Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Find: Whispered Words

Amy over at Whisper Wood Cottage has made my day in two ways:

First of all, I am truly humbled that she so prominently featured me yesterday on her beautiful blog. But secondly, she provides me with an excellent opportunity to post her generous interview again today.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous: An Interview with The Elegant Thrifter


ny thrifters out there? Just kidding! I know you are there because I read your posts at linky parties all week long!! Well, dear thrifters, I introduce you to Stan Williams, known as "The Elegant Thrifter" and author of "The Find." Stan recently emailed me about my JunkMarketContributor Challenge in which I used a vinyl record as a silverware holder in a place setting. He asked to interview me and then posted the interview responses in a wonderful post called, "The Gift of Thrift: Repurposed Pop!"

Well, turnaround is fair play, so I asked Stan a few questions myself! I was curious about Stan, his book, and his perspective on thrifting. Without further ado, heeeeeeere's Stan!...

1. What does it mean to be an "elegant thrifter?"
I came up with that brand just before my book The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details came out. I had a blog called "The Object of My Desire," but it just didn't really fit the message I was trying to convey, which is "Always Frugal, Always Fabulous." Even though the economy is difficult and we're saving money and cutting back doesn't mean we can't have a fabulous moment in the way we entertain or the way we decorate our homes. Vintage and thrift objects go a long way in conveying that message. Even mixed into a new decor, they add instant heritage and charm for pennies on the dollar. I always like to say that we might not be sipping $100 bottles of champagne these days, but a $5 bottle of prosecco is quite delicious!

I also wanted to create an inviting concept. You know how people are so afraid of making a mistake in decorating their home that they never even try? A lot of people have misconceptions about shopping in a thrift store or flea market, so I wanted thrifting to sound fun, rewarding, and chic. And I believe it's all three, dont you?

2. How did you develop your thrifting skills?
My family has always been quite frugal. My parents didn't make a lot of money as educators, so we had to be careful with out budgets. And even though we loved shopping the garage sales in Independence, Mo., to save money, it was more of an adventure, because you never knew what you would find. I would say that my skills happened naturally. I've always loved cooking, crafting, decorating, and fashion, so it just came naturally. I always point out that I am not a decorator, but a home maker. I know that sounds funny for a guy, but I am passionate about everything that relates to the home. If I don't know how to do something, I will figure it out and go for it with gusto. I'm about to embark on a "Transforming My Ugly Bathroom" project. Never done it before, but I'll document it, mistakes and all!

Also, I'm a journalist, so I am a trained observer and curious question asker! For many years, I worked as a fashion journalist, most recently a nine-year stint as editorial fashion director of Maxim magazine. I know what you might be thinking, but I was in charge of all the men's fashion in the magazine, which was much more sophisticated than the rest of the publication. I left that job in May 2007 to create The Find. So, I've always been around style and fashion.

3. What is your favorite part about thrifting?
The stories. Even if I don't buy a thing, it's the stories that people tell and the memories their items evoke.

4. Is thrifting different in New York than in other parts of the country?
Oh yes. We don't have garage sales here, which makes me jealous of all the people who write all these glorious pieces they find at garage sales. We have fantastic benefit thrift shops that are beautifully merchandised. This kind of thrift shop exists in larger cities, but not so much in smaller ones. The prices in these shops are a bit higher, but we also have Goodwill shops all over, and you'd be surprised at all the goodies for sale there.

Our flea market scene has died down, and I have to admit, since the death of the big flea markets on Sixth Avenue that were replaced by hideous high rises, I haven't been in years, even though they've moved. We have to rely on public transportation here, so it's not so easy to hop out to Brimfield or jaunt over to Jersey for garage sales.

But here's the best news. You can find FABULOUS things sitting right there on the street -- free! Because we live in such small spaces, and moving is such a hassle, sometimes, at the last minute, someone just doesn't have room any more or can't get rid of something, and they'll set it right out on the street. Believe me, a great find doesn't sit outside for too long!

