Monday, December 2, 2013

A Nostalgic Noel

     My delight was embarrassing really.  After all, it was only an elf clad in red and white felt.  He wasn't that handsome—he had pointy ears and a jutting chin, but he grinned cheekily, and his eyes sparkled.  I bought him on the spot.  I grew up looking forward to unwrapping the “elf on the shelf” every Christmas, but our family had a house fire, and the elf perished.  To find another perched on some vintage Christmas ornaments in an antique store years later brought back childhood in an instant, and there was no question that he was headed home with me.

Much of how we decorate and celebrate at Christmastime is tied to tradition and nostalgia.  Decking our halls with vintage décor keeps memories and childhood alive for new generations.  Here are some suggestions for using antique and vintage Christmas collectibles in your home:

1.       Wire a wreath to a vintage sled and prop outside your front door. 

2.      Fill ceramic Santa mugs with candy canes or small treats.
3.      Arrange pewter candlesticks and Santa statues across a mantle with some greenery.

4.      Top your tables with mid-20th century Christmas linens and hang vintage stockings by the fire.
5.      For a little sparkle, accent your table with a collection of glass finials.  These vintage tree toppers were made in varying heights and finishes and were popular before stars became the topper of choice.

6.      Use green or red and black plaid wool throws liberally on chairs, tables, or mantles.
7.      Display mercury glass, sometimes called silver glass.  It was made in the early 19th century by blowing a silvering formula into glass shapes.  Unlike silver, mercury glass doesn't tarnish, but it adds a pretty touch anywhere in the house, especially when paired with greens or flowers.

8.      String a piece of jute across a frame, wall, or window, and hang Christmas cards with vintage clothes pins.  Hanging vintage holiday cards or postcards creates a nostalgic look for your garland.

9.      Deck your tree with vintage ornaments and glass balls, or attach the ornaments to a gift bow to make your present wrapping pop.
10.  Set your table with collectible holiday glassware in greens, reds, and whites.

11.  If you like a more natural feel, fill primitive dough bowls, crates, or baskets with fresh greens and berries.  Use burlap on the tree, around your presents, and as a table topper.  Burlap also works great as a wrapping accent.

12.  Duplicate older lighting on your tree with replica bubble lights, large colored stringed bulbs, or LED candles.  If you do find original decorative lighting, be sure to check the wiring for safety before using.  Place replica candles in your windows.  Electric versions with realistic soft tops in candle holders look especially appealing.

13.  Go fifties with an aluminum tree in a variety of colors.  This is a fun accent in a child’s bedroom.
14.  Make a seasonal kitchen valance out of vintage holiday aprons.
15.  Place an over sized holiday advertising poster in your entryway and frame with garlands.
16.  Don’t have a fireplace?  Build or purchase a faux mantle made of barn wood or molding for your wall and place a neatly cut stack of wood at its base. 

     Sentimental style will add whimsy and warmth to any home.  Go back to a simpler time this year, and make fresh memories with antique holiday collectibles.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pretty Women

     We have been displaying flowers in a variety of containers for centuries, including vases, urns, buckets, jars, and glasses, but one of the prettiest containers of all originated in the 1950s and 1960s. Head vases were made in both the United States and Japan, and florists gave them away with their arrangements or occasionally sold them with sachets as gift items. The semi-porcelain ladies were made with either a high glaze or matte finish, and they were stylized in popular dress of the time, down to their miniature pearls or imitation gems.

 Many wore hats, gloves, or ornaments in their hair, and if you think you see a resemblance to Jackie Kennedy or Lucille Ball in some of the ladies, you’re right. Their glamorous look was never compromised with a smile; head vases bear an aloof, almost haughty look.

Most early head vases directed their gazes downward with heavily lashed eyes, but later styles include open eyes or upward glances. Many ladies have an uplifted hand cupped in the air or daintily touching their cheeks.

     Head vases had amazing detail and color considering they were mass produced. Collectors began finding head vases in second hand shops in the 1970s, and one can still find them in antique stores and flea markets today. Mint condition, rare vases can command several hundred dollars, but more common vases can still be found for as little as $10. Most head vases are marked with makers’ information. Several companies made the vases including the National Pottery Company of Cleveland, Ohio (Napco), Enesco (a Japanese paper label), and Betty Lous, produces by artist Betty Lou Nichols whose style included detailed ruffles, curls, and hand painted marks on the base of the vase. Women also purchased lady head forms to take home and hand paint, so one might find vases with signatures of the painter on the bottom. Those vases will be one of a kind.

