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Posts Tagged ‘Furniture’

Making your home lovely — on the cheap

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, life, Money, Style on March 2, 2013 at 4:31 am

It’s an ongoing challenge for many of us — how to make your home attractive and affordably? Dorm room, shared flat or your very own first house, the basics remain the same: you need charm, color, texture, function and comfort.

The world is jammed with design blogs, like Design Sponge, so there’s no shortage of advice out there for the taking. I love this post — the Ten Commandments of Buying Used Furniture — from one of my absolute favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

For you Pinterest fans, here’s a post on using it for this purpose.

I’ve been making a pretty home since I left my parents’ house at 19. Few things are as nurturing and healing as a home that makes you smile every time you open the front door, and few as draining and depressing as hating your four walls, (and ceiling and floor.)

In the late 1990s, I also studied at the New York School of Interior Design, which I absolutely loved.

Here are some of my tricks, and some images from our home:

Consignment shops

You can find terrific deals in consignment shops, (places where people leave quality stuff and hope for a percentage of the sale price.) I snagged a glass pitcher for $12 and a reproduction wooden Pembroke table, at one of my favorite spots in Greenwich, CT, about a 30 minute drive from my home. Greenwich is one of the nation’s wealthiest towns, so their cast-offs are awesome! The table wasn’t super-cheap — $350 — but well worth it; light, versatile, classic and well-made.

Thrift shops

People give away stuff all the time without a clue as to its real value, just to get rid of it easily. Visit often and you’ll score furniture, lamps, china, cookware and linens for pennies.

Auctions

Not every auction house is as pricy or scary as Sotheby’s! I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire, and attended a weekly auction nearby for almost 18 months. I learned a lot — like how to distinguish between the real thing and a reproduction or to know that a “marriage” means joining together two pieces that don’t belong together but look impressively old anyway. Read a few books on antiques, and you’ll pick up the basics of what a truly old, (often valuable but underpriced), object looks like. Keep your eye out for lower-priced treasures like quality rugs, serving pieces and candlesticks. This is a fantastic list of every antique term, from a comprehensive British website all about buying antiques.

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I found this flat-weave wool rug for $125 in a Toronto antique store. It had raggedy edges so I bought some black Ultrasuede and had our local dry cleaner add it to each end, for an additional $30.

The wooden box pictured here was about $10 at auction — perfect size for magazines.

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Curbside

Our bedroom door came from the curb, i.e. someone threw it out! It’s probably from the 1930s or so. I like its round brass knob.

Fabric stores

They always have remnants, cheap. Even a yard or two of gorgeous fabric, hand-stitched into a pillow cover, can add pizzazz to your chair, sofa or bed.

We’ve had this Crate and Barrel china cabinet for ages. I got tired of looking at dishes, so added this fun fabric, for about $40, inside the glass. It picks up the room’s theme, which is photos and engravings of Paris.

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Paint

The cheapest way to make everything look fresh and new. A quart of paint  — about $20 or so — can totally change the look of a small bookcase, a stiff cardboard lampshade, stool, chair, table or chest of drawers. Consider adding a hit of pure red, creamy white, glossy black, chartreuse or tangerine.

Save up for the good stuff!

I once waited for years, literally, until I could afford exactly the only lamp I wanted, the Tizio by Richard Sapper, a classic. It cost me a staggering $500 in the mid-1980s, (today, a small version is $300+), but I still use it every day and love it. I’ve never once regretted buying quality. I’m still (!) sitting on the sofa I bought in Toronto in the 1980s, slip-covered. It’s not cheap when you buy it — but if you amortize the cost over 10+ years, it is.

English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972)

English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shop everywhere

Garden stores, gourmet shops, sporting goods stores. You never know what you’ll find. I snagged a pair of fab pierced metal lamps at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis — for $13.50 apiece. I’d actually just gone there for lunch, but decided to poke around. I discovered sheets of soft, pliable, versatile copper at a local yacht supply store, a great material for lamps, votive liners, even covering a kitchen countertop. Jose was in Tucson teaching a workshop when he found some spectacular talavera planters and plates he shipped home. I hand-carried small framed prints home from Stockholm.

Including places you think you can’t afford

Everyone has sales sometime. Anthropologie has lovely homegoods, often on sale, as well as these sites I love, Mothology and Wisteria.

Use your imagination!

I found an old Chinese wooden frame ($75) and ordered up a custom-cut antiqued bit of mirror to put behind it from a glazier. It’s now our bathroom mirror; total cost $125.

Antique shows and flea markets

I scored a fantastic Moroccan metal lantern for $15 by arriving early at a local antiques fair. I had it sand-blasted smooth for $50 by my local auto body shop and painted it a delicious red from Farrow & Ball. (The coppery metal one beside it is a $12 on-sale find from Pier One.)

