When we threw a "V" themed party for Veli's birthday recently, I challenged guests to bring a fun gift that started with the letter "V. " They took the request seriously, and did not disappoint with their imaginative and generous presents. There were bottles of vodka, vino and Veuve Cliquot, as well as several lovely vases and scented votives. Why, someone even brought a Vidalia onion, whereas another offered a container of Vaseline and a VCR!
Then there was a mysterious Baronet box that arrived in the mail in an unassuming envelope. You see, my dear friend Eleanor in Washington, D.C., lost her mother Virginia last year and Eleanor has been sifting through many years of her possessions.
Eleanor told me that she was having a hard time coming up "V" -themed gift and was starting to stress out until she opened a drawer and these silver spoons literally popped out. Engraved with a "V" for Virginia, it was like Eleanor's mother herself had just offered the perfect gift.
A lamp from a Tonka toy? An illuminating Pachinko machine? That's exactly what I found on my recent visit to Film Biz Recycling and Prop Shop, a thrift store that sells castoffs from film, television and play productions.
Created by Red Hook, Brooklyn-based Dog Tag Designs , these unexpected, tossed-out objects, when outfitted with a little electrical wiring and a light bulb, have become shining examples of imagination and creativity.
I promised Nova Scotia interior designer Jonathan Legate that I would not visit the Film Biz Recyclng and Prop Shop, which also serves as a charity thrift store, until he could come and experience it with me. I have to admit, it was a difficult feat of self restraint, since Film Biz's Twitter feeds tempted me by announcing truckloads of goodies, taunted me by sharing pictures of unusual furniture pieces and teased me by sending personal invitations.
Finally, after weeks of anticipation, Jonathan arrived to New York. Still, I had to wait a week before we could jump the R train together to discover a location I was certain would be bursting with treasures. After a quick brunch in Manhattan, we easily found our Brooklyn address, entered through a gated driveway and wound our way through the gray hallways of an industrial building to an unassuming door.
Here's what I saw when I cracked the door -- wigged beauties and vintage electronics welcoming visitors inside.
The staff couldn't have been more friendly or creative. Since six truckloads of merchandise had just arrived, they were all busy making floor space. And they weren't just unpacking boxes and setting goods on the floors; they were actually creating clever vignettes as they worked.
Jonathan and I were stunned by the array of lighting options.
We were wowed by the selection of Mid-Century furniture at truly affordable prices. In fact, unlike many other thrift shops that benefit charities, they seem willing to make deals, especially when buying sets. (Who would want just one lamp, anyway, where there is a matching pair?!?)
Looking for electronics from your childhood? My sister and I each had portable radios like the one on top. The larger model below reminds me of the one that sat on my Grandpa Williams living room desk.
There were poodle Avon decanters, tablecloths, craft goods, home paint, glasses, bowls, gadgets, seashells and more, all items that were once used in a television, film or play production, all saved from the landfill by good folks at Film Biz Prop Shop.
I left with a bag full of beautiful ribbons at 50 cents a piece that was totally worth the wait.
Father's Day is on its way, reminding me of all the home projects my dad has accomplished over the years. This is not quite one, but it's certainly worth re-posting from a few years ago.
Ever since I was a kid, my dad has been trying to get his grandmother's old rocking chair in working condition. He says she probably bought the chair in the 1930s, and since he's had it, it has never quite stayed together long enough for anyone to be able to enjoy rocking in it. It seemed like the slats were constantly falling out, and a piece of plywood was where a woven seat once was.
Despite my dad's talent for refinishing and repairing, this old chair never cooperated. And when it did for a period of time, it wasn't so comfortable to sit in. Mom tried to make it at least look prettier by dressing it up in frilly pillows and padding, but it just never quite worked.
Finally Dad took the chair to a professional who gave this old, wooden rocker a new lease on life. Not only did he fix the wobbly slats and broken arm, but he restored the woven seat to perfection.
