Friday, June 27, 2008

The Gift of Thrift: Dial a Dance

I am always up for a thrift-store challenge that requires a quick turnaround on a minimum amount cash. So when Doris Cooper, my editorial director at Clarkson Potter, asked me if I could provide a raffle prize for her sales and marketing meeting that would embody the essence of my book, scheduled to hit bookstores May 2009 and tentatively titled, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details, I immediately abandoned my desk and headed straight into the subway that would take me to Housing Works ( on 17th Street.

As I walked through the store’s front door, a velvet camelback sofa caught my eye – way beyond my budget, not to mention an odd raffle prize for an intimate corporate meeting. Nearby rested a rustic wooden wine riddler I considered, but decided it, too, was a somewhat strange offering as well as a little rich for my wallet. I then made my way back to the corner of the store where books and records lined the shelves, right around the corner from jumbles of colorful housewares. I fiddled with a pink and white beaded candleholder, mulled over a quintet of Mid-Century atomic bowls and even eyed a pair of Epcot Center mugs from the 1980s. Nope. Not right. On this rare occasion, I stunned even myself by leaving the store empty handed.

I decided to take a leisurely stroll through Chelsea and then on to Greenwich Village to see what another Housing Works shop on 10th Street and West Fourth might hold. And sure enough, the shop was hopping with activity, which is always an encouraging indication of awaiting treasures. A silver-based soap stand got my attention, but as soon as I reached for it, another shopper practically snatched it out of my hand. The same thing happened when I spied a pastel plaid floral pin in a display cabinet. Before I could even inquire about it, another thrift seeker grabbed it right from under my nose.
A little miffed, I walked away from the counter and started circling the shop for renewed inspiration when out of my periphery appeared the find of the day: a blue and yellow cardboard wheel, probably from the 1960s, called “The Ballet for the Beginner,” decorated with delicate sketches of tutu-clad girls in ballet positions ($5!). Dial a position, such as a grand pliĆ©, and a pronunciation shows up in one window and a definition of the term in another. I was on to something.

Wheel in hand, I returned to the housewares area and there was the second Find: a gorgeous, pink pressed glass candy dish ($6!) exactly the same diameter as the wheel. What if the wheel became a lid for the dish? All I needed was a topper for my creation, and across the way, there it was: a curvy pink wire sculpture of the Eiffel Tower ($4!). My grand total was $15 plus tax, with just enough money left over to fill the dish with Swedish Fish candies, jellybeans and gumballs. The towered ballet candy dish has layers of discoveries. First, remove the wire tower to reveal the ballet-themed wheel. Then slide the wheel aside to find a bright surprise of classic sweets.

While my towered ballet candy dish is probably more appropriate for a little girl’s dance recital than a corporate get-together, it incorporates elements of everything I love-- shimmering pink glass, heart-warming vintage stationery, a splash of anything French, and of course, discovering that thrift find.

A la prochaine.

The Find: The Yarn Continues

I can always count on my dear friend Ruth Handel to make an idea better or to have just the spot-on suggestion. So after reading my blog about the crocheted coral reef, she jetted over an image of the rich and inviting afghan my sister, Cheryl, power crocheted for her and her husband Lloyd's wedding gift a few years back. Even though Ruth and Cheryl have never met, I'm sure they would be fast friends. And each time I visit Ruth's home in Mar Vista, CA, there's always a sweet reminder of my sisters handiwork lounging on the back of the living room sofa.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Divine Inspiraton: A Little Yarn

Crocheting was never a hobby in which I excelled. For me, creating a lengthy chain of yarn was easy enough, but I could never figure out how attach the links to actually form something other than a 20-foot long colored piece of loopy string, let alone create an entire crocheted coral reef like the folks at Institute for Figuring ( did. I caught The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral reef in New York this spring, and now the bright, wooly sea anomenes and furry sea cucumbers are on display at London's Hayward Gallery until August 18.

