For someone looking to furnish a bedroom on the cheap, these two bedframes were just leaning against a building on the Lower East Side last weekend, awaiting a new home. They appeared to be in excellent condition, and the kind person who set them out made sure to include all the needed hardware in an envelope securely taped to the beds' wooden frames.
Have you ever found something that you couldn't believe someone was giving away? Are you amazed by the objects you find that are free for the taking? If so, send me a picture and tell me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you happen to run a book shop, don't worry about sending the non-sellers back to the publisher for credit. Just turn them into decorative lighting to illuminate your store.
I couldn't say for sure if these books hanging from the ceiling of the café at McNally Jackson were once in the return bin, but they certainly make an eye catching, suspended library for this independent bookseller.
When I used to think of Candy Land, the image of children's board games that has you slipping and sliding through a world filled with chocolate sprinkles and peppermint sticks would come to mind. That was until this weekend when I popped into Economy Candy on New York's Lower East Side.
Just a peek in the window sort of tells it all in retro deliciousness. Why there are gigantic Pez dispensers and boxes of Mallo Cups, Blow Pops and Candy Buttons just staring right back at you. Looking for A Bit-O-Honey Bar or maybe some wax lips? Step right inside. They're not far from the circus peanuts and orange slices. As I wandered the isles of this candy-copia, I was tempted by the Chick-O -Sticks, a strange, toffee-ish, peanut-flavored candy that sort of looks like a chicken leg that we used to beg our mom to buy us a the swimming pool concession stand.
And then there was the mysterious Zero bar, all covered in white chocolate. Why was it called Zero? Certainly not for its calorie count. There were Charleston Chews, Whatchamacallits and Heath Bars along with the elusive Cherry Mash candy, a concoction manufactured in St. Joseph, Missouri, just north of my hometown of Independence.
Mounted near the ceiling in one corner of the shop is an old Lifesaver counter display. For many years, I thought a cherry Lifesaver could cure all ills. And a Butter Rum Lifesaver: how forbidden that sounded -- almost like treats for marauding pirates.
Nearby, there are boxes of candies from the past, including the Goo Goo Cluster. I remember the first time I ate one was on a family trip to Nashville in the mid 1970s. They sold those caramel, nutty turtles at the Grand Old Opry, and many people say the candy's name is an acronym for the legendary country and western show.
Nearby is a box for Old Henry! candy bars, and then across from it is a container for Tootsie Pops. Do you remember the Tootsie Pop ad where the little boy walks up to the toothless turtle asking him how many licks it takes to get to the chocolate center of a Tootsie Pop and he gets sent on to the scholarly owl who seems to have the answer? I remember watching this ad on our black-and-white TV and never realized until today that it was actually in color.
Today, I'm sharing with you a video of the old Tootsie Pop ad that certainly caught my attention as a five-year-old. And just how many licks did it take to get the the center of a Tootsie Pop?
Oh, I think about one.
(I can't quite figure out why there's a big black space below, but if you look for the arrow on the left, click it, and the video will play.)
I've heard other authors talk about the horror stories of having to work with publishers to decide the cover of their books. But I cannot complain at all. In fact, Clarkson Potter decided on an image photographed by Jim Franco that tells the journey of The Find, The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details practically in one shot.
The regal antique chair sits in the home of dreamer extraordinaire Yasmine McGrane, who runs the fabulous, French-inspired shop Maison Rêve in Mill Valley, just outside of San Francisco. Atop her French, flea-market find covered in vintage hemp linen lies one of her prized possessions: a golden letter "Y" that was given to her as a wedding gift. Next to this personality packed object rests a stack of vintage Belgian seed sacks, and a pillow covered in one of them. And then there's the lowly sewing machine table -- minus the machine -- that McGrane just painted white and added crystal knobs.
Why do I love this image so much? Because it shows that no matter what you choose to decorate with -- be it a worthless table or a priceless chair -- a bit of creative thinking can turn almost any vintage or thrift find into a true treasure.
As Veli and I were walking through Manhattan's Lower East Side this weekend, we encountered a a noise that reminded me of my childhood -- one that sounded completely out of context among the rumble of the city. I heard it, but it didn't quite register. What in the world was it? "A rooster," he replied very matter of factly. "No it wasn't," I insisted. "How could it be?" As soon I discounted his observation, I heard the mystery sound again. And yes, in fact, it was a rooster crowing right in the middle of New York City.
