Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reuse and Repurpose: Who Lurks There?

You've probably noticed that I have a loyal, anonymous follower who goes by the name of "Lurky." While I now know Lurky's identity, I'm going to keep you guessing until we do a real tour of his retro-iffic Manhattan apartment, to which I was recently invited to for a gleeful get-together.

As I entered the apartment, my breath was taken away by this this gorgeous piece of wall décor recycled out of a book filled with German promotional images. It warms my thrifty heart to see how Lurks (I like to call him that for short) took something destined for the recycling bin and doubly recycled it as a focal point in his living room.

The images were taken from a book called, "German Standards -- Brands of the Century: German Champions in Products and Services from Aspirin to Zeiss." (What a mouthful!) "At first I thought, 'Why would anyone want this book.' But then as I flipped through the pages, I noticed the photo of the gnomes. And then the one of the wurst. Then the lederhosen," Lurks told me. "The graphics and colors really appealed to me, and suddenly I realized I had to have this book."

Not one to deface a treasured tome, Lurks reached deep inside for the courage to attack this discovery with an Xacto knife, carefully removing pages that he would eventually join with colorful paperclips and hang on an empty, white wall. "The finished product is both colorful and whimsical, and it was a great conversation piece at the party," Lurks says. "Best of all, I filled a wall with an art installation that didn't cost me a dime!"

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Find: Set Your Budget

When shopping for vintage and thrift, all the low prices make it easy to over spend, even when the objects you're purchasing cost pennies on the dollars.

One way that I am able to keep from overspending is to collect all my change and save it specifically for going to garage sales. Then, I gather it in a plastic bag, and once it's gone, well it's gone!

I had saved up a Zip-Loc bag full of change, and it lasted a full week on my visit to Kansas City, where I spent a little less than $15. Here's a portion of it that set me back $3.75. Yes, that's a piece of J & G Meakin ironstone underneath the Missouri plate.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous

The Elegant Thrifter

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Object of My Desire: A Room to Go

Even though my birthday isn't for another four months, my sister bought me a new dining room suite from the driveway at a garage sale in Independence, Missouri. Early one morning last week, I took a spin by myself to see what sales might be taking place in my parents neighborhood. As I went down the hill and I turned the corner of a familiar, childhood street, here's the scene I witnessed:

I couldn't believe the quality of these old Hooker pieces from 1956, purchased at a local furniture store that no longer exists. There's the tall chest; the table, which seats 10 and folds up to 30 inches; and finally the hutch server with a hutch that you can see in the back. I didn't see a single scratch or ding on any of the pieces, and all drawers were in pristine condition and opened with ease.

I quickly jumped back into my dad's mini-van, and went to pick up my sister to show her my morning's finds. (I really didn't consider buying them. I just wanted to show her the fabulous discovery that was just down the hill from her.) We returned, and after visiting with twin brothers who were selling the furniture from their mother who lived to be 100, I fell in love with these pieces. My sister insisted I buy them, but when I said I really shouldn't, she offered them as a birthday present.

For a grand total of $135, I now have a dining room set, even though it is now living in my folks' back bedroom. I always recommend that when shopping vintage and thrift, only purchase what you love. For if you only buy what you absolutely fall head-over-heels for, it'll be easy to make room for it once you get it home, even if it means getting rid of something you already have.

Let's just say that I'll be doing some sorting, some selling and some giving away over the next few weeks until I have space for my new additions.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gift of Thrift: For the Hostess!

As soon as I'm invited to a get-together, I start searching for a unique serving plate on which to offer my host or hostess one of my signature pineapple upside-down cakes. I try to select one that packs personality and charm so that I can happily leave the service behind as a memento of a cake that is little more than a sweet memory.

I should know better than to worry too much about finding the right platter, because no sooner do I walk into a thrift shop or pop by a garage sale than my dream dish just seems to appear. Such was the case when a certain follower asked me to a barbecue at his new home in New York City. (I won't reveal his identity, as we haven't yet decided if he wants to go public as an avid reader of The Elegant Thrifter!) I was still in Independence, Missouri, when the invite arrived, and of course, I said yes. So my sister and I dropped by the local thrift store, and surprise, this appeared before my eyes:

Oh yes, a late 1960s Culver platter with gold trim, priced at $1.

I'll fill my vintage, pineapple upside-down cake mold like I did in the photo above.