     Collectors can’t seem to stop just at one or two head vases. Some collectors have amassed hundreds of heads and are constantly hunting for a rare, unique vase they can add to their treasures. You can display your head vases in a cabinet or lined up on shelves, but consider scattering them through the house on mantels, bookshelves, dressers, or even in the bathroom to hold hair or tooth brushes.

 They can contain pencils, paperclips, and sundry items in the office, and they will add a touch of glamour to any room. If you choose to display them en masse, consider using suitcases, books, cake stands, or satin covered blocks to vary heights and vantage points.

Head vases are a lovely way to reflect on a slower, more genteel time…a nice reminder in our busy, hectic lives.

For more information, go to, or refer to The Encyclopedia of Head Vases by Kathleen Cole or Lady Head Vases by Mary Zavada. A beautiful gallery of head vases can be seen at
Information source: "Lady Friends," Romantic Country, 2011.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to School Goes Home

I admit that I have a thing for school supply stores.  Having been a teacher for many years has influenced my love for classroom staples, and having just the right pen and notebook still matters.  I also love lockers, globes, and maps, and I’m especially crazy about library card catalogs.  While that may make me sound like a quintessential nerd, I’m not alone.  Nostalgia for school days and childhood has made classroom items sought after decorations for the home.  You can have lots of fun upcycling school castoffs and making them your own.  

Lockers are great in mud rooms, in kids’ bedrooms, in bathrooms, in offices, and in craft rooms.  They are easy to spray paint if you don’t like the original patina.  They come in many styles, from small locker room squares to tall, slim doors that open to one shelf and some hooks. 

You can personalize lockers in many ways, including removing some doors on tall lockers to create open shelves and adding legs and/or a top to square lockers to create furniture.

  If you don’t have room for large lockers, try smaller metal pool lockers.  They can be added to furniture, shelves, and under benches for an industrial storage look.

School desks may be used for study areas, but they are also great with the top removed for planters or for display pieces throughout the home.  Desk benches or chairs are also nice display pieces, either on the floor or layered on top of a table.

Maps add color to any room and can be upcycled in a variety of ways.  Try attaching maps on rollers to the inside of window frames to create shades. 

 Hang maps as art in any room, framed or unframed.  Lastly, you can make a big statement in a room by pasting or pinning maps all over one wall instead of using wallpaper.

Globes make great accents and add color and fun to a room.  Try grouping several globes together, mixing large and small sizes for visual interest. 

You can also customize globes using paint, markers, or Modge Podge.  Use the globe for a base and add pictures, words, or drawings, either on the original surface or on a painted globe that you have prepared for a brand new look.

Library card catalogs can be made into other furniture like a sofa table or buffet, customized for craft room storage, or used as display pieces. 

They come in metal and wood styles and customarily have numerous drawers.  If the wood is quite worn, consider painting the piece for a shabby chic look.

Lastly, blackboard paint has become a popular way to make homework all grown up. 

 You can paint menus in the kitchen, cover an entire wall for the family to draw on, or customize furniture with blackboard accents. 

Black goes with everything, and this paint is easy to use and available at hardware stores.  You can even start with a layer of magnetic paint followed by blackboard paint so you can add magnets to your creation.
School days are here again, and it’s easy to capture the look with thrift store finds and a little imagination. Who says you can never go back?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Creating a Neutral Palette

           The shabby chic look is a popular design style, and furniture with “chippy” paint, tea cups, and rose quilts are best sellers in today’s vintage market, but before accessorizing a room, it is important to prepare a palette that will show off shabby treasures.  People often think they should paint their rooms pure white to achieve a shabby chic look, but white by itself can come across as stark or sterile.  Consider instead painting woodwork such as floor and window trim or wainscoting white and using a neutral color on the walls to make the whites pop.  An example would be Benjamin Moore’s #1515 Natural Elements.  You might be surprised at how many shades of white are available.  Experiment with linen, antique white, creams, and even light tans, and don’t be afraid to mix shades.  Other complimentary colors could include soft mint, pink, or grey.   Neutral carpeting or whitewashed wood flooring complete the basics.

            Dress your windows in white or cream lace or sheers for an airy look.  White smocked curtains add texture and layering lace and sheers can add interest.  Work white textiles into your décor and cover darker upholstered furniture with white slipcovers to achieve a quick change.  Remove any pieces with busy fabric or rug patterns; a neutral palette is calm, and busy patterns can overpower that look.  Use soft white or cream pillows and throws liberally.

            Place mirrors on the walls instead of artwork.  Mirrors make a space look bigger, add sparkle, and will reflect the whites for a lighter look.  White tin panels, sconces, and white architectural salvage add visual interest.  Hang chandeliers or use table lamps accessorized with clear beads, lace, or crystal pendants.  If the room you are decorating is a bedroom, hang white or cream netting over the headboard for drama.  Add white fairy lights for whimsy.