As we rounded the corner of the M'Finda Kalunga public garden, I spotted the noisemaker, just hanging out with his friend in a space that is more commonly home to pigeons and sparrows. Apparently, the two birds had been dropped off at the park before winter and had decided to stay put through the winter where they live in a coop built for two. They leave their luxury digs on occasion for jaunts around the confines of the garden, but they never pass through the gates even when they're left open.
These barnyard sites and sounds instantly reminded me of my Grandma Churchill's farm where it seemed like there was always a rooster crowing, whether it was three in the morning or three in the afternoon. Grandma kept chickens in the hen house at all times -- ones that produced fresh eggs every day and an occasional Sunday supper. During the summer, my sister and I would get so excited when Grandma would bring home card bard boxes filled with new chicks for her own chicken coop. She let us play with the fuzzy little creatures and carry them around in shoe boxes as if they were playthings, but eventually, they were placed back in the farmyard with their poultry pals.
So the next time I hear a rooster crow, I will not doubt the familiar sound. For whether its down on the farm or in the middle of New York City, that familiar cock-a-doodle-doo will always remind me of home.
You might have noticed that much of this week has in some way involved my dear LA pal Ruth Handel who was in town several days ago. Here's a story along with pictures that she sent me of her almost-free treasure that turned out to be The Gift of Thrift.
Ruth's own words are so beautiful that I'll let her tell the story:
Browsing an estate sale several years ago, I spotted a little 6" sculpture made of wood. The sale was heavily attended, but no one was looking at this little chipped piece sitting up on a shelf in a studio space. The sale was in the home of an artist, and we purchased a few of her photographs and knick-knacks. I was strongly attracted to the shape -- I've always loved kinetic sculpture. The sale organizers threw it in for a few dollars with the rest of our purchases. I've enjoyed looking at it on my desk with a collection of other little wooden goodies.
It's been raining a lot lately in Los Angeles, but this morning the sky is clear and blue and a light breeze is blowing. It's just perfect. I was out running an errand with my little boy over on Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica, when I glanced up to admire the outlines of a wonderful 30 foot high kinetic sculpture in the corner of a mini-mall across the street. I could not believe my eyes: it's the actual sculpture of the maquette on my shelf. I blinked a few times to be sure.
We crossed over to check out the plaque and stood in silent wonder at Ellie Stern's beautiful work. At the time of the estate sale, Ellie was living with Alzheimer's, and her children were closing down her art-filled home. I felt deeply for this artistic woman who was unable to enjoy and control her life anymore. Thousands of people pass by her magnificent sculpture daily, and I wonder how often anyone stops to read the plaque, installed 30 years ago.
Here's to finding treasures, and more treasures, Of course to Ellie, if she's not around anymore--Hello up there!
Is it a first aid kit? A mini piano? Or a little bit of both?
That's what I wondered when I stumbled upon this imaginative piece, "Piano in First Aid Box," created by Japanese artist Keiichi Sumi at The Outsider Art show in New York earlier this month. This little music box was sitting among other fanciful pieces, such as a cuckoo clock fashioned out of an industrial aluminum suitcase, all made of unlikely objects in the Tokyo-based Yukiko Koide Presents booth.
Sumi's father was a carpenter who introduced him at an early age to scraps of wood and metal, according to Koide. He gave architecture school a try, but dropped out after three months to pursue odd jobs, one of his favorites being a window washer. At the age of 38 he opened his own shop selling second hand materials where he started making his repurposed pieces.
By taking objects that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, he lovingly reassembles them to create harmony among what very well likely could have turned into discord.
When people ask me what I like to do most when I'm in Paris, my response often catches them by surprise: I like to wander -- just stroll around where ever my heart desires. I like it even better when a destination isn't set and I don't have to watch the clock to make an appointment or worry about someone else's timetable. The French have a wonderful noun that describes such a person -- le flâneur.
While in Paris I love to loaf about by myself, at home in New York, I often prefer having a companion in my quest for who-knows-what -- someone who might notice things that I miss every day or who can share in my love for the place I now feel like is my second hometown.
An out-of-town guest sometimes helps you see a landmark in a completely new light, discover a street you've never crossed or a re-discover a shop that you're used to passing every day.
