with grace, allowing me to explore the nooks and crannies of their intimate expressions, and, ultimately, to have them photographed for my book.

One of my favorite stories on my journey to The Find centers around the infinitely talented David Jimenez, the vice president of visual merchandising and store design for Hallmark, the world renowned maker of greeting cards based in Kansas City. He also happens to be one the most creative home decorating experts I’ve met over the past year.

During the summer of 2007, I was home visiting my family in Independence, Mo., and I just happened to pick up the current issue of House Beautiful, marveling over the recent changes the magazine was making, when a spread stuck me. It was the interior of a stately 1906 Georgian Revival mansion, decorated with taste and creativity, and it happened to be only a few miles away in the historic section of Hyde Park in Kansas City.

I immediately flipped straight back to the resource pages, and there was an email address listed for David, and I dashed off a quick note telling him I was in Kansas City and would love to see his home in consideration for my book. A few hours later, my mobile phone rang with a San Francisco number popping up on the screen. I thought it was a friend who lived out there, but in fact it was David, who was just returning home from a West Coast trip, and he would love to show me his place.

Now David had no idea who I was, nor should he. Here I was a complete stranger calling him asking him if I could come to his house! From the moment I passed through the stately columns of the house’s entry and was greeted by David’s welcoming smile, I knew his home was a special place that absolutely had to be included in The Find. David stressed to me that he is not a decorator, but his work is such a spectacular example of how to mix thrift, vintage and new furniture to achieve a space like none other.

I’m sharing a couple of snaps I took on my first visit to David’s home. The photo on the left is of David's living room that takes inspiration from the idea of a moody and sexy Parisian salon. It opens up onto a sun-filled Portico where David took thrift-store wingback chairs, covered them in vinyl, and leaves them outdoors 365 days of the year. Below is a snippet of David's masculine bedroom, where he mixes fine antiques with thrift finds for ultimate comfort and visual appeal.

There are similar pictures of David's Kansas City jewel-of-a-home in my book, which are expertly shot by Kansas City lens man Bob Greenspan, but those are under lock and key until May 2009. Until then, visit David’s website at to see David’s fantastic work for yourself.

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.