Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What is The Elegant Thrifter?

Recently, I began to re-think the name of this blog after someone questioned whether The Elegant Thrifter  was an apt description for the stories and photographs I share in this space. The concern, delivered with all sincerity, centered on the idea that my blog was more down home, warm, kind, curious and sincere, more so than elegant or thrifty.

Putting my ego aside, I began to think seriously about the words I cobbled together several years ago for the title of this blog, especially since I’m working on sweeping away the cobwebs that have gathered at The Elegant Thrifter during a period of neglect. Maybe, as the critic suggested, a name change was in order.

Elegant: In my mind the word refers to a way of living: gentle, graceful, beautiful, pleasing and soothing along with the sentiments mentioned before: kind, warm, curious and sincere. Nowhere in the definitions I read could I find it associated with snobbery, exclusivity, price, class or pedigree. That is not me. I am attracted to authenticity and honesty, and my heart cannot not swayed by dollar signs. Like the crow, I, too, am attracted to shiny objects, but whether they’re made of platinum or silver plate doesn’t afford them a more honorable place at my table.

The word “elegant” could just as easily describe a carefully arranged table setting that includes mix-and-match flatware and cloth napkins bought at garage sales as much as one created out of store-bought goods. A nick here and a ding there? Doesn’t bother me. Those imperfections are the love marks of a lived-in patina that makes them feel timeless and welcoming.

As you know if you’ve been with me for a while, taking a homemade pineapple upside-down cake on a vintage serving dish is how I like to show my appreciation to a host or hostess. Plus, I enjoy the baking process: the preparation, the mixing and the final moment when the confection hopefully drops out of the pan.

This is where “elegant” starts to blend into the made-up word “thrifter.” Even tough as a kid I had everything I ever wanted or needed, my family was not wealthy, and the allure of getting a great deal at a garage sale or shift shop was, and still is, hard to resist. The treasures in my home are the ones I have hauled cross-country from flea markets, discovered lying in a driveway for a few dollars or made by hand by a dear friend.

So back to the cake. When I bake one for a gift, I like to present it on a thrift-store platter. Not only do I enjoy rummaging through shop shelves for a plate to match the occasion, but it also relieves me of having to retrieve it after the cake is eaten. Often after enjoying time in a friend’s home, it’s time to leave and the question of what to do about the plate pops up. I just respond, “Keep it, it’s yours. It’s part of the gift”

I’m not giving up on The Elegant Thrifter. And I’m keeping the name. It, too, is part of a gift I gave myself. And if you like, I’ll share it with you -- elegantly and thriftily.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Celebrations: Swarovski's Rock Royalty

During my entire career as a writer, editor and creative director, I have rented all kinds of things: cars and all sorts of location vehicles, of course, a gorilla suit for a comedian's promotion and even a taxidermy beaver (and a raccoon and a wolf and a bear!) for a Maxim magazine fashion shoot. But I had never rented a throne until a few years ago when I was charged with realizing a "Rock Royalty" concept showcasing the brand's sparkly jewelry to fashion editors.

Not only did the throne become a focal point in the Swarovski entry, but it also instantly set the tone for the event and became a favorite place for guests to stop and take a photo and channel an inner queen or king.

After establishing the theme, the other elements naturally fell into place, such as the crown that came from the Swarovski archives.

To play up the rock 'n' roll aspect of this assignment, I scoured vintage sources for old press photos, magazines and vinyl records from the '80s. Granted, I took some creative liberties. Most people wouldn't consider Madonna a rocker, but she certainly is musical royalty. And as for the made-to-order chopsticks, don't all rock stars eat sushi?

The face of Swarovski for that season was former bond girl Bérénice Marlohe, and she got the royal treatment with custom frames created by the family-run Polyplastic Forms, Inc.  in Farmingdale, N.Y., which has been making innovative materials for visual displays since 1940. The talented people there also made the laminates of historic royal figures that also decorate the corridor and entry area. 