And hopefully, the results will look something like this. Now all I have to decide is whether I'll use a mix or my favorite recipe. Now that will be my little secret.

Have a fun-filled weekend!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reuse & Purpose:Planting Ideas

If you thought this scenario was witnessed on my visit to the Kansas City, Missouri, area earlier this week -- WRONG-O!

This urban planting option was offered by none other than a Brooklyn resident who had taken a split car tire and a claw-foot bathtub and turned them into stoop-side gardens.

I've seen my share of these displays in rural Missouri and Arkansas, but never in the middle of a big city. (Thank goodness there wasn't an old toilet in this mix!) Now my question to you: While certainly eye-catching and unexpected, do you find this tacky or terrific?

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous (and feeling a little terrifically tacky, too!)

The Elegant Thrifter

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fabulous & Frugal Fun: A Toy Story

Don't you love a surprise -- one that's completely unexpected and absolutely takes your breath away?

I shouldn't have been too surprised by Saturday's awe-inspiring discovery when my photographer pal Bob Greenspan and his wife Amy introduced me to David Mansour, a Kansas City resident who is also the author of Abba to Zoom, the must-have encyclopedia of retro culture.

So on a steamy Saturday afternoon, we dropped by David's Mid-Century Kansas City home for a visit....perfectly nice and normal....nothing overly mind blowing until we walked down the hall to a closed door. "I'll let you open it," David offered, and here's what I saw:

Are you gasping? Can you catch your breath? As the fabulous Charles Phoenix would most certainly ask, "Have you passed out yet?"

Just take in this gorgeous sea of Barbies and Kens from over the years dressed in dreamy, fashion-plate finery.

I am bewitched by the display of board games that pay tribute to the most beloved TV shows from the '60s and '70s.

Oh, the tiny Dawn dolls, and the rows of Liddle Kiddles, still inside their bottles that when open, still emit a sweet, plastic-y aroma.

And finally, the overall display is mind blowing. Just look how beautifully David accessorized his collection of lunch boxes by lining them with a dangling row of Pez Candy dispensers.

I'm speechless....

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Find: Just for You

Let's hear it for Bill over at Affordable Accoutrements for being so gracious to offer a signed copy of my book, The Find: The Housing Work Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details!

While only has a single signed copy available, I want to remind you of my standing offer. If you have a copy of The Find, send me your mailing address at, and I'll dash you off a personalized bookplate that you can affix inside your very own book. Or if you have a loved one -- or even someone you don't like so much -- just tell how to inscribe it for him, her or them, and I'd be pleased to do that as well.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Object of My Desire: Show Me

The funny things about garage sales in the Midwest is that people actually seem to feel somewhat bad about taking your money for their cast-offs. Often when I find myself I fumbling in my pocket to find the extra quarter to make up the full 50-cent price tag on a plate, an old cookbook or a funny nicknack, it's common for the proprietor to not want me to go to the trouble of locating the remaining 25 cents and happily accept the amount of change I have in my hand.

While this sort of transaction has been common on this visit to the Kansas City, Missouri, area, I will admit to having splurged a bit here and there -- like the $1 I handed over for this plate celebrating Missouri's 150 years of statehood in 1971 and covered with "Show-Me State" tourist attractions. Apparently, this souvenir is number 64 of 800 limited edition plates that were once sold at LeBeck's Ceramics in Waynesville, Missouri. My favorite illustration is on the left side of this treasure. It depicts the Kansas City airport when it was located downtown and before it was moved to a remote location to the north.

I would say that this little treasure is worth at least 100 second thoughts, wouldn't you?

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sublime Sundays: Happy Father's Day

I know that I've shared this photo with you before, but since it's Father's Day, and I'm with my dad in Independence, Missouri, here's one of my favorite images of me and my sister with our father. Looks like I'm trying to resist a nap. Not these days!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Gift of Thrift: A Generous Gesture

Since I'm in the Kansas City, Missouri, area visiting my family for Father's Day, you can imagine how surprised I was to find that traffic to my blog increased almost three-fold yesterday. All of a sudden I started getting kind messages from people I'd never met, and complements on my book The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details. After a bit of investigating, it all started to make sense when I remembered that I had offered a personalized copy to the gracious Bill of Affordable Accoutrements to give away to a lucky winner as he celebrates one year in Blogville.