            If you have dark furniture, try painting it white or a light grey.  Grey will blend into a neutral palette rather than disrupting it like brown does.  If you are stuck with dark furniture or upholstery, use white pillows, throws, quilts, or even sheers or tablecloths to soften the dark colors.

            Don’t overlook your bookcases and how virtually busy the covers of the books can be.  Stack the books backward on the shelf to create a more restful display and accessorize the shelves with white or light pastel glassware or knick knacks.  Some designers cover their books in coordinating decorative paper.

            The lovely thing about a neutral palette is that if you tire of the look or want to change it for a new season, it is easy to add accents with bold color to completely transform and energize your room.  If you like the white look all year round, spray paint leaf garlands white or cream and use in place of a valance or in vases for autumn.  Incorporate holiday décor that is pastel or white, and add silvers for a festive sparkle at Christmas. 

          The shabby chic look is versatile, classy, and pretty, and compliments most styles, so try some whitening and lightening if you need a restful change.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Turning Clutter Into Cash

     I love yard sales.  I grew up treasure hunting through people’s garages, back yards, and barns, and I’ve met some of the most interesting people during my forays.  It’s fun to hear stories, share gardening tips and peek at others’ landscaping, and cart people’s junk home to give it new life.  I’d much rather attend sales, but the time has come for me to thin some collections, so I’m planning my own sale this summer.  My friends have been quick to offer advice on avoiding yard sale “faux pas”:

·         Presentation, presentation, presentation.  Don’t just heap items on tables or the ground.  Group like items together, vary presentation heights, and make sure items are clean.  Hang clothing and linens, or fold them neatly on tables.  A closet rod, broomstick, or shower curtain rod between two ladders works great for this.  Place fragile items up high so little hands can’t reach them, and always be honest if a piece is broken or cracked.  If you stage items to show potential and style, customers will linger and purchase more.

·         Clearly price items, so customers don’t have to ask.  If you don’t want to price everything, fill containers with items that are the same price, or use colored stickers that correspond to a prominently placed key that lists prices for each color.  If you have big ticket items worth lots of money, consider consignment or advertising instead.  People are looking for bargains.
·         If you have items that you don’t intend to sell, remove them, cover them with sheets, or put NFS (Not for sale) tags on them.  Inevitably people will want those items too.
·         Make signs big and bold.  Drivers can’t read tiny writing on boxes near the ground.  Don’t put or leave signs out unless you are open for business, and make sure you post signs legally.  Advertise in newspapers and on social networking sites to get the word out.

·         Open early to allow the crowd going to work a chance to stop.
·         Recruit a friend or two to work with you, and keep your change on you—an apron with big pockets works well.  Make sure you stock enough cash to get you through the day.
·         Place your best pieces prominently out front to lure drive-by customers in, and have lots of items to choose from.  It’s frustrating to see “Huge Sale” on signs that lead to only one or two tables.  Consider teaming up with neighbors, friends, or family for more variety and items.  The bigger the sale, the more people will come.

·         Have plenty of packaging available:  boxes, bags, newspaper for wrapping, and twine or tape are all essential.
·         Consider donating leftover pieces in good condition to a local charity.  There are several local businesses that would benefit from your generosity, and the tax write-off will benefit you in turn.
With a little planning, I hope to turn my clutter into cash, and you can too.  And here’s the best part—now we’ll have room for new treasures that are out there waiting!  (Just don’t tell my husband.  He thinks we’re downsizing!) 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Prairie Sisters Perfection

The Prairie Sisters Show at Metra was a huge success.  Those girls really know what they are doing down to the last detail. 

Colorful pennants, flowers, and hand made signs greeted shoppers at the door, and smiling cashiers handed out baskets containing treats.  Booths were colorful and stocked with shabby chic and repurposed items, along with antiques and upscale "junk".  The temptations were numerous and reasonably priced.  Needless to say, we left with our arms full.

"Junk Hunks" were available to assist with loading of large pieces.  A ticket system was in place to mark items sold and ready to move.

 According to our vendors who participated in the show, many booths sold out to the bare walls, so when the Sisters return later this year for a second show, I'd recommend getting there early--and don't hesitate if you want something because it will likely disappear before you can return for it.  The only complaint I heard at all was how crowded the show was and how difficult it was to see anything in the booths.  From what I've been told, the Sisters are considering expanding into the next room to create more space to alleviate this issue.

Great job, Prairie Sisters--you are a welcome addition to Billings' antique offerings.  We are looking forward to seeing you again in a few months.  (Shows are scheduled in western Montana later this year.  Go to the  Sisters' website for more information:  )