farmhouse chic

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My near and dear ones like to tease me about my affinity for farm animals (cows, goats, and chickens in particular). I am told I will always be too much of a city girl to make a good farm girl (apparently I need to tolerate long power outages better), but a girl is allowed to dream, right?

So does that make me perhaps just an accidental country girl in the making?

Mind you, the teasing is in good fun, so I really don’t mind. What I do know is I love living in Chester County and especially like the rural aspects and the open spaces. I also love the fun of the hunt for cool pieces to decorate with, and Chester County is loaded with places and even warm weather flea markets. Jake’s Flea Market in Barto comes to mind. Except Barto is actually Berks County, but that is worth the drive I am told. I have not been yet.

Will I ever love long term power outages and trees pounding the house in storms? Probably not, but surviving this winter means I am hopefully better prepared next time and hopefully we won’t experience a next time like this winter for quite a while.

As many know I have developed an affinity for certain kinds of things that would be classified as either primitive or farmhouse chic. Vintage patchwork quilts, oil lamps, rustic candlesticks, and things like milking stools would fall into that category.

Milking stools, you ask?

Yes. They are fun and add whimsy to a room. I like old wooden footstools too. You can find them all over, and the price points should always be reasonable because they are so readily available.

A reasonable price point in my opinion maxes out at around $25. I see plain wood foot and milking stools at all sorts of price points, but if the cost goes over $25 , unless they are some truly amazing bit of woodworking I loose interest. I am a picker and bargain hunter at heart, sorry.

There is a big difference in my mind between a fine country antique and an item that has a utilitarian and real purpose that also can have a second life as a fun accent in your home.

I have two. One I found languishing under a table at Reseller’s Consignment in Frazer and one came from the Smithfield Barn in Downingtown. They both came in under $25 each. They are handmade and of solid hardwood and have three leg. Milking stools have three and four legs. I have been told by actual dairy farmers that the three legged stools balance the best on uneven surfaces.

One of my stools has three legs and the other four. I love the patina of the natural wood and oil them occasionally. I am not a fan of candy coating beautiful wood in milk paint. That is the taste of a lot of people and a good way to renew beat up wood pieces, but generally speaking not for my personal taste. I like those accents in the homes of others, it just doesn’t work for us in our home .

Anyway, they will never be a priceless heirloom, but I love them. People will actually sit on them and they make an amusing conversation piece. And some milking stools are simply beautiful examples of handmade craftsmanship.

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primitive lighting love

DSC_1838I have always liked candlesticks.  Not the shiny sterling silver variety although I do appreciate their beauty.   The candlesticks I have always admired best are the simple ones especially Depression Glass era clear or etched candlesticks, simple crystal sticks, and those bulk-classified as “primitives”.

Maybe thirty years ago I started picking up  a form of primitive – cool chamber sticks at church sales, garage sales, and flea markets.  Chamber sticks are the candlesticks that look like they are in a little saucer and have a circular hook  (for lack of a better description) for your finger.

chamber stickThese chamber sticks I found were mostly pewter, and occasionally pottery.  The porcelain ones are also pretty but somehow too fussy for my taste. They never cost a fortune. They were inexpensive accents I picked up for anywhere in the range of $5.00 to $15.00 and they added a touch of home to wherever I lived. (My love of candlesticks and oil lamps is all my mother’s fault.)

I never considered myself a true primitives or country person as far as decorating styles went.  Some people just take it too far and too dark for me.  Too much plaid and gingham ribbons, wooden carved-out hearts.  But when I started exploring Chester County I began to appreciate elements of country and primitive in decorating.

I have fallen in love with primitive candle holders. Punched tin lanterns and especially primitive candle sticks known as hog scrapers.  When I first developed this candlestick crush, I wrote about it.

My crush is now a full-blown love affair.  Made of iron, tin, and even pewter the simplicity of them is so beautiful.

Some people consider them rustic and too beat up.  I see the lighting of our forefathers.

Hog scrapers were the go to lighting of average families in Colonial America.  My research indicates these candlesticks have not only British roots but Dutch, French, and German as well.  Which of course makes perfect sense given a lot of our country’s early settlers.

The name “hog scraper” comes from the similarity in shape and appearance to a  tool made for scraping the bristles off of a newly butchered hog (yes a reality of farm life, but yuck…and yes I like pork roasts.)  I have read while researching that  people actually used hog scraper candle holders for this purpose but none I have stumbled across this far have had any hog bristles snarled up in them. Which is probably for the best, that might gross me out.  (I have a thing for chickens, cows and goats but less so for live pigs. They just smell.)