There's still time to enter the Affordable Accoutrements give-away, and while you're there take a peek at Bill's marvelous table creations. You'll be amazed at what you see.

Thank you for all of your warm wishes -- and thank you, Bill, for featuring me and my labor of love!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reuse & Purpose: Box Light

I know that when I have a cardboard box that isn't being used for storage or that I'm not saving for posting a package, it immediately gets flattened and dropped in the recycling bin. But if you're the designers at Nathan Egan Interiors, you might give those old cartons a second look and turn them into a visually stimulating lighting pendant, just like the one they displayed at Housing Works' Design on a Dime fundraiser last month.

Now that's a bright idea!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fabulous & Frugal Fun: A Stupendous Stoop!

As I mentioned yesterday, my creative pals Michael Quinn and Heather Kerr threw a stupendous stoop sale last weekend that lured me, armed with a Zip-Loc bag full of coins, all the way from Manhattan out to ogle the wares set up in front of Heather's apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

You might remember this entertaining duo from The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details and the vintage tailgate party they curated to appear within its pages.

The offerings at the sale were incredible and included amazing relics from events they've crafted together in the past. Here's Michael in a photo taken by Michelle Talan at last year's launch party for The Find. And the lovely señorita serving shots? Why, that would be Heather at the last Christmas party laced with a Mexican theme.

As for the stoop sale, why don't I just let the video take you there with me?

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Find: Arty Artifacts

I like to imagine that sifting through goodies at a garage sale is very much like an architectural dig. Removal of the first layer doesn't always reveal a treasure. But then you carefully pull out items until you reach to the bottom of a box and find something that is deep-down part of your history that you can't believe what your holding in your hands. (Or in a Zip-Loc bag in this instance!)

When I was creating imagery for The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details, I asked my party pro pals Michael Quinn and Heather Kerr to throw a theme party that we could document. They came up with the dazzling idea of a vintage tailgate party and ran with the theme that they wove into everything from the hand-made invitations to the collegiate tabletop displays, which included football plastic helmets that were used to spear finger foods within a copious spread of autumnal treats.

Jump ahead two years or so. Michael and Heather decided that they simply had too much stuff in their respective apartments so they decided to throw a stoop sale last weekend in Carroll Gardens. They offered odd Christmas ornaments, paper porkpies, frosted, fruit strands -- and yes -- an artifact meant for The Find: the plastic football helmets. While the food picks didn't make it in the printed copy of the book, I had to have them for 75 cents. What will I do with them? Maybe I should offer them as a giveaway. What do you think?

Come back and visit me tomorrow for a video of my shopping experience at Heather and Michael's stupendous stoop sale.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Object of My Desire: Milano Memories

Even though objects can never replace the fond memories we have of life's experiences, they can help bring to the present forgotten moments that ring with laughter and surprise. Such is the case with this little plate, "lifted" from the restaurant da Ilia in Milan.

I rediscovered this memento while sorting through some items I left on the Luxor, the old 1966 ChrisCraft we keep out on Long Island. The plate arrived with me from Milan at least four years ago, and went directly from Newark to the boat, where it has resided until this weekend. It was hidden under spare change I had collected over the years, and as I removed the quarters, nickles and dimes, I was reminded by all the fun I used to have at the summer men's fashion shows in Milan -- especially when my pal Bevy Smith was attending.

One night after our traditional night-before-the-men's-shows dinner several years ago, we asked for the bill and it arrived on this plate. I think I said something to Bevy about wanting it, but didn't think anything of it until we got in the taxi and -- surprise -- it was in her bag!

Now, neither Bevy nor I condone stealing, so I just consider this flowered piece of china with gold trim on loan from da Ilia. And when the proprietor decides he needs it back, I'll be happy to return it in person. Just send an e-ticket to my email address, and I'll get packing!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Friday, June 11, 2010

Free Fridays: To the Max-well

This week's Free Friday Find comes from my Twitter pal Brini Maxwell, a delightful design and entertaining maven who if you haven't met, go introduce yourself right now, and be certain take a peak at The Vidcast that inspires this post.

While prepping for a move to a new apartment, Brini rediscovered this heartwarming cardboard flag from Longacre Dairy designed for customers to colorfully and cleverly communicate with their milkmen.