What would an event celebrating rock 'n' roll be without a few guitars incorporated into the display scheme to further enforce the idea of "Rock Royalty."

All photographs by Stan Williams

Just like an enticing tablescape, the jewelry displays in the main showroom needed something exciting to direct the eye through the space. Michael Quinn, my creative partner for this entire production, dreamed up and executed this attitude-packed trio of Rootstein mannequins as the centerpiece to do just that.  Dressed in vintage and thrift apparel and accented with bold jewelry from the Swarovski archives, this moody masterpiece brought the entire spectacle to life.

Playing out loud, 

The Elegant Thrifter

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Street Treasures: Stringing from a Tree

If you've ever visited New York City after Christmas, you know it is the land of crispy, crunchy, needle-dropping pine trees stacked along the side of the road waiting to be picked up and, hopefully, mulched.But having lived here for many years, I know that's most likely not the case. Instead, they'll be tossed into a garbage trunk with all the stinky detritus that New Yorkers rid themselves of every day.

I don't let the reminders of a holiday gone by bother me too much, but the dead trees do make me a little sad, except for the other day. As I made my way across Eighth Street in the Village,  passed a tree hat should have been thrown out two weeks ago -- maybe even three. The owner must have been in such a rush to get it out the door that in his or her haste, a tiny ornament was left hanging among remnants of golden tinsel on a brownish and brittle, fire-hazard of a branch.

At first I didn't recognize its form, but as I leaned down, I realized it was a miniature violin, reminding me of when I played the stringed instrument in high school. I quickly reached down and plucked the treasure from where it hung, dropped dropped in my coat pocket and took it home to maybe hang it on next year's tree or enjoy it on my coffee table all year round.

Thanks for letting me string you along!

The Elegant Thrifter

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Gift of Thrift: Crying Woolf

Photograph by Stan Williams
Growing up in a family that watched its budget, our big clothes shopping adventures took place at places like the Sears and Montgomery Ward outlets on the historic square in Independence, Mo., and the full-priced JC Penney. The few times we actually shopped in one of the more “fancy” stores was when my dad, a principal at Luff Elementary School, was given a gift certificate by one of the affluent families in his school.

I remember one such time: the certificate was for Woolf Brothers, a fine men’s tailored shop that had several locations in Kansas City area, including the Blue Ridge Mall near our home and the toney Country Club Plaza. I don’t remember the exact amount of the certificate, but I do know that it was just enough to buy a beautiful silk tie and left the store in a prestigious Woolf Brothers bag.

When people ask what it was like growing up in Kansas City, they usually imagine that I’m going talk about cattle and countryside. But no, Kansas City was, and still is, quite a cosmopolitan place to live. I had a diverse group of friends, the arts scene was at its peak, and the shopping was out of this world. Kansas City had a Macy’s, which was part of a Mid-West division carrying high-end goods, a Gucci shop, before it became a huge chain, Harzfeld, which sold fine women’s and children’s apparel and Hall’s, a most magnificent department store owned by Hallmark.

Photograph by Stan Williams
Of these, the only one left is Hall’s, and as for Macy’s, it is a whole different kind of mass retail experience than it was in the 1980s. Sadly, Woolf Brothers closed its stores in the 1990s after 126 years in business. 

Flash forward a couple of decades: As I was vintage shopping in the West Bottoms at the beginning of July, my eye was drawn to this black and white paper in the corner of a shop. I immediately recognized the swingy tails on the "W" and the "B" as being from Woolf Brothers. Of course I purchased a roll and used it to wrap a gift of thrift for a dear friend who has always wanted to visit Kansas City. So in a way, I sent a little bit of Kansas City to her.

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday: More from the Living Estate of Master Michael Quinn

Photograph by Jim Franco for "The Find"
Here is another colorful relic from the pages of "The Find" that is being sold in the Living Estate of Michael Quinn in my Etsy shop.