I took these photos several days ago as my best LA garage saling
pal Ruth Handel and I sauntered through the Meat Packing District after walking along the spectacular High Line on Manhattan's West Side. (Can you believe I'd never been? It took having Ruth in town for me to take in its elevated elegance.)
I'm enchanted by the cut-out of Louis Armstrong toting his Louis Vuitton bag and the Charlie Chaplin missing his leg. And standing next to an outdoor art installation on the High Line is the most rare New York siting of all -- my dear Ruth in her borrowed coat and, thankfully, all limbs intact.
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 came about. The only way I can describe that journey is to say that it was a whole lot of dream following mixed with a dash of serendipity, a bit of tenacity and a pretty good amount of elbow grease.
For many years I worked as a fashion journalist, covering men's style for DNR, the men's equivalent of WWD, and as editorial fashion director at Maxim. (Yes, I did, believe it or not, for almost 10 years!) Those experiences allowed me to travel the world and meet amazing people, of which several are my dearest friends. I have always loved vintage and thrift shopping. And don't get me started about the virtues of a good garage sale.
I got what some thought was a crazy idea of writing a book about these experiences and approached an agent about the idea. He liked it, but thought it would be better if I tied it into a brand. It made sense. There were so many books about vintage and thrift shopping, and very few had really broken through. And I didn't want a typical how-to book, but wanted to create something that was inspirational, and of course, filled with beautiful photographs.
He suggested approaching Housing Works. Really? Housing Works? I couldn't imagine that Housing Works didn't already have a book in the pipeline being that it is the premier benefit thrift chain in New York City. That same night we went to dinner and low and behold were introduced to the president of Housing Works right in the restaurant. My agent stepped up to the plate (so to say) and popped the question: "Would you be interested in doing a book?" "Sure," was his response, "Let's talk." And talk we did for the next year or so until we came up with a proposal ready to shop around.
Just working on the proposal reminded me of all the things I love. Of course, thrift and vintage shopping is one of them, but more so I realized again why I became a journalist in the first place: I love listening to people's stories and sharing them with others. Maybe I was on to something that I forgot I had. And just maybe I was on my way to re-discovering the path I was meant to follow.
From there, it was a whirlwind of activity. In February 2007, the book was picked up by Clarkson Potter, the same people who publish Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray. And my manuscript was due 10 months later -- all 500 original images and 50,000 words. So in May of 2007, I did something I'd never done before; I quit my job! It was a bold move, and not an easy one financially, but it was the only way I could see meeting my deadline.
And meet it, I did. Sometimes when I think back on that frenzied 10 months, I can't believe The Find was actually printed. But it was. I have a copy to prove it. Maybe you do, too.
I most certainly didn't create The Find alone. So many incredibly talented individuals helped me make its pages a reality, and I can't thank them enough. Then there are incredible supporters, like you, who have continued to spread the word about my true labor of love.
Gosh, I'm a fortunate guy.
Always Frugal, Always Fabulous and Always Thankful!
Some of you may remember this post from a while back, but it remains one of my favorites.
It's always about this time of year I start to think about the coming of spring, and I can't help but remember how much I used to anticipate the opening of Worlds of Fun, a world-class theme park in Kansas City, where I worked off and on from age 16 until the age of 21.
I used to work as a photographer at a shop called Spittin' Image, one of those instant tin-type joints where customers dressed up in old-time clothes and had their pictures taken.
Spittin' Image was atop the glorious Cotton Blossom docked in a lake with bright blue-green water right at the front of the park. You can see it in the map, here, just to the left of the park entrance where there appears to be a larger-than-life duck swimming next to it. In fact, you could see the stately Cotton Blossom all the way from the highway -- the same grande dame whose exterior appears in the 1951 film Show Boat.
How I loved dressing people up, and I had my lines down: "Ladies, you can be a saloon girl, a southern belle or a bride. Gents, a Civil War officer, a gambler or a cowboy?"
I spent my summers at Worlds of Fun, hanging out with the workers at the Paddle Wheel Cafe, hiding out in the cool confines of the Cotton Blossom Gift Shop on the lower deck when there were no customers and it was scorching hot upstairs, and sneaking off to catch a show at The Tivoli theater or ride The Scream Roller.