"Hang it on the door, and pull up the flags that indicate what you'd like your milk man to leave for you -- one quart, two quarts, buttermilk, eggs, even orange juice and cottage cheese. It's in remarkable condition considering its age," Brini writes. "The colors are bright and clear, the cardboard isn't dog-eared, and all the flags are in tact. I had the good fortune...and eyesight to spot it on the street here in New York some years ago. I picked it up, and have had it ever since. Such a fun piece of the past."

Thank you, Brini Maxwell, for sharing this wholesome, Grade-A discovery!

Do you have something that you found and that cost you absolutely nothing. Did your eagle eye spot a little something in the middle of the sidewalk or on a street corner that warms your heart or makes you giggle?

Send me a picture and your story to

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reuse & Purpose: Picture This

Who says fabulous wall decor must be framed and hung from a hook?
Not I! And neither would these two creative masters, based on the wonders they assembled out of loose paper discoveries that offer one-of-a-kind focal points that delight the eyes and tickle the imagination.

At Housing Works' recent Design on a Dime fundraiser, designer Luis Caicedo gathered stately portraits and clipped them to a wire for a grand gallery in a fantasy bedroom.

During last fall's Texas Antique Weekend, Maggie from The Veranda in Canton plucked random examples of sheet music and connected them with metal book rings for a melodious wall covering in a romantic corner.

Use these techniques to cover a wall that's difficult to paint or wallpaper, or in a rental where you want to keep permanent investments to a minimum. Link together pages from old fashion magazines, pages from tossed-out yearbooks, swatches of coordinating fabric or maybe even your old record albums for a hanging collection that's certain to wow.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fabulous & Frugal Fun: Bowled Over

If there's a flea market somewhere along New York City's subway line, or better yet, within walking distance, you can almost bet I'll be there. However, here's one I missed out in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn last weekend -- The Carroll Park Flea Market -- and wow, look at the lovelies all lined up on the corner of just one table!

My good pal Robert Allen dropped in and sent me this charming photo filled with all the things that tug at my heartstrings: an old Family Circle magazine, a Porky Pig drinking glass, some vintage refrigerator dishes and two stacks of colorful Pyrex mixing bowls beckoning from afar. Robert laid down $14 for one of the green bowls to replace one missing from his sister's set.

Next week, however, rest assured that I'll be hitting the garage sales in the Kansas City area when I go home to visit my family for Father's Day. My own sister is ready to put her new GPS device to the test of snooping out new sales, and I can't wait to see what treasures we'll discover.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Find: In Driveways Again!

If you saw this in your driveway this weekend, you might have noticed a piece that featured me talking about how to shop for vintage and thrift, as well as how to decide what you donate and what you sell.

Here's a link to the piece in USA Weekend, which has an America the Beautiful theme.

Have a fantastic rest-of-the-week!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Object of My Desire: Spell it Out

The game of Scrabble will always hold a near and dear place in my childhood memories as a challenge of choice for many of my family members. My Grandma Churchill was always up for a match, and she gathered my uncles, aunts and both my parents around the table for a rollicking round of Scrabble that included words found in the dictionary, and sometimes not!

To this day, my parents still enjoy a brisk round at this board game, and this vintage pillow perched in the Carrol Gardens apartment of visual visionary Michael Quinn reminded me of those jolly games that took place around the dining room table.

What I also noticed about this pillow is that it seems pay homage to a family or a group of friends. And I, too, see some of my relatives and friends placed among the tiles! Jerry is my dad's name; Ruth is my bestie in LA; and I have two very good friends who are named Robert. And then there's Michael, of course. Without knowing him, I'd have never met this name game of a pillow.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Gift of Thrift: Bows Upon Bows

When the occasion arrises to offer a gift, rummaging through my wardrobe trunk of thrift goodies usually produces results and reminds me of all the stuff I seem to have packed away without even trying.

As I was sifting through collected items seeking a gift for a friend's birthday, I found this boxed, clip-on bow tie I bought with several others for 50 cent apiece at a synagogue rummage sale in Queens.Before I knew it, I had stumbled upon a bag full of vintage tie clips and cuff links that I had amassed for a project that never happened. I selected this ornate, metal clip from the 1960s to embellish my neckwear-themed presentation, and clipped it in the center of a brown satin ribbon.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Reuse & Purpose: Gather 'Round

With so many uses for reclaimed wood, throwing away anything that comes from a tree these days almost seems like you're tossing out valuable design materials.