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Stock a tool box and know how to use it

Hammer, pliers, staple gun, screwdriver, small saw, wood glue, nails and screws. A small hand-held sander is a great help, easily stored. Keep a supply of plastic dropsheets and foam brushes. Be ready to sand, stain, re-size and re-paint your finds as needed. Or make your own stuff to fit difficult spaces; Jose created three fantastic planters for our balcony from sheets of plywood we cut and painted.

What cool things have you done to make your home lovely on a budget?

Going once, going twice…the allure of auctions

In antiques, art, business, life, Money, Style on June 10, 2012 at 12:09 am

Score! Total cost $110.

Just went to my first small-town auction in ages. Score! The photo above shows my loot: a folk art horse, two Victorian transferware platters, an early Oriental rug, an early mixing bowl and a handmade wooden box.

Did I need them?

Need!?

How could I resist?

I saw in the front row with my Dad, (who scored a pile of picture frames, a lovely wooden side table and a double bed — a great wooden bed-frame for $20.) There was a serious bidding war over a set of china — that went for $2,100 — but many items went for crazy-low prices, like a gorgeous Victorian wicker rocker for $5.

You can’t buy an hour of street parking where I live for$5!

The lady behind me was thrilled to nab a Victorian platter in her great grandmother’s pattern for $20. A dealer came with her 13-year-old parrot, Winston and he hopped happily onto my hand. The woman beside us beat us out for a pair of Victorian silver plate candlesticks for her daughter’s wedding gift.

I’ve scored many of my favorite things at auctions, whether in Bath, England, Toronto, Stockholm, New Hampshire or rural Nova Scotia.

In Bath, in the 1980s when my mom lived there, I got a lovely little hand-painted pottery jug, (which perfectly fit a Melitta filter holder and became my default coffeepot), for $18. In Toronto, a gorgeous brass bed. In Stockholm, a huge black metal tray with elegantly curved edges and in New Hampshire, all sorts of things, from a senneh kilim for $50 to drawings, etchings and funky objects like early wooden candleboxes or tool trays.

I still own, use and love three painted, rush-seated chairs I bought at a Nova Scotia rural auction (and shipped home to Toronto by train.) Their original paint is alligatored, their rails and stiles weathered and worn.

My most recent major auction acquisition is a lovely teal-tinted armoire, said to be 18th. century, which — including shipping from New Hampshire to my home in New York — still cost less than junk-made-in-China-on-sale from a mass market retailer. I bid on it by phone, having only seen a small-ish color photo on their website. Talk about a blind date!

It arrived with a few unexpected scratches and cracks, but I love it.

At yesterday’s auction I saw its twin, and a lady standing beside me said, “I have one just like it. It’s really old.” So maybe mine is 18th century after all…

When I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire I had no friends, family, job or other distractions so for amusement I began attending a local regional auction house every Friday. I learned a lot:

what’s a marriage (two pieces of different origin, materials and/or period that have been recombined)

what local dealers wanted (early American furniture) and did not (rugs and drawings)

how to make super-quick decisions

how to trust my gut (after doing my research on periods, materials and construction)

how to decide on my top price and stick to it (buyers usually pay an additional 15 percent premium, easy to forget if you get into a bidding war)

Have you ever bought at auction?

Snag anything great?

Ditch The Junk — aka De-Accessioning

In antiques, art, behavior, business, culture, design, domestic life, family, life, Money, Style on February 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm
Usen Castle, an iconic building on campus

Time to clear out the castle! Image via Wikipedia

I love this odd, elegant phrase — de-accessioning — used by curators of museums, to describe the formal and sometimes fraught process of culling their collections in order to upgrade and acquire new pieces.

Sort of a garage sale, but with 17th. century tapestries and 19th.century portraits.

Here’s an interesting New York Times piece on it:

Cultural institutions like the National Academy Museum and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University have generated controversy by selling or even considering selling items to cover operating costs, a practice forbidden by the professional association for art museum directors.

So even though all of the sales — with the exception of the historical society’s — are to be used to generate funds for future acquisitions, institutions that deaccession these days find themselves on the defensive. “Part of the normal biological clock of museums is to examine their collections,” said David Franklin, the director of the Cleveland Museum, which hopes to gain about $1 million from its sale. “We should be constantly refining and upgrading. I’ve given the message to all the curators that I regard deaccessioning as a normal act, and I encourage them to reassess the collections constantly.”

I think about this because I have some nice belongings I now want to dispose of, get some cash for, and acquire something better: a Lartigue photo, a kilim rug, a Japanese silk kimono, a raccoon boa. It’s much easier to bring something into your life or your home than find the right buyer for it when you need that cash.

Here’s a fairly astonishing/depressing look at what happens when your husband is a scam artist and the Feds swoop in to auction off everything you thought you owned.

This week I’m in Canada, to face the not unusual but fairly horrible task of sorting through my mother’s possessions and deciding — with her help — what will be sold, donated or kept. She is moving tomorrow into a nursing home, and it’s all been pretty sudden, so we’re having to make quick yet major decisions about some valuable objects and art. Let alone books, photos and personal papers.