5. What are your favorite thrifting sources?
LA and Kansas City garage sales. Just the thought of it gives me a frisson. The assortment of merchandise is so broad, and the people so interesting, that those garage sales top my list. And because there are regional taste differences, you'll find stuff you'd never find in New York in LA, and stuff in Kansas City that would cost a fortune in LA!

In New York: Housing Works Thrift Shops (www.shophousingworks.org), where all the proceeds go to eradicating the dual dilemma of HIV/AIDS and homelessness. With nine locations, this shop gets the crème de la crème of donations. Each shop turns over merchandise at lightening speed, and the brand is a favorite of celebrities and fashion types. Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon have been known to both donate and shop there!

My newest find in New York: Cure Thrift Shop (www.curethriftshop.com). It's another benefit thrift shop where proceeds go to diabetes research. GORGEOUS!! Great donations. Merchandised incredibly. And (shhhhh, don't tell anyone), they will bargain within reason.

I like the Brooklyn Flea here in New York, but I also love the regional flea markets and "antique malls" wherever I may be. In Kansas City, the River Market Antique Mall (www.rivermarketantiquemall) is a day of delight! And then there's always Goodwill. When I see a Goodwill, I go in and do a breeze-through. If I don't see anything in 10 minutes, I leave. I don't want to feel the pressure to buy something just because it's cheap. If something leaps out at me, I'll linger, but after 10 minutes, I skeedaddle.

And then any European flea market, from Paris to Croatia......it's truly otherworldly what you'll find.

6. What are the top 5 thrifted items you own?
A vintage jewelry encrusted Christmas tree, with working lights, mounted in a gold frame found at a flea market at the Santa Monica airport. I love it so much I keep it up all year round.

A promotional still from the movie cast of "9-to-5," signed by all the cast members, found at a thrift shop in Waxhaw, N.C. I love Dolly Parton, and find her rags-to-riches story a true inspiration.

Two wrought iron garden chairs probably from the 1950s found on the street in Brooklyn. My mom made green velvet seat covers for them, and I love them so much use them indoors.

A Mid-Century wooden server I bought for $100 on the street almost 20 years ago from a crusty old woman who used to bring finds in from New Jersey and sell them on the street on Sixth Avenue.

A Betty Crocker cookbook from 1950. My dad bought it for me at an estate sale. I have tons of vintage cookbooks because I love the crazy recipes and the attempt at food styling. But this one is special because my dad bought it, packed it into a box, and mailed it to me!

7. What recommendations do you have for other thrifters?
Like I say in my book The Find, go in with an open mind but only buy what you truly love. I say that when thrifting, don't worry so much about provenance if you've spied an item that truly speaks to your heart. Certainly, if you are a dealer of serious collector, then brands matter, but I don't really care so much. I choose quality and appeal factor above anything. And then....don't be greedy. Leave a little something for the next person. I believe that thrift karma can be kind or come back to bite you in the behind. I cannot tell you the number of times I witness situations and hear stories about someone buying a single item (a lamp, an accessory, a pillow), and then its mate appears across the country or even the world. It happens all the time.

Most of all, control the compelling urge to buy. I thrift all the time without buying a thing. For me, just as it is in my book The Find, it's about the journey and the experience more than the actual acquisition.

Thanks, Stan for the great responses! I've learned a lot!! No garage sales? I can't imagine Minnesota without them! But the FREE stuff on the side of the road and the thrift shops sound fabulous!! I know where I'll be stopping when I make it to New York someday!

Thank you, Amy!

Pick up your own copy of The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Powell's.

The Elegant Thrifter

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!


  1. I am LOVING reading all these interviews with you! Each one gives me a new nugget of information on Stan. Not that I am stalking:)

    Thanks for reposting this!

  2. Great interview Stan and Amy! I'm so happy that others are seeing what a fantastic talent you are!

  3. Fabulous pic of the old metal chair, just love it!!! Janna

  4. It's interesting to hear about the thrifting scene in NYC, especially the 'styled' thrift stores. When I lived in LA I used to go to the Pasadena City College flea market every week, now that I live in Chicago estate sales are my main source for vintage. :)



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