At Housing Works annual Design on a Dime benefit, the non-profit arts and and culture organization BOFFO used wooden shipping crates to create a one-of-a-kind dining room, complete with tables and chairs.

Once assembled, the rustic looking wooden surfaces were then treated to a painted, zig-zag effect, adding just enough color to give the pieces a finished look.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous

The Elegant Thrifter

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fabulous & Frugal Fun: Just a hint....

Last year when celebrating The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Flea Market Objects at my pal Ruth Handel's Mar Vista, California home, we came up with the idea of serving a "Hint 'O Mint" chocolate cake.

Quite simple to make, it's a basic chocolate devils food cake (Yes, you may use a mix if you like), covered in butter cream with just the slightest tinge of peppermint extract and a couple of drops of food coloring. Finally, it's garnished with York Peppermint Patties, of course. Take care when tinting your butter cream, because more than a couple of dainty drops will quickly turn your "hint" into an all out declaration!

Click the video below for an unveiling of some green deliciousness:

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!

The Elegant Thrifter

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Find: You're tagged!

The generous guys over at Tag Sell It! asked me to contribute a blog posting to their Website last week, so I talked about what I know best: The Find and how to shop for vintage and thrift. I though it was worth repeating here, especially coming off of a holiday weekend.

People ask me all the time how The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details (Clarkson Potter) came about. Honestly, the simple answer is that it was the result of a truly serendipitous journey where I met a lot of talented people who were gracious enough to share their stories and their creative environments.

The other question I’m asked all the time, especially by those who’ve never imagined decorating their living and entertaining environments with goods from a garage sale or finds from a flea market, is how to shop. So I’ll share with you some of my favorite tips:

Respect your budget: Always know how much you want to spend before heading off on a thrifting adventure, and tell yourself that you won’t spend a penny more than you’ve allotted. (Well, maybe a penny or two more!) One good way to stay within your means is to always shop with cash. Once the cash runs out, the shopping is over. Additionally, paying with cash quite often offers you negotiating power.

Buy quality: Most of us are not shopping at flea markets and tag sales for investment pieces, so I say forget about designer names and fancy brands and focus on buying quality. If a piece of furniture is sturdy, doesn’t wobble and creak and fits your purposes, then go for it. Avoid purchases that require major overhauls. Since reupholstering can get expensive, purchase upholstered pieces that are free of stains and odors and come in a fabric that fits your decor. However, if you’re willing to pay for the upholstery job – or you’re one of those talented souls who can do it yourself – just make sure that the frame in good quality, of hard wood and isn’t cracked or warped.

Keep a mental list: If you are in need of a new dresser, but all you can find are dining tables, well then don’t buy a dining table. The prices are so low in thrift stores that it’s tempting to over-buy, often leading us to go over our budget and create cluttered spaces. That said, I like to add….

If you love it, buy it: Should you fall head over heals for an item that fits your budget and you can’t go home without it, then by all means purchase it. If you find something that so enamors you that you just have to have it, you’ll find space for it. If not, be prepared to sacrifice something you already have to make room for your new, beloved purchase.

Open your mind. Might you use an outdoor table inside or clean up that dirty desk that’s masked behind years grime and filth? Try looking at potential purchases with new eyes to discover the beauty and use that might be hidden.

Charm your vendors: Remember, many vendors love their items as much as you’re attracted to them. They have spent time and energy acquiring these goods, so be respectful. Get to know them and their goods, and avoid having “How much?” being the first thing out of your mouth.

Be fair: Anyone selling vintage at a shop or on the lawn of a suburban home is just like a retailer. They have placed a value on the goods they’re offering, so don’t try to lowball them in negotiating. If you’ve gotten to know the vendor before talking price, you will already have an edge in getting a lower price. I know from experience. I am more inclined to offer a better price if the person shopping is interested and polite because, of course, I want all my cherished items to go to a happy home.

Don’t be a Thriftzilla: Just because you have cash in your pocket doesn’t mean you should gobble up all the goodies in your sight. I believe in creating good thrift karma, so take a breath and buy what you will, but leave a little something for the next person. You never know when you’ll want that goodwill to boomerang around in your direction!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

Stan Williams --The Elegant Thrifter


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