My first primitive candle holders came from The Smithfield Barn.  They turned up when someone brought them contents of an old farmhouse. From there I have hunted them in various locations but rarely buy them from traditional antiques dealers because they mark them up too much.  Also, I am a practical person and I know I like these candlesticks, but know my knowledge base of age and dating them is somewhat limited. So I would rather not break the bank.

These candle holders seem to date from Colonial times through a good part of the 19th century as America moved west with the pioneers.  Stylistically it is my opinion that some candlesticks described as “mission” have their roots in these primitives.  I am no expert, but that is my opinion.

I have seen them on Etsy and Ebay.  The prices range from inexpensive to ridiculous in price. I recently came across some new reproductions that came into Reseller’s Consignment in Frazer but they were brand new reproductions and felt too light weight-wise in my hand.  I think part of why I like these candle holders is the comfortable, solid feel of them.  The new reproductions feel like a Xerox copy to me they are so light. Kind of like the difference between truly old oil lamps and the newer reproductions.

I know I seem to preach a lot about decorating on a budget, but that is just the way I am made.  I am not the one who wants a decorator, I want my own stamp on my home. And I love the thrill of the hunt for pieces. I hate to say I use high end antique store and antiques shows to educate myself and my eye, but I do. They provide me with an invaluable resource.

That being said, if you live in Chester County or close enough to it, be sure to add the Chester County Antiques Show to your schedule.  It is a lovely show and the dealers for the most part are happy to talk to you about their pieces and antiques and collectibles. There was only one dealer last year that I did not find particularly convivial and unfortunately that was Stevens Antiques in Frazer.  The attitude of whomever was running their booth the day I was there wasn’t what I would describe as warm or welcoming.

This year the Chester County Antiques Show is April 4, 5, and 6 at the Phelps School in Malvern. This show benefits the Chester County Historical Society which is an amazing resource and they are always doing cool stuff.

If you want to learn about hog scraper candlesticks check out this old post from Blue Dog Antiques.

yes, I also brake for yard sales…and barn sales…and so on

chair

Chair $40 at Eclectic Market in Malvern, floral needlepoint pillow $8 at St. David’s Church Fair a few years ago, and chicken pillow $4 at St. Paul’s in Exton during AngelFest

Truly, you can hire that interior designer if you want to  but you don’t have to.  You don’t have to be design challenged and you can find the time.  I get inspiration from all over. People like Lara Spencer and Cari Cucksy inspire me.  Not Martha Stewart any longer. Besides her issue with bloggers she is way too comfy with pastel paints and washes and she is enough to make you dream in crème de menthe which is too close to Kmart green and similarly pastel nightmares, but I digress.

Lara Spencer used to be a host on Antiques Roadshow.  A lot of people know her from being an anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, and from Flea Market Flip. Now she has a book I Brake For Yard Sales and a series by the same name that made what appears to be a limited debut on HGTV.  I say limited because HGTV is a little hard to figure these days.  They replay a lot of home crashing series but no real gardening shows any longer and don’t have a lot of air time (in my opinion) on some of these fun shows like I Brake For Yard Sales or Cash & Cari.

Chair one of a pair ($18 for both) from  Smithfield Barn, Downingtown. Sampler pillow embroidered by me and other pillow a gift

Chair one of a pair $18 for both Smithfield Barn. Sampler pillow embroidered by me and other pillow a gift

Why I love watching ladies like Lara Spencer and Cari Cuksey is because they show you it is not a beige, beige world and not everything has to be all matchy-matchy. They give you great re-purposing ideas too.

I have never needed to hire an interior designer or decorator. And I know a few who are amazing.  But in this economy, why not train your own eye and save some money?  At least do some of the leg work if not the whole thing?

I did our new house by myself with my sweet man (and a terrific carpenter who built us amazing bookcases and storage benches).  Fortunately our tastes are compatible.  Or should I say he is a man who will actually communicate about house stuff?

unknown watercolor - approximately $20 from Smithfield Barn in Downingtown.

unknown watercolor – approximately $20 from Smithfield Barn in Downingtown.

I guess I am kind of sort of quasi-traditional with a dash of quirky .  I like vintage and I like the lines of a lot of older furniture.  I like a more country or should I say less formal kind of look as in what some would call “farmhouse chic”, but if you are expecting mad for plaid with ruffles, gag me with gingham, so not my style. Yet I am not so casual as in Cindy Crawford icky denim love seats or lots of plastic things. Comfortable and pretty works but not a frilly gilded lily. And also a component of my home to be considered are things from my childhood home I liked and wanted to emulate.

