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.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reuse and Repurpose: Hanging Around

Who says you can’t hang a chandelier in the bathroom?

Definitely not Marino Krstacic-Furic, my Croatian friend in whose apartment I stayed on a recent trip to Croatia. Marino saved this shimmering wonder from an apartment that was being re-decorated after being left in a time warp for nearly 50 years.

To help his thrift find ease its way into its future home -- a black-and-white themed bathroom, with the mysterious dark hue on the walls and hand-drawn designs on the windows -- he applied a coat of black spray paint over the old light fixture that was once a tacky gold tone bejeweled with clear glass drops. Marino’s re-do is a real attention-getter, keeping watch from a birds-eye view above your head.

You see its mysterious, regal reflection as you brush our teeth in front of the bathroom mirror or marvel at it as you towel off after a quick shower. What was once most certainly destined for the local garbage heap now resides in a place of honor, thanks to Marino’s expansive imagination and a can of black spray paint.

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

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Find: Out of the Blue

While vacationing on the Istrian coast of Croatia this summer, I found my mom’s birthday gift sitting in a jewelry maker’s shop in the town of Rovinj. The artist, Radovan Sredic (, was twisting and turning away on a silver ring as I admired his work on display. Eventually, I settled on this blue coral and Sterling Silver creation very similar to the one that lured me in from the street.

Sredic told me that blue coral, such as this specimen found near the island of Krk, was becoming an exceptionally rare find, as over-harvesting and pollution continues to wreak havoc on the quickly disappearing coral reef. He assured me that his pieces were carefully located and removed in a way that didn’t keep the lovely, living animal from regenerating healthy stems in the future.

I was fascinated by the beads’ blue hue, reminiscent of Mom’s blue eyes. And I loved that silver accents that provided an Eastern touch to these textured spheres. I took these photos on the terrace of my friend Marino’s apartment in Rijeka, and didn’t realize until later that I had my camera in black-and-white mode. I still like the effect of the whimsical beads rolling off of the side of an architectural element Marino salvaged and placed on his sun-drenched terrace.

So now every time Mom wears her coral beads, she’ll have a tiny bit of the Croatian coast gracing her neck – underwater finds that are as rare and exceptional as a Mom like she.

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, October 10, 2008

The Gift of Thrift: Hep Kats!

Anytime I’m invited to one of Heather Kerr’s parties I am primed for a themed event that’s handcrafted with wit and whimsy. So when a mysterious black envelope arrived in the post with a Brooklyn return address, I knew it must be an alert to one of Heather’s infamous evenings.

Last year, I put Heather and her crafty partner in hot glue adventures, thrift extravaganzas and cut-and-sew marathons, Michael Quinn, up to the challenge of creating a vintage tailgate party in Michael’s tiny Carroll Gardens studio to be featured in my book, The Find, which will be out next May. And to say the least, they blew my mind.

Now I’ve been to some humdingers of parties, but Heather and Michael are the bees’ knees of dazzling guests with individualized attention to detail, from spiffy, handmade invites to the swell décor that fills a room. Heather’s effort tonight proves to be no less. And when I’m invited to a party that I know will be memorable, I love making a hostess gift that is personalized, fun, and of course, on the cheap!

As you can see, the invitation puts you in an immediate Jazzy mood with its requests that guests dress the part in skinny pants and sexy, plunging necklines. I was inspired to find a gift that was a touch naughty and a bit criminal, but a whole-lot pretty.

No farther did I have to travel but a few blocks away to Housing Works in the West Village ( to locate my special find. This purse, maybe from the 1960s or early 1970s, immediately caught my eye with its gold brocade threads and its square shape. When I opened it up, I discovered a small mirror in its lid, perfect for applying a deep shade of red lipstick in a dark and sultry speakeasy. But then I looked at the price tag -- $40. Hmmm a bit rich for my blood these days. But luck was on my side yesterday when I saw a sign announcing that all apparel and bags were marked down 50 percent! SOLD!