Designed and curated by IFF co-directors Christine and Margaret Wertheim, the creation is a testament to the disappearance of the Great Barrier Reef, which is being devastated by global warming and pollution. Even though the message is important and disturbing, the colors and whimsy inbedded in these crocheted sea creatures instantly brought back cheerful memories.

I couldn't help but think of my Grandma Williams who once bought batches of plastic doll faces and crocheted fancifuil doilies around them, finally affixing a big button on which to hang a matching potholder. Then there was the popular craft fair purchase of the 1970s: a crocheted, crinolined lady who discretely hid a roll of toilet paper under her skirt. There were the white doilies that my mom, her sisters and my Grandma Churchill crocheted and starched all white and crisp. For Christmastime, Mom still crochets lofty, delicate angels that adorn her holiday tree.

The multi-blue toned flame stitch afghan my mom made still rests the back of the sofa just as it did when I was a kid. When my sister and I were sick and stayed home from school, we would wrap ourselves in this security blanket of sorts to watch reruns of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island.

When babies are born into my family, they inevitibaly receive a version of a cuddly, pastel green or yellow afghan. I admit that I don't have the crocheting knack, but my sister, Cheryl, makes up for me ten-fold. A few years ago when my dear friend Ruth Handel married , I requested that my sister make her a crocheted afghan. Cheryl power crocheted until wee hours of many a morning until she finished what was called "Scraps of Love," a bright, masterpiece of handwork that has been perched on Ruth's sofa since the day it went home with her.

Crocheting is an act of love in which the maker is able to take a warm wooly strand, wrap it around a cold metal or plastic hook and create a cherished form. If only creating a real coral reef were that easy.

Monday, June 2, 2008

California Dreaming

Sometimes, just being in a different environment other than the one to which you are accustomed can open your eyes to amazing objects and inspiration that you might never have experienced. That's exactly what happened when the fabulous Senor Amor and Jonona Lambert of Jonamor Decor and took me to to the LA Modernism show last month in Santa Monica. The weather was picture-perfect, a cool breeze was blowing off the ocean, and the sun just warm enough to make you want to go inside the Civic Center to see what kinds of Mid-Century wonders awaited. So when this oddity appeared from across the hall in the exhibition center, I was caught off guard.I couldn't for the life of me figure out just what this object was holding court in the middle of Off the Wall Antiques' booth( I didn't even notice it was shaped like a wine glass, but I did notice the odd little gent on the front aboard a horse on a leathery, tan finish.

"May I open it up?" I asked the proprietor before delicately moving the hinged door with its skeleton key. That's when the secret was revealed.

Inside this ocre colored drinking vessel was a lit-up, twinkling mirrored bar with holders for wine glasses and a center space upon which to display a fine bottle of wine (or champagne, or vodka!) On the rim of this gigantic wine glass sat a removeable tray that could be used for serving -- handy for its previous owner, Phyllis McQuire of the McGuire Sisters . Created by Italian furniture maker Aldo Tura in 1954, this bar is covered in goat skin and sits about three-and-a-half foot high.

Now I'm not a big drinker, but I imagine opening this fanciful vessel's door to reveal a gorgeous bottle of Brunello di Montalcino perched in a place of honor. As I stared inside, my memory was jarred back to the days when I traveled Italy as a fashion editor, savoring the culture at every turn. I was instantly taken back to the hotel in Florence that had a view of the Ponte Vecchio from its balcony and reminded of the sounds of motorbikes as they whisked over the cobblestone streets. On a certain humid night in late June, we would gather atop this hotel to celebrate the festival of San Giovanni, complete with endless glasses of Prosecco, and topped off with a smokey fireworks display. We swatted mosquitos, kicked at pigeons and sweated in the steamy heat, but these are the things that give life to memories and add details to the past.

As I closed the door to this bar creation, I quickly returned to reality. Back to the convention center. Back to Santa Moncia. Back to the rental car. But for a fleeting moment, I could almost see Italy.