Sadly, I've learned that the Cotton Blossom is gone. Instead of saving her-- I remember she was in a rickety state the last time I saw her in the late 1980s -- she was torn down in 1995 to make room for another attraction. I can still hear the ragtime music that played in a loop over the loud speaker, and the screams of riders on the nearby Orient Express, which at the time was the world's largest steel roller coaster -- also gone.
The park is still there, although somewhat stripped of its original charm, but the nearby water tower is still painted with the hot-air-balloon colors of Worlds of Fun, just as I remember it was all the way back when the park opened in the early 1970s.
Nan Thomson is one eagle-eyed thrift shopper Not only did the Toronto resident find this wooden, beside table in a garbage heap near her home, but it was in perfect condition and ready for use in her lovely blue bedroom.
"By the way, everything else in the photo is from local thrift shops, except the eyeglass holder, which was a gift from my daughter," Nan told me.Her treasure hunting talents uncovered the charming, vine embellished lamp; her iron bed; its comforter; the window treatments and even the stack of bedside reading!
If you would like to share a Free Friday find, then email me a photo along with your story to the email@example.com.
There must be no organ in the human body as celebrated as the heart, for no matter what we say or do, it always seems to come up as a topic of conversation.
The feeling of being wronged or dejected might be followed by a broken heart. When delivering a sincere message of sentiment or thanks, you might offer your words with all your heart. There's a Southern phrase that when uttered, the definition, depending on the intonation and the situation, can be taken as a compliment or as a softener to a rude comment or criticism: "Why, bless your heart." And then we talk of the fragility of the heart, as represented in this whimsical wonder created by master printer and collage artist Robert Warner, whose inimitable talent is featured here in the New York Times.
Robert saves tossed-out scraps of paper, forgotten photographs and old office supplies from the garbage heap by turning them into treasures like this heartwarming Valentine made out of old shipping labels, a piece of thin cardboard and a piece of twine. You could interpret this pair of hearts in many ways, but it made me think of the Blondie anthem, "Heart of Glass," the '80s ditty "Two of Hearts," and the romantic description of "two hearts that beat as one."
As you probably already know, I love window shopping, especially since it feeds my creativity without spending a dime. When I run upon an idea that inspires and delights, there's little that can stop me from snapping a photo -- even if it means standing off the side of a curb to get just the right shot.
ABC Carpet & Home is one of my favorite stop-bys, and this example of creative uses for chandeliers did not disappoint. Hanging just outside the entrance to the fabulous home furnishings retailer is a group of vintage chandeliers mixed in with a massive twig and root structure, all strung with white paper hearts.
These shimmery show stoppers are a fine example of the flexibility of decorating with chandeliers. While chandeliers are glorious to gaze upon all by themselves, they can be spruced up even further to convey a special message or draw attention to a special occasion. Enlace with floral strands for a springtime celebration, attach light-weight, corrugated paper shapes (wedding bells, storks, shamrocks or skeletons) for joyful festivities, or dangle small Christmas ornaments from their limbs.
And then of course, these happy, white hearts are a whimsical way to announce the arrival of Valentine's Day.
I was super bowled over Sunday when I saw that the Miami Herald featured me and The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details in it's home section. You probably know by now that I'm not the type to get all overly excited about a sporting event, but if you want to talk about flea markets and garage sales, then that gets my adrenaline pumping.
So just imagine how thrilled I was to see the fireplace that Coastal Living's Heather Chadduck embellished with oyster shells prominently featured in the paper's Sunday home section. Photographed by Jim Franco, this image is truly one of my favorites, since it always promotes a thoughtful conversation about Heather's inimitable imagination and creativity. The story of how she created this stunning eye catcher with shells from a local restaurant is charming -- and one that inspires people to use unexpected finds for creating their own objects of whimsy.
Don't ask me why as a 13-year-old I put Jovan Sex Appeal for Men aftershave on my Christmas wish list. I was barely sprouting hair above my lip when I made this odd request, and Barney Bishop reminded me of this retro fragrance when he wrote about it on his olfactor-iffic Website, Fragrant Moments.
I have to say, when it came to Christmas, my parents sought to please, even if it meant walking into the local Skaggs drugstore and picking up this macho scent. I seem to remember it as the same year I asked for the Donna Summer "Bad Girls" LP. Well, it, along with the aftershave, was wrapped up under the tree. All I can imagine is my sweet mom walking into Mark's Records and buying that racy-looking album.
