Thursday, July 28, 2011

How To Pull Off Statement Pieces

Do you ever walk by that occasionally style-confused person and think “Great idea, but bad execution?”

As someone who likes to generally play it safe, I can attest to the fact that it is challenging to go out on a limb. Yes, my closet is filled with neutral colors, but what keeps things interesting in my wardrobe are statement pieces—the oh-so-spontaneous bursts of color that keep me saying, “Yes, I work in a cubical, but I do have a life.”

The key to wearing statement pieces successfully is to not overdo it. If you have a chunky necklace, opt for something subtler to pair with it like stud earrings or a thin, dainty bracelet. Similarly, hand diamond-shaped chandelier earrings are the perfect addition to a solid dress or blouse, but leave the necklace at home. I love oversized rings, but wear them as a single piece; two or more, especially on one hand, creates chaos. Layering bracelets is an ongoing trend, and what makes pairing bracelets so simple is that you can dress them up or down.

Pair colored, beaded bracelets with a trendy fedora for the weekend, or mix and match bangles for a fun boho look. Try a gold or silver cuff for a night out.

Patterned flowers, rhinestones, and oversized bows—these are all trends that have turned the bad hair day into a chic look. Headbands, hats and other hair accessories are appropriate in their own way, but be mindful of the way you wear them. Just like a hat doesn’t go with a pencil skirt, so a sunflower clip doesn’t compliment a cocktail dress. Instead, opt for a rhinestone bobby pin when on the job, and a funky, chick headpiece for a night out.

Scarves, in my opinion, are the absolute perfect accessories, and the great thing about them is that they are acceptable year-round. A colorful, flower print scarf gives any classic or ordinary outfit a sassy twist. The truth is you don’t have to be a trendsetter to have an up-to-date style, simple, bold accessories are just the trick to make a statement!

Leslie Herring is a senior at the University of Oklahoma, where she is studying journalism writing as well as health and exercise science. In addition to campus involvement and extracurricular activities, she is working towards a career in magazines.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

French Provincial Sideboard

Yesterday I received this email from Steve Chicoine about an experience he had with with an antique dealer.  He was discouraged by the situation, but definitely ending up on the winning end of the deal.

It is the design and craftsmanship that makes antique furniture unique and special. That and the fact that most antique purchases, by the nature of the business, have interesting stories.

Antique shopping is best accomplished through the building of relationships. You come to know these dealers as friends with a common interest. However, in the case of our French provincial sideboard, that was not the case at all.

This sideboard with its intricate carving, leaded glass and beveled mirror has brought much joy to me. I happened into a booth one day to look over some extraordinary pieces from a German hunting lodge. They were too large for my home and far too expensive for me. The dealers were extremely attractive and made every effort to appear to be well to do. They were a bit condescending, but I did not take it personally. It was apparent they treated everyone that way. When I took an interest in the sideboard, they made clear that it was a piece of junk that had somehow gotten into their crate shipped from Europe. They were all the more disparaging of the piece when I expressed interest. I might have raged at them, but I sensed a bargain. They taunted me to the point of suggesting I had no eye for value. So I offered them $100 and they accepted, still taunting me.

An expert appraiser valued this piece at $15,000 years ago. I have no idea what is worth now.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Give Your Windows and Doors a Unique Vintage Treatment

I get the best emails from my readers! Susan Terkel sent me story along with some great photos. She certainly let your imagination and creativity go wild when she found uses for her vintage treasures.

It happened a few years ago when I was staring at my stash of vintage textiles, buttons, ribbons and looking at the screen door I had just purchased that had once been on a historic home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Voila! First, I realized that entering the car from the garage had always been, well, slightly boring and not at all Feng Shui and so I installed the vintage gold and green screen door on the door to my kitchen. Then I wallpapered the metal door to resemble a patchwork quilt.

Next came the window treatment in the dining room. Using mostly vintage ribbons – silks and velvets and some polyester and rayon ribbons – and vintage stamens that had once been manufactured for hat makers – and some vintage rhinestone, metal and plastic buttons, I got some books on flower making and proceeded to sew dozens – and dozens – of ribbon flowers. Yes, I got hooked on making flowers (and sold some and gave many others away as gifts or spontaneous gestures of goodwill). The more flowers I added, the more the window took on a special character.

Emboldened with my dining room window, I proceeded to make valences in the kitchen using vintage quilts that had tears in places and therefore damaged enough to be referred to as “cutting quilts,” meaning it won’t devalue the quilt or dishonor the quilter to cut it up into something different. Again, I embellished this valence with vintage buttons, this time using only rhinestone buttons.

By this time, my house was beginning to look more like the home of an artist (accurate) than the daughter of a decorator (true, too). What could I do with the vintage lace, especially the lace butterflies I cannot resist, the tiny vintage needlepoint I impulsively had to purchase (isn’t that the excitement and the justification of shopping vintage – you won’t get a second chance on what you see so impulse can be justified and enjoyed). I had just learned how to sew crazy quilts, having collected them for over a decade, and so I made one of my best projects – a crazy quilt valence for my parent’s bedroom.