And interestingly enough, my sweet man and I both had mothers who loved to check out estate sales, so you could say we sort of inherited this treasure-seeking meets bargain hunting fun.

I do think my style is uniquely my own and can’t be pigeonholed as one particular category because to me what I have done is a little bit of this a little bit of that.  I have put what I love into my home and it is a house where every room is used.  No, the living room is not for teenagers to play video games in, but neither is it some shrine to formal living and roped off with a velvet rope except for special occasions and sherry by the fire.

I like pops of color and am not afraid of color.  I don’t like wallpaper.  I can admire it in other people’s houses in small doses, but would rather look at a colorfully painted wall than wallpaper. I remember once being in a house in Massachusetts near where the Brimfield Antiques show is held.  You would have thought they house would have been New England fabulous, right? It was instead a  study of  contradicting and competing wallpaper.  Every room was papered and even the halls. And nothing complimented or flowed.  The house literally gave me a pattern headache. And the owner was so house proud too.  But they loved their house, so that was what mattered.

I have a glass bowl my sister gave me one year for Christmas about ten years ago.  It was inadvertently color inspiration for a lot of my current living room.  The bowl is a beautiful almost cranberry crossed with raspberry kind of color.  With it in mind I found a traditional Chippendale hump back sofa of similarly colored damask circa late 1950s or early 1960s  at Reseller’s in Frazer for $125.  Yes, really.  It was a lucky find that had sat on the sales floor until it was reduced, reduced, reduced.  It was in pristine condition and the only thing it needed was the legs dusted.

At the Eclectic Market on King Street in Malvern one Saturday last fall I found a vintage wing chair in a pattern that was palatable, and compatible to my sofa.  Yet it isn’t nauseating matching like furniture garanimals. And this sturdy chair was…wait for it…forty dollars. Yes $40.00.

It is that easy.  A little time and effort and it actually comes together. Not all on one day, but it does come together.

You all know by now that I love barn picking.  And yes, the Smithfield Barn in Downingtown is that awesome.  Kristin has a fabulous eye and thanks to her I can actually identify some country antiques now that might impress an actual farmer or if not that an antiques dealer or two.

I also will check out yard sales and estate sales and church sales and country auctions and resale shops and flea markets.

I love Frazer Antiques and the dealers who work there are so incredibly nice and patient with my 10,000 questions.  They are helpful too.

Resellers Consignment in Frazer is also a favorite haunt and they get fabulous stuff all the time – even vintage table linens, crystal, lighting fixtures, garden ornaments,  artwork and china.  Not just furniture.  But the trick to them is if you like it, buy it because much like the Smithfield Barn, stock move quickly because the pricing is reasonable.

And I can’t forget Garage Sale Chic Chester County.  Now there is a woman with a terrific eye! And without her I would not have my pot rack for $60 in my kitchen and the only floor lamp I have ever liked in my life.

I bought the  furniture pieces mentioned because among other things they are sturdy, classic pieces I can reupholster  some day and still love them.  And that is part of developing your eye: imagine what something might look like stained differently, or painted, or reupholstered.

I love going to places like Clover Market  (Ardmore, Chestnut Hill, and Philadelphia in the winter at the Armory) because I might spy something fun and quirky.  The true kings and queens of repurposing are vendors there  like Nanny Goat Antiques, Chairloom, and Brandywine View Antiques (who should also be visited and often in Chadds Ford), so I also always leave with great ideas.

I go to high-end antiques and craft shows to educate my eye as much as anything else.  I don’t really buy at those shows, I am not in the demographic they shoot for – I am just average. But you need to educate your eye, because that is how you learn.  And trust me, I have seen and be able to recognize some pretty amazing things in thrift shops and picking barns as a result.

I eBay too for small stuff like vintage table linens and locating the vintage plates and even cookware I like to use. I also will swap things with friends and so on.  I am an insatiable bargain hunter with a knack for barter (I am told another word for it is “hondle”.) It’s fun.

At the end of the day, I want my home to reflect me, not someone else who doesn’t live there.  I want it to be homey and personal. And what I hang on my walls isn’t running away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art or something. I prefer things I see by more local artists and unknowns altogether. One of my most favorite things is a watercolor in a simple wood frame I bought for $20 at the Smithfield Barn.  It’s no Wyeth and never will be, but it makes me happy.  I buy what I like.  It doesn’t have to impress anyone, I just have to like it.

little table from Berwyn estate sale a few years ago - about $15. Candlestick and dish $5 from Harriton Fair at Historic Harriton House ten years ago. Print on the table of Chester County Farmhouse a gift

little table from Berwyn estate sale a few years ago – about $15. Candlestick and dish $5 from Harriton Fair at Historic Harriton House ten years ago. Print on the table of Chester County Farmhouse a gift