As part of an indoor tailgate party imagining a competition between the Sweets and the Savories, these glass pretties got the evening off to a rousing start.

Photograph by StanWilliams

"There is something very collegiate about this set," Michael says. In "The Find, " it was shown on an outside quilt-covered table next to a bowl brimming with popcorn, encouraging a casual nip in the great outdoors. Add some class to your next “pre-game” rounds of cocktails!"

With football season only weeks away, you still have time to procure these for your next sports celebration. Just pay a visit to The Living Estate of Master Michael Quinn in my Etsy shop, and let the festivities begin!

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Find: More from the Living Estate of Master Michael Quinn

Photograph for "The Find" by Jim Franco

When I look at this image, I am reminded of the fanciful, handcrafted indoor tailgate party that Michael Quinn and his friends threw and that was celebrated in the pages of my book "The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating..." (Clarkson Potter, 2009). This is a fine example of how incongruous objects, when unified masterfully, can become a focal point of a tablescape. Here, Michael used as the bar backdrop an owl shape that he kept from a Henri Bendel window display. The wouldn't be complete without the plastic biology head he purchased at a sidewalk sale in Manhattan's East village. Embedded in its left lobe is a recipe for the signature cocktail of the evening: a Dark and Stormy.

Photograph for "The Find" by Jim Franco

The glasses at the right of this gorgeous display appear several times in "The Find" and are part of "The Living Estate of Master Michael Quinn," which is being sold in my Etsy Shop as they appear in the photograph below.

Photograph by Stan Williams

"Some wear on the etchings, these glasses have been lifted in many a toast," Michael says.  "Originally from a vintage store in Pittsburgh, I later learned the glasses had belonged to the marketing director at the Warhol Museum. How did I make this discovery? A friend of a friend. I stayed with him one weekend. Boy, was he surprised to see what treasures I came back with that day!"

Own these relics from "The Find" and more by clicking here to visit "The Living Estate of Master Michael Quinn" on Etsy.


Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Living Estate of Master Michael Quinn

Photograph of Michael Quinn in 2007 by Jim Franco
It’s hard to believe that it was eight years ago when I started creating "The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating...," which was released in 2009. While it was not a financial success for me, it was a huge payoff in the number of truly amazingly creative people who helped me with my labor of love and the friendships I made that endure to this day.

One of the most talented characters I encountered during my pursuit of "The Find" and who remains among my closest friends is Michael Quinn. My editor at Clarkson Potter wanted me to meet a creative pal of hers. She wasn’t quite sure exactly why, but she thought there might be some synergies that I might be able to tap into and passed me Michael’s number, so I gave him a call.

When I told him what I was working on, he was eager to set a time to meet in person. Convenient for both of us, Whole Foods on Houston Street was to be our meeting spot. Neither of us had any inkling of what the other looked like, but we decided we would just know. On the day of our get-together, I installed myself and my computer at an upstairs table and sipped a glass of iced tea while waiting for the person I was certain to recognize.

Lots of handsome young men walked by on that summer afternoon, but it wasn’t until one wearing a headband whisked by that my attention was piqued. THAT must be Michael, I thought. He certainly didn't see me, so I called him on the mobile: “Are you the guy who just walked past my table wearing a headband?” It was, and the rest is history.

For the entertaining section of "The Find," Michael and his friends created a memorable indoor tailgate party in his Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, apartment, incorporating many of their unique vintage wares. The images from the party are some of my favorite in the book, and our friendship has grown over the years along with Michael’s cache of his own thrifty finds. His apartment is so full of treasures that he has chosen my Etsy shop to sell off a selection of relics that made their way into the pages of "The Find."

Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll share stories and pictures of these objects right here at The Elegant Thrifter, but until then, click here to visit my Etsy shop to enjoy - and even purchase - the offerings in "TheLiving Estate of Master Michael Quinn."

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,

The Elegant Thrifter


Blog Widget by LinkWithin