Not everything is that vintage. Some is just collectible-cool, like my husband’s old Levi’s – no designer jeans for this guy. I took two pairs; cut them up, flattened them out, sewed them together, drew a few decorative curves, added the bias-tartan plaid hem from a skirt I had assembled, added a few vintage rhinestone buttons (okay, by now you can tell what I cannot resist – rhinestone buttons and old lace and yes, there are worse addictions but no, I don’t have any, except for Ben and Jerry’s coffee heath bar crunch icecream and I’m over that one by now). This six-foot wide valence is actually my favorite creation – humble but creative, cheerful and cheap. Yes, you can spend a fortune hunting down rare antiques. But you can also spend a delightful winter afternoon making a rare delight out of stuff no one really wanted or appreciated anymore. Or hire someone else who loves to do that sort of thing.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Antique Secretary

Suzanne G. Beyer sent me another incredible story about her family.  I hope you had a chance to read the first story she sent me a few weeks ago, The Bracelet.

The 1820 American Federal Secretary now sits in my dining room in Bothell, Washington. For four decades, this elegant antique was prominently displayed in the main parlor of my grandparents’ home in Cavendish, Vermont. I stood upon a dark red, blue, and gold Persian carpet and faced a bay window that overlooked lush, rolling hills.

I can just hear my mom, the daughter of a Vermont Senator, asking permission from her British-born mother to sit at the Secretary to write her report for school. I also envision straight-backed ladies in long skirts and high-necked silk blouses bedecked with a broach, dipping fountain pens into the ink well and carefully penning each letter in a journal.

I discovered an essay my mother wrote in 1924, tucked in one of the drawers of the Secretary.

It began, “This summer President and Mrs. Coolidge spent their vacation in Plymouth, Vermont. Plymouth is a hamlet which is situated among the Green Mountains. In this little Village, President Coolidge spent his boyhood days.”

Her letter represented finding that pot of gold.

The antique Secretary stands at six feet tall, with two doors, each with 12 diamond-shaped panes of glass on the top half. A small key securely locks this upper portion. On these narrow shelves, which once held books, are displayed wine glasses, china cups, blue and white Dresden plates, a souvenir plate of Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace and various candleholders. What adds to history for me, however, is my mother’s neatly penned essay, which remains stored in the Secretary. Mom shook hands with President Coolidge when her family was invited to a gathering during the president’s hometown visit.

“We have always lived in Vermont and had always wanted to see this president,” she wrote.

Mom went on to describe him.

“Coolidge impressed me as a very quiet man. He is of medium height but slender in size and has red hair. I had always pictured him as a larger and stronger man.”

She continued, “I also was very much impressed to think that a man like President Coolidge, who lived in a little village and had very few advantages, could become the President of the United States.”

Mom wrote her essay on the desktop, below the paned windows, that unfolds and rests on two sliding side supports. A burgundy-colored felt material covers the writing surface. The ink and pen wells are stored at the back of the desk.

Three graduated drawers, with brass pulls, are located below the desk. This is where I store candles in all colors, napkins for every occasion, place mats, and inherited fancy silverware; not the journals and notebooks of the early 19th century. At the bottom, a valance skirt, with French bracket feet, complete the Secretary. Three brass finials, the center one portraying an eagle, used to top the piece, however, are now missing with several moves of the Secretary.

The Federal period, from 1785 to 1820, was a time for cabinetmakers to create their finest furniture, following the lines of neoclassic England and Europe. This was a period of formality and elegance. Craftsmen refined the furniture using inlays and veneers, creating a lightness and delicacy to their design, unlike the bulky furniture of Colonial times.

Scott Daniels, owners of Heritage Woodworking says, “The Federal period was kind of the first era in American built furniture where craftsmen considered style and design in furniture.”

He continues, “It was really the first time in American history that the population (some of them anyway) could afford a more elaborate piece of furniture.”

Fancy veneers like burl walnut or tiger maple were used and the furniture was built from woods like mahogany, walnut and cherry. Craftsmen used brass for hardware instead of iron and as Daniels says, “Fancy brass Chippendale pulls were very popular.”

“The Federal pediment on furniture was styled after Washington D.C. architecture and other state buildings and court houses at the time,” says Daniels.

He adds, “If you look at buildings form the same time period many of them resemble Federal period furniture and vice versa.”

Daniels indicated that most desks had a finial with an eagle and some had a bust of a president or founding father. It sounds like craftsmen blossomed during this time, enjoying a stage to show off their art, skills and talents.

Although I admire the tradition of meticulously penning letters at a Secretary, since the 20th century invention, the computer has entered our home, that gray-colored box and keyboard sit on a table alongside the printer, well hidden from view, in a room upstairs. It has no brass pulls, valanced skirt or French bracket feet. This is where I write, dressed in sweatshirt and jeans, with no lacey blouse with broach in sight.

Curious to know the value of the Secretary, I found an appraisal made in 1979 by Warren H. Smith, of Shelburne, Vermont. Its value at that time, was $2000.00. Today, the value is more like $6,000. I have no plans on ever selling it, and would love for one of our daughters to enjoy its elegance some day.

As I polish the mahogany wood of the Secretary and clean each pane of glass, I feel I’ve stepped back into history --- at least for the moment. My visions include the impeccably dressed woman seated properly at the desk and the Green Mountain of Vermont, where Secretaries adorned home libraries and parlors and folks from small towns had big opportunities.