What to put in this ritzy little treasure? Candy? Cupcakes? Cookies? “No way,” said my LA pal Jonona soon-to-be-Amor from Jonamor Décor. (Oh yes, she and Senor are gettin’ hitched next September!) “Fill it with booze!” Great idea! I went to a shady liquor store and bought airplane-sized bottles of gin, tequila and vodka. After placing them in my hotsy-totsy tote, I stuffed it full of wads of fake cash (probably worth more than the real thing these days!), dropped in some shiny, gold plastic coins and topped it off with a sprinkling of colored glitter shaped like music notes.

So we’re off to swanky Brooklyn tonight with this portable hooch bar packed into a spiffy little bag. Oh, and Heather, if you’re reading this, humor me and act surprised!

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, October 8, 2008

Living Memories: Introducing The VBS Collection

The number of branded home collections that arrive at retail each year always amazes me. This big-name designer for that furniture maker or this homey concept translated into sheets, towels and dishes. That’s why I have threatened to launch my own "designer" line: The VBS Collection.

Some might ask what VBS stands for. But if you grew up in the South or in the Midwest like I did, you won’t hesitate to identify this summer-season acronym: Vacation Bible School.

During the 1970s, Vacation Bible School took place each June and lasted a half-day for an entire week. While we got our daily dose of religious teaching, my favorite VBS memories are all those ingenious crafts we made.

Now this isn’t a VBS project, but it could have been. I think I made this in fourth grade when I was a Cub Scout. You can see how we battered the wood by pounding nails and screws around the borders. To create the effect of a vintage photo find, we tore the edges of a magazine page and added a smear of brown shoe polish to emulate a good scorching. Then we glued the picture to the square of wood and followed it up with several coats of shellac.

At Vacation Bible School, we took masking tape, ripped it into shards, applied it to jelly jars and then covered them with a coating of brown shoe polish to create the effect of leather. (Witness yet another crafty use for shoe polish!) We carved church shapes out of pure Ivory Soap. We strung colored yarn around Popsicle sticks to create what we called God’s Eyes. We poured layers of tinted sand into baby food jars to form a colored dessert. And we brought in clear vinegar jugs, filled the bottoms with soil, dropped in plants and miniature figurines and sealed the containers shut for personal terrariums.

Oh the things you can do with toothpicks (paint them and affix them to a checkbook box with Elmer’s Glue!); tiny seashells (poke a hole in them with a needle and string them for a wind chime!); or clear, plastic food container lids (color them with markers and shrink them in the oven for tiny, hanging ornaments!).

Picture frames crafted out of button-encrusted tongue depressors? Lampshades decorated with lengths of yarn in hues graduating from orange to brown? Ceramic planters decorated with colorful bottle caps? Bedding sets printed in motifs of decoupaged flora and fauna? Sounds like a VBS Collection to me!

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, October 5, 2008

Living Memories: A Stitch in Time

When I return to my hometown of Independence, Mo., I’m always reminded of my crafty childhood, where Mom taught us how to pour and paint candles; make glittery Christmas decorations out of Styrofoam, sequins and straight pins; and to craft our own thrifty version of Shrinky Dinks out of plastic lids from the grocery store meat department.

One of Mom’s own creations that I was relieved to find still in pristine condition is this basket of stitched flowers tucked away in the corner of her sewing room. She crafted this floral fantasy for my Grandma Churchill probably during the late 1970s or early ‘80s. Mom says she probably bought it at Ben Franklin, which was a local dime store that sold everything from sewing notions to school supplies.

I think Mom’s masterpiece was probably offered as a birthday gift that Grandma immediately tacked onto the wood paneled wall behind her bed. Notice the 3-D effect of the petals and the basket weave of the vase as they leap out from the bright yellow burlap background. Sewn with love decades ago, the texture of these petalled perennials makes you want to reach out and touch them, and the eye-opening colors exude season-less cheer.

My book The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details will be published by Clarkson Potter in May 2009.