Style Shakedown

Focused on educating and inspiring the interior design crowd, detailing how best to take an idea & make it reality.

Artist: Geraldine Cario, Photographer: Nicolas Millet, via Cote Maison
Wall of Traces, Collection As Art, Collected Memories

A New Generation of Collectors

Some specialists say that if you collect a very diverse number of things, not settling on one or two genres, not buying an item for its elevated position within a collection, that you are not a “Collector.” I disagree. I think WE are a New Generation of Collectors, who buy collection-worthy items, in a great variety of genres, because we really really really appreciate quality & beauty, we appreciate history…we have the capacity to appreciate MANY things. AND… we are The Ones who want to live with only what we love, and we want to really LOVE what we live with, daily. No more, no less.

Via Tumblr
Individual Sets of Mismatched Antique Silverware, Tied With Ribbon
Via Apartment Therapy, Melanie Turner
Antique Headboard & Frame. Upcycled Antique Bedside Table.

The Art of Curating Your Life

It’s not the “art of tidying up,” (though that’s an awesome practice) or even “living tiny,” which is also awesome. It is The Art of Curating Your Life. Used to be, “curate”, that lofty word, meant you were in charge of, or organizing some exhibit or show at a gallery or museum. On 10/2/09, Tim Gough, a writer for the NewYork Times, defined it as a “fashionable code word among the aesthetically minded, who seem to paste it onto any activity that involves culling and selecting,” but that has become synonymous for “I have a discerning eye and great taste.”

Room styled by Barbara Westbrook. Via @HuffHarrington
Fabulous Antique Leather Wing Chair

Live With What You Love. Love What You Live With.

Credit: Silke Tamsma
Antique Bread and Utility Knives

Well, I’m ok with that, though at the time, I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. Because here is where we part ways: You get one (1, uno, un, yi) life (IMHO.) Why, for crying out loud, wouldn’t you want to thoroughly enjoy what you surround yourself with? The items in your home are what you see, and have to use, day in and day out. #LiveWithWhatYouLove, and #LoveWhatYouLiveWith. Choose what is beautiful, and what makes your heart happy. Curate, curate, curate!

To read more on collecting, antiques, vintage and collectibles, and for interior design inspiration, click here, and follow us on Pinterest and Instagram by clicking the buttons in the top right corner of the page!

They say that Wing Chairs are one of THE things you should always buy vintage or antique.

And, whether you buy seating online or at estate sales, these are the tips you need to get the best:

Credit: SouthernStyle
Deconstructed Wing Chair, with Exposed Frame

It’s All About Construction:

Forget about the color of the chair (currently,) look at the shape and and the construction. Imagine it in a wonderful fabric. Perhaps even a solid on the inside and a large scale print on the back.

Credit: Restoration Hardware
Deconstructed Wing Chair with Tufted Burlap, Vintage Style Only

Look Past the Obvious:

Sometimes first impressions aren’t the most important. Color and fabric can be distracting. Look past them because those can be changed. You should love the lines, the shape of the chair, or don’t buy it. The guts of a chair are difficult to ascertain for certain. Eight way hand tied coils may not be visible but the burlap webbing that is their base may be visible from the underside.

Credit: Washingtonian Furniture
Wing Back Parts

The Web is Your Secret Weapon:

When you cannot see the guts of the chair from the outside, you must use other means to assess the chair’s internal  quality. Look for a manufacturer’s mark, tag, stamp on the underside of the chair. Turn that puppy upside down. You HAVE to if you don’t want to buy blind. Who the manufacturer is can tell you a lot about the caliber of the materials & construction method used, under the surface. Google the maker before you buy.

Credit: Decsignco
Diagram of A Wing Back Chair’s Interior

Check Out Its Legs:

Look at the legs-are they solid wood or veneer? The best chairs are made of hardwoods like Mahogany, Oak, Maple, Ash and Alder. The legs are the most visible indicators of the caliber of wood likely used throughout. How are the legs attached? This is an indicator of general construction. They should not just be screwed on, which is a short cut and indicator of cheap construction. Legs should be doweled (preferably double doweled) and glued into blocks. Is the chair heavy? If so, that is another likely indicator that the manufacturers used better materials. The older the piece is, often, the more likely it’s well made (and by that I mean 45+years) But you can’t know that for sure if you don’t really examine it.

Credit: Decsignco
Wing Back Chairs, Internal Construction Possibilities

Is It Worth It?

One more thing: a well-made wing chair, with beautiful lines, is worth recovering. But you will need 6-7 yards of upholstery weight fabric, and at least another $700 or so for the upholsterer’s fees (more depending on the condition and materials you specify, for example, down cushions.) You may need to add delivery charges for both ways, unless you have a truck. Finding fabulous material for less, getting help with delivery, or “horse-trading”(still happens!) with a local upholsterer, or even learning to upholster on your own or in a class, can bring the total down substantially. You may very well end up spending as much as a new wing chair from a big box store, but in return, you’ll be getting an heirloom quality, custom, well-made chair that will last a lifetime, instead of a few years.

Credit: Atelier De La Marquise
Bare frame, 8 way hand tied springs on burlap webbing, prepped and ready for upholstery, finished and trimmed.

The Key:

When you add up the costs,  you must make sure that the wing chair has both the beautiful lines, and the caliber of basic construction to warrant the TOTAL cost. If you follow these tips, and find that vintage chair, looking at what it can become, you’ll very likely never regret your purchase. Recovering most modernly constructed chairs, is a waste of money. Buying any used chair, without considering the total cost before purchasing can lead to many moons, spent in the presence of someone else’s dastardly fabric choices. (You could, in fact, end up like me, with a beautifully-made chair, that has remained in its truly awful “original” celery green, cheap velvet for 12 long years. Fortunately (??) 12 yrs later, celery green is “in.” Eