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.

decorate your home with what makes you happy

lampOnce upon a time in a land now far, far away my father’s friend Bill showed up for a visit with a giant bottle of wine – a Jeroboam of some very fine Chianti Classico.

My father made the bottle into a lamp after the bottle was emptied at a dinner party. The lamp came to me, and the lampshade on it currently kind of went kaput. (Silk lampshades do that after a while.)  So we just ordered the bottle a new shade! I love this lamp because it is very cool and also because it has some very happy childhood memories attached to it. Not that I was drinking the wine at that time  but it was just because of all the times when we were growing up that we got together with my father’s friend and his family.

And when people ask how I come to put things in my house or say I have such tremendous decorating skills, honestly it isn’t the skill part as much as filling my home with things I love, that bring me pleasure, evoke happy memories. Stuff that I just like, want to look at, want to use.

To me that is where so many people go wrong when decorating their homes.  They see a photo in a magazine, or see a trend. But they don’t interpret what they like on their own, more often that not they bring in some sort of decorator. Mind you I have no problems with a decorator providing you with the bones of a room if you are stuck, but face it you know yourself, so play an active role. Unless you like living in a Trendy Wendy or beige, beige world?

What I bring into my home for the most part most of the time did not cost me a lot.  Long before Martha Stewart rolled up or Rachel Ashwell and her shabby chic self was popular, I was combing flea markets, thrift stores, consignment stores, garage sales and the like for things to define my living spaces.  I needed to develop my own style, and I needed to be able to afford to do it.  To this day I would rather pick something up second-hand and not necessarily officially antique than to buy new.

My style is eclectic and a mix of traditional, haute country and sometimes a little funky.  But I buy things that please me.  You won’t see country kitsch and Grand Ol’ Opry plaids, checks, and frills but some of what I like can be categorized as more country/rustic than mid-century modern (although I do like some of that here and there as an accent.)

My thrown together escaping one category of style is not so unusual, I see it with my friends.  For example, my friend Stevie and her husband not too many years after they were married needed some storage pieces.  Stevie thought outside the box and she bought of all things an old chicken coop.  She restored it and adapted it to modern use and it is hands down to this day still one of my favorite pieces. Another favorite piece belonging to someone else is this dry sink that a friend of a friend has.  Obviously rescued from a barn or a similar structure, it was cleaned up and put into this one woman’s living room.  It is so awesome.

bent bro chairsWith the exception of four bent wood chairs from Bent Brothers in Gardner Massachusetts, which are now my kitchen chairs thanks to that Resellers consignment Gallery in Frazer, I don’t do much painted furniture.  I like looking at wood and I am sick to death of going to flea markets and antiques and collectible markets and seeing everything coated in some shade of white or pastel.

Now my Bent Brothers chairs which have the brand logo burnt in the bottom of the chairs along with the paper tags still on the bottom won’t ever light the antique world on fire.  They date back probably to the late 1940s maybe the 1950s, but they are crazy sturdy and well made…and appealing to the eye in their original paint and stenciling. I love them.  And they cost next to nothing – which they should because Bent Brothers (which operated between 1867 and 2000 in Gardner MA) although they produced durable pieces of furniture, if you do the research they do not retain their value.

Another trend I am sick of is coating everything with blackboard or chalkboard paint.  Lordy people, WHY??? Got a school marm disease or something???

Something else I love?  Patchwork Quilts.  I love old quilts.  But I use them.  So I buy them inexpensively – church sales, flea markets, barn picking, Ebay.  They are a great way to add color to the room and there is nothing more homey than curling up under a ptachwork with a good book or a movie on a cold winter’s night.art

My final word is I approach my art the same way as my furniture and accessories: I buy what I like and what makes me happy.  I am not some deep pocketed collector with rotating gallery walls, I am just a regular gal. (Incidentally one of my favorite pieces of art was found put out for the trash when the Clothier House on Buck Lane in Haverford was being readied for demolition by a soulless developer.  I had the piece preserved and reframed.)

The take away here is simple: enjoy where you live and remember your spaces are meant to be lived in.  Buy what gives you pleasure, don’t necessarily buy in the category of “dress to impress.” Also remember cutsie doesn’t age well in decorating, either.

And remember, don’t be afraid to bargain shop and barn pick.  You never know what you might find!