I’ve bought and sold at auction before, and have written enough on art and antiques that I have a good idea what’s potentially valuable and is not, but for many people — and this is only a one-bedroom apartment, not a huge house full of stuff — it’s overwhelming physically, emotionally and financially. I admit, I’m dreading it.

When we’re at our most vulnerable, blindsided by grief and haste and confusion and loss, whether of life, home, vehicle, job or all of these at once, we have to detach from all these objects and dispose of them.

However Buddhist we wish to be(c0me) through practicing non-attachment, our possessions so often define us and encapsulate our memories.

Not easy!

What are you trying to get rid of?

How will you go about doing it?

Sprucing Up Your Castle — On The Cheap

In design, Style on November 7, 2009 at 8:39 pm
Almost a Castle

Time to spruce up the castle...Image by liber via Flickr

As we head into winter, hunkering down into long, dark, cold evenings, now’s a good time  — before the costs and frenzy of the holidays — to consider sprucing up your home, even if you can’t spend much. I once planned to leave journalism and studied full-time at the New York School of Interior Design, some of the most challenging and happiest days of my life. I’m still here, but my passion for design and making my home clean, calm and lovely remains as strong as ever.

Some ideas:

1. Flowers, greenery or a plant add color, texture and life. A bunch of supermarket tulips can cost as little as $8; if you can splurge on several, arrange them in an unusual container — a teapot or low bowl or basket. Florists will sell you a block of Oasis, that green spongy stuff they use in arrangements, and cutting it into the shape and size you need gives you plenty of options.

2. Lighting is the jewelry of a room. How’s yours? If all your lighting is from overhead sources, put as many of them on dimmers as possible. Offbeat, unusual table lamps can be found cheaply in thrift shops, flea markets, consignment shops, yard sales and estate sales. A new, fresh, pretty lampshade can make the difference between chic and shocking; try Pottery Barn or Bed, Bath & Beyond, even Target or KMart for simple choices. Dust all lampshades and bulbs. Over-lit is as depressing as dim.

3. A pair of new, fresh hand towels — $20 to $30 for two — freshens up any bathroom. Thick, plush cotton feels luxurious every time you touch it.

4. How about your bath soap? Quality soap, even at $8 a bar, will last a month and scent the room. Try Roger & Gallet’s scents (the carnation is exquisite) or Maja, an old-school Spanish brand whose olive green bars come wrapped in crisp black tissue paper.

5. A new wooden spoon or sharp kitchen knife can inspire a weary cook, while a few fresh dishtowels can add color and life.

6. Clean! While housework is a miserable chore for some people, a sparkling, fresh-smelling home shouts “Welcome!” A bottle of lavender water, about $12, spritzed onto your pillowcases as you (yes) iron them offers a gentle way to drift off to sleep.

7. A throw rug adds softness, texture, color and pattern. Consider a cozy sheepskin, sisal, a dhurrie or a rag rug. If you live anywhere near a decent regional auction house, check out their offerings in person; the Senneh kilim — an antique flatweave with intricate designs — in our hallway was $50 at one of my favorite spots, William Smith’s in Plainfield, New Hampshire. Most auction houses list their items on-line and you can always call and ask for more details about size or condition.

8. A can of great paint, some rollers and a few hours of your time can totally change a room. Farrow & Ball, a British company whose products are sold internationally offer terrific, interesting colors; Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams also have lovely choices. Check out SW’s Modern Gray, a pale, gentle shade the color of cigarette ash and F & B’s Blazer, a soft red, Gervase Yellow, a pale yellow-green and Babouche, a brilliant, rich, egg-yolk yellow. Put ‘em together with a crisp white — gray and yellow make a gorgeous combination.

9. Make a folding screen. Wood, hinges, glue and a few yards of fabric can be sourced for about $100. I made ours from cream-colored barkcloth and silk obis I found at a vintage textiles fair — it hides our clunky, old, black TV in the corner. This weekend I’m revamping it with striped faux-silk for a new look.

10. Visit a few fab websites, like apartmenttherapy.com for inspiration. Borrow some gorgeous coffee-table design books from your local library, read them slowly and make notes of whatever inspires you most. Start a design file of colors, textures, materials and periods you love, whether mid-century Noguchi, Art Deco, 18th.-century mirrors — or the newly classic Ghost chair, made of clear plastic.

11. New knobs and/or a fresh coat of paint on kitchen or bathroom cabinets can instantly and stylishly change the feel of a room.

12. New cushions, or cushion covers, can add a spot of style to your sofa or loveseat. Here’s a fun sunflower cushion, $35 — a pair would be great. Symmetry and repetition adds punch.

A few favorite sources:

Rugs: Dash & Albert (small, cotton rugs in plaids, stripes and solids); Ballard Designs

Decorative Accessories, like mirrors, small frames, vases, and lighting: Wisteria, Anthropologie, Gumps, Sundance

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