Another example is the little painting my sweet man found for me recently. Nothing fancy, but some unknown artist did a print of a farmhouse I love to photograph and have photographed in West Nantmeal Township. To me I would rather see things like that on someone’s walls than framed posters of art reproduction. Do you have a First Friday celebration in your community or near by? You might pick up a cool piece of art at a First Friday. Or check out local art shows.  The art show prices are generally high, but if you like the artist, take down their information and contact them after the show. (For fun and funky art and high end crafts try Past*Present*Future in Ardmore )

Home is where your heart is, so to me that makes decorating where you hang your proverbial hat easy.  Assemble your home to make yourself happy.  I like looking at Architectural Digest, but I don’t want to live in Architectural Digest. I would rather live in something most probably found in Country Living Magazine, truthfully.

My photo of the same farmhouse in the print above!

My photo of the same farmhouse in the print above!

I do Pinterest.  It to me is like a giant cork-board.  I will pin rooms that inspire me, things I might want to try, recipes, and so on. I will also ask my friends how and what they did if I like what I see.  I am not dumb, I will not do work a professional should do so you won’t see me putting up dry wall and slathering mud on, but I can do basic painting if I have to and goofy things like sponge painting stair risers.

I do have a pretty good eye for color and special relationships and I can hawk a bargain. And most of all I still like looking even when there is nothing I need to buy.  Window shopping is fun and inspirational.

So while you might find some in the Exton or King of Prussia Malls, chances are you will find me in a consignment shop , yard sale, or barn hunting for treasures.

My late father always said if you can read, you can learn to cook and I think a similar vein can be applied to decorating your home. And taste evolves, so what you like today could be completely different from ten years ago and twenty years in the future might be different again.

All I am saying is start small and just try.  Then if you really don’t have a Designing Women gene, find someone to help you.  But they should understand that you are the boss and listen and have a compatible personality.

I don’t know if I am doing it right or wrong. I just know what I like (and I know my limits.)  It has been a process of trial and error over time. Kind of like when I experimented  years and years ago with purple eye shadow. Some ideas work better than others.  After all if you hate the color the walls are painted, you can always paint them a different color.

And oh by the way, this coming weekend is an OPEN barn weekend at Smithfield Barn.

old linens and dishes… oh my!

DSC_0404Well now that I spent a full weekend running around junking, barn picking, and antiquing with friends I actually have to clean the stuff up!

The old large depression glass era bowls that I snapped up at the Smithfield Barn for $6 and $8 cleaned up in a jiffy and will get put away until I need them at Christmas.  DSC_0411

I have a thing about people who talk about setting a beautiful holiday table and then use plastic bowls, mismatched and plastic cutlery, and either paper or plastic plates. And yes, I get the lament that you have kids, it takes more time and so on and so forth.

Guess what? My mother and most of my friends’ mothers used real silverware, linens, and dishes and so on for the holidays and we did not destroy the stuff. Yes it requires more effort, but it looks so much better. And why go to the trouble of cooking up a storm of fabulous in your holiday kitchen to have it look like a Wawa?

paper platesI have probably just insulted a whole slew of people, but I can’t help it.  To me it is like an insult to what comes out of the kitchen.  A woman I used to know used to do that.  She would half-set her table with aluminum foil pans just plunked on the table at Thanksgiving and never met a paper plate  she did not love.  But her “good” dishes were brown crockery and they looked like mud so there is no accounting for taste.  Seriously though? Paper tablecloths are for picnics and kid birthday parties, and even then I prefer real table linens.

So now all my vintage Christmas linens are soaking in Woolite. I generally use that or liquid Ivory Snow now.  I used to have these soap flakes that came in a blue and white box but I can’t remember what they were called, nor do I see them in the grocery stores now.  I will carefully rinse them and hang them up to dry and then iron them.  I know a lot of people send their linens out to be laundered by the dry cleaner but with vintage linens that often leads to yellowing.

And let us get into the cost of things.  I am a bargain hunter.  I might love good old linens and dishes and so on but if I am at a Flea Market or garage sale or something similar I will walk away from things I know are overpriced for what they are and more importantly WHERE they are.  Whether it is an old tablecloth, a platter, or even vintage Christmas décor do not be afraid to ask for a best price or bundled price if you are buying a few things.

I have found everything I need for this Christmas as far as how I want my table to look, and the things I wish to decorate with.  It will be slightly retro Christmas, but there is something to be said about that simple and pretty look.