Even if you have a birthday gathering in a restaurant, there's no reason you can't bring the party décor with you, especially if part of it is a tray of easy-to-carry cupcakes. Decorated with inexpensive flowers and fuschia feathers, this cupcake creation is just a portion of the on-the-go hoopla my pals Heather Kerr, Michael Quinn and Ron Rangel dreamed up for one of their besties' birthday in a pizza joint. There were paper flower bouquets, glitter-monogrammed napkins and colorful boutonnieres and corsages for all the guests.
Can you tell the guest of honor's favorite color is pink?
Photographed by Jim Franco, this table doesn't have a designer label, but its sexy curves make it appealing and it was built to withstand years of use. Even though Randall didn't want to tell me how much he spent to have it re-finished, you shouldn't be deterred in trying to paint a piece of furniture yourself and give it a new personality if the current finish doesn't suit your fancy.
Even the plainest-Jane table can become a princess in the course of a day!
The other day I hit a vintage street fair in Manhattan that even though bustling with activity, seemed a little ho-hum and over-priced until I came upon a tray emblazoned with this crowing gent. Upon viewing him, I was reminded of being a kid and visiting my grandmother who lived in southern Missouri. And just like on almost any farm anywhere in the world, her rooster crowed at the crack of dawn with a voice that echoed over the hills, alerting the world that the day had begun. I left this proud man where I found him but took his photo to start the week with a cheerful burst of energy.
I put together this little Gift of Thrift for a friend who has childlike enthusiasm for fun and adventure and who loves the color pink: vintage notepads that I paid $5 for at Vintage Thrift Shop in New York and wrapped up in a cotton-candy-hued strand of made-in-USA Hallmark yarn that cost 10 cents at a Kansas City yard sale.
Heather loves anything that is numbered, so when she discovered what she believes to be a key box at a flea market, she bought it, and then transformed it into a handy, yet appealing organizer for her collection of vintage jewelry.
One of her prized possessions in the room is the toile drapery that she saved from the garage bin of a San Francisco hotel. She got the call from a friend who found out that the toile was being tossed, and Heather came to its rescue! Not only does it elegantly cover her windows, but it also adds charm to a headboard she fashioned out of the fabric and coordinating ribbons.
I've been called lots of things other than "The Elegant Thrifter." Once someone said I was "The Elegant Sifter." That made sense because of all the treasures I sift through at garage sales and flea markets. In many instances like that, you could call also call me "The Elegant Lifter." And then the other day, someone tried to send me a message on Twitter, but I never received it because she called me "The Elefant Thrifter." And then once, in print, I was referred to as "The Elegant Grifter." Sounds menacing....
But Paper magazine called me a Harlem Honey in its Twitter Gangs of New York, and I was honored to be photographed by Douglas Adesko for its pages with my other gang members, (from left) Amanda Diva, culture critic and artist; Emil Wilbekin, managing editor of Essence.com; Ian Drew, senior editor of Us Weekly; and Bevy Smith, social media maven, BFF and leader of the pack.
When I originally posted this photo on Twitter in preparation for a gathering in my apartment, one of my followers asked me where I keep all my treasures. My answer? Everywhere. In cabinets, on top of armoires, tucked in closets and stacked in "decorative" vignettes.
So when I entertain, I view it as a good excuse to pull out all of my favorite pieces, dust them off and put them to good use. And it gives me a chance to give them a little extra TLC as I reminisce about how I came about them.
Take for instance the 1970s Happy Birthday platter I picked up for next to nothing at an estate sale with my sister in Independence, Missouri. Since it came back to New York, it has already celebrated three birthdays to great success.
I realize these finds are just things, and nothing more. None of these objects is overly precious or valuable, and some have the expected "age spots " that comes with years of love and good use. Even so, I relish each of these pretties, not just because they once caught my eye from a table piled high with oddities or a box heaped with junk, but because of the memories they spark that are absolutely priceless.