I was beside myself when I peeled off the wrappings of my bottled treasure, and I promptly took it into my bedroom with plush brown carpeting and a beanbag chair, and placed it in a place of honor on my Early American dresser. (Donna Summer playing in the background, of course.) I believe it was the power of advertising that lured me to the brand, and not the fragrance itself, for as I remember, it had the odor of gasoline, and -- maybe it's my imagination -- seemed to slightly burn each time I wore it.
A couple of years later Jovan dropped in rank to Polo Ralph Lauren. Then Polo to Drakkar Noir, and then Drakkar Noir to Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent. I am always amazed at how scents trigger memories, more so than taste, at least for me. Polo reminds me of being the ultimate prepster in high school, Drakkar Noir of my sophomore year at University of Missouri, and Kouros, my junior year at the University of Bordeaux, France. I've changed my scent many times since then, but every time I catch a whiff of any of these vintage fragrances in a crowded room or on the street, I'm always transported back in time.
While I may be slashing my budget right and left these days, it seems like I can hardly toss out a bag of garbage without finding a treasure -- or in this case a bag full of treasures -- right down the hall from my apartment.
So here's the take:
Two little cups with three matching saucers marked "Matte by Summit" and made in Japan,
A barely used and completely clean cast iron pot, perfect for slowly melting butter
And finally, a madeleine pan, still labeled with its $25 Dean & Deluca price tag!
If you have a free or found item you'd like to share, send me a picture and tell me your story at theelegantthrifter@ gmail.com.
Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton are flocking to the idea of repurposed objects as a clever way to present their high-end merchandise. In Vuitton's Fifth Avenue windows, brass-birdcages-turned-lighting-fixtures hold and illuminate the brand's bags and shoes.
This gorgeous pair of green dressers from The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Object and Vintage Details is a show-stopping example of how a coat of paint can transform a garage-sale find into a chic piece of furniture. Photographed by Bob Greenspan, these cheery, eye-catching pieces are the result Vanessa De Vargas's dreamy expertise.
As you may already know, she's the talented owner of the LA design firm Turquoise, and is prone to scour garage sales and thrift stores in search of misfit furniture just waiting for her magical touch. In this case, a coat of bright lime was an excellent choice for enlivening a dark and dingy example of Chinoiserie with a fresh, citrusy flavor to endure for many years to come.
When I think back on my childhood, some of my fondest memories revolve around a radio. I was reminded of an almost-long-gone era as I gazed inside the windows of the Italian jean maker, Energie, and spied this old Zenith radio.
When I was a kid visiting my Grandma Churchill down on her milk farm, my uncles who helped her always tuned into the now-defunct country music station KSOA in the nearby town of Ava at, oh say, 5:30 a.m. My grandma liked to maximize her sleep before heading out to milk the cows, so the radio volume would mysteriously rise little by little as the clock hands moved toward the 6 o'clock hour, when the noise would finally force Grandma to leap out of bed and race into the kitchen to start making breakfast.
When it came to baseball, my uncles were St. Louis Cardinals fans and would move the dial from KSOA to a Springfield station to catch the games. I can almost hear the comforting, low chit-chat of the announcer's play-by-play that drifted out to the front porch on a hot summer's day. Since we lived in the Kansas City area, we were Kansas City Royals fans. And back at home, Dad would tune into the game in our white, 1969 VW Bug as we drove around town pretending to be riding inside "Herbie the Love Bug."
For one of my early birthdays, both my sister and I received portable AM/FM radios that we'd lug around inside and out to listen to music as we played out on the patio or in the street. And sometimes it served as a late-night companion when sleep was not coming soon enough.
Once I reached high school, it was replaced by a beloved boom box. When I got my first car, a 1979 four-door, powder blue Chevy Chevette, I saved up money to enhance the sound system and promptly blew out the speakers. Oh, the disco music that blared in the '70s and punk and New Wave in '80s with a healthy sprinkling of country that has spanned both decades.
I've got Donna Summer's song "On The Radio"in my head, reminding me of an era when people would make on-air song dedications to their loved ones.
"You couldn't find the words to say it yourself, and now in my heart I know I can say what I really feel, 'cause they said it really loud. They said it on the air. On the radio...."
Always Frugal, Always Fabulous (and listening to NPR on iTunes)