Of course now I will spend the next few weeks agonizing over menus.  Am thinking of doing a country pâté since I scored that cool commercial loaf pan.  And of course lots of cookies!

Taking the time to set your holiday tables with real dishes and linens pays off. Another thing – if you are having a crowd a buffet is fine if you don’t really have the space for sit down. I would rather my guests be comfortable than knocking elbows at the table because they are crammed in like

What are you all planning for the holidays? Do we want to do a cookie recipe exchange on this blog? As in send your favorite cookie recipe in via a comment and so on? Let me know!

fun with furniture

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I am not one for those milky pastel chalk paints and I think chalkboard paint should be banned as a decorating idea. Sorry but I am sick of seeing every piece of vintage and antique furniture looking like it was attacked by kissing cousins of Pepto-Bismol. not everything needs to be in pastel or a chalkboard.

And while I do think that white milk paint look has it’s place in beach houses, I just think it has been too done. And done again. As a matter of fact my sole criticism of dealers who go to Clover Market in Ardmore, PA is not only their pricing at times leaves a lot to be desired (I mean let us get real a lot of those people pick at places I haunt so I really know some of the mark-ups) but there is soooo much of the same stuff and it is all candy coated for lack of a better description. Show me the wood once in a while! Don’t make it all look like a French meringue cookie and think that will hide the fact the piece wobbles.

Mind you I was a long time fan of Rachel Ashwell shabby chic and loved it when she had her TV show. She used to go to flea markets and show you how to repurpose vintage finds. kind of like what Cari Cucksey does on her HGTV show Cash & Cari. But not everything was coated in paint. Moderation.

Do I like some painted furniture? Very much so. My mother for example has a piece I have loved since it came to be. She found an antique country armoire easily 25 years ago and had an artist faux paint it and a carpenter convert the inside so she could store china, crystal and serving pieces. It definitely makes a statement and is useful storage. And the painting is beautiful – and not milk paint or pastel chalk paint. You can appreciate the artistic side of it and the lines of the piece aren’t whited out and it is sturdy enough to survive the apocalypse.

My personal approach to painted furniture is if it didn’t start out life as a piece of painted furniture chances are I will not paint it. It’s just not me in the long run. Maybe my tastes will change on this, but I do not think so.

As far as furniture goes I am definitely of the school that believes older is better. But I want pieces that can be used. I don’t want to live in a mini Winterthur or the Modern Museum of Art.

I make no secret of the fact that I haunt picking barns, resale shops, consignment galleries, flea markets and garage and church sales. I will barter, swap, and hondle. It never hurts to ask if a better price is available. One reason I like places like the Smithfield Barn in Downingtown and Resellers Consignment in Frazer is the prices are not only unbeatable but OMG there is a constant turnover of variety and really cool pieces…and I can see the wood.

Yesterday when I went hunting for my garden bench, I saw this crazy slipper chair with a matching foot stool. The piece was probably late Victorian but a prior owner had reimagined it in yellow leather. The chair was usable as is and under a $100 if memory serves and the foot stool was around $50. The pair was so fun and quirky that if I had the room they would have been a total impulse buy. Oh and the chair wasn’t painted in pastels, an added bonus.

The thing about buying from Resellers that is fun is the listed price of an item will automatically decrease based upon number of days on the sales floor. But the prices are already old school estate sale prices so if you like it when you see it, buy it because chances are it won’t be there when you go back. And I have seen many furniture and antique dealers cruising the aisles of Reseller’s giant warehouse too. IF items last there more than 60 days they go to 50% off.

Some people can’t believe people will go to secondhand stores and picking barns for items for their home, yet amusingly enough if the same items show up at fine furniture dealers and antiques dealers they are “darling” and “must haves”.

When you buy a piece of gently used wood furniture, treat it right. Don’t rush to cover up its natural patina with paint, try cleaning it and polishing it. I am a big fan of Williamsville Wax – it is a blend of beeswax, lemon oil, and other natural oils and supposedly the company uses a recipe for this that has been used since Colonial times.

And don’t be afraid to have fun with your furniture. It can still be fun and comfortable and not look like you picked it all out from Ikea and Raymour & Flanigan. And believe it or not, you can have nice things around kids. You do not have to live with plastic. That is an added bonus of some of these furniture finds- the prices are so good that say an accident occurs you can actually afford to have the piece recovered or repaired and it is actually worth it to do so.

The other thing is this – educate your own eye- go to antiques shows, check out design magazines and Pinterest boards and create your own inspiration. Face it, while many would love to say they had an interior decorator or whatever, the reality is most can’t afford that and when you connect to your own rooms in your own home it is far more satisfying. And it really is home.