The other day a package arrived with a familiar address on it -- one that belongs to a certain Sonya of the blog Dime Store Thrift . And even though we only know each other through our blogs and an occasional e-mail, she knows me well enough to know that a collection of retro party picks would make my day -- especially since they came from what was once a Kansas City culinary destination.
Putsch's 210 was touted as one of the finest restaurants in the area and was located on the glamorous Country Club Plaza in a space that now houses the eatery of former Kansas City Royal George Brett. The former was known for its New Orleans theme, and in 1953, you could get a full-course dinner for a whopping $1.85!
I don't remember this restaurant, but I do recall a Putsch's Cafeteria on the lower level of the now-demolished-for-a-Walmart Blue Ridge Mall, one of the very first enclosed shopping centers in the country. Opened in the mid 1970s as part of the mall's renovation, this Putsch's featured a rotating merry-go-round outfitted with tables where you could dine upon burgers and fries -- that is if you didn't suffer from motions sickness.
The windows at Anthropologie are always draped in creativity, just like these that celebrate last month's Earth Day with wit and drama.
In an effort to bring attention to recycling cork -- the kind that pops out of wine bottles and burst forth from a bubbly champagne -- Anthropologie used more than 30,000 corks in its displays worldwide to stunning effect. And these were strung to form a sweeping, peek-a-boo background that graces the windows of the brand's Fifth Avenue location.
It's almost impossible to surprise someone on his birthday, especially if you practically live and work in the very same room every single day. That's why I called upon my creative pals (from left to right) Ron Rangel, Heather Kerr and Michael Quinn to help me come up with some little way to surprise the birthday boy (fourth from left, with his mother), even though he had already pretty much planned his OWN party.
As with any party, having a theme makes all the arrangements easier to imagine, and we chose the letter "V," which is the first letter in Veli's name. I made a chocolate cake with caramel icing and decorated it with golden balls to form a "V." I then embellished the lower platter with funny money and displayed it underneath the flea-market Christmas tree that I keep up all year long.
By the time I got out of the shower, these magic makers had covered my surfaces with shimmery cloths, and there was a disco ball emitting green sparkles in my living room. The "V" themed party sticks fringed in tissue paper were in place for invitees to shake things up in celebration of our guest of honor.
And before we knew it, Michael was putting the finishing touches on the flag that he and his gang made, and the festivities were about to begin. Michael calls this his "annoyed Martha Stewart face," but I call it simply marvelous!
I mean, who knows when you're going to need a pink cake? This one takes center stage on a relaxed sun porch as part of an imaginary tea party. And it tasted pretty good when we devoured it as we broke for lunch!
If you would like to share with me your favorite finds, leave them for me on The Find 's Facebook page. But you'll have to click the "Like" button first.
Here is from a post I shared a while back about door that opened up a world of imagination and history.
A treasure can be almost anything that has a soul -- something that has lived a life full of memories and brings to the present its regal provenance or scintillating story. Or this glorified object might just be so inspiring in its presence that whatever history woven around it-- imagined or real -- is fulfilling solely for its charm and inspiration.
That's the kind of object I stumbled upon when I met the enchanting Emilie-Marie who runs a jewel of a home design shop in West Palm Beach, Florida.
I could tell that Emilie was genuinely intriguing, especially when I saw this door leaning against the wall behind her sales counter. (Never mind the fire extinguisher in the photo. I was so fixated on the door when I shot this image that I didn't even notice it hanging there!)
I gasped as I laid my gaping eyes on a logo that appeared to be those of Marie-Antoinette, and could barely contain my excitement as Emilie told me the story of how she found four doors in France that called her name. She explained that since everything at Versailles had been
destroyed on the fabled queen's demise, it's almost impossible to authenticate them as much as she has tried.
While the signature details -- the intertwined initials and the flourishes that surround them, are spot-on for identifying them, no sketches of them exist, nor is there any historical data that places them 100 percent in the royal residence. Whether they are actually Marie-Antoinette's doors is up in the air, but she has been able to date them back to the same era as the queen, and either way they conjure up dreamy imagery of the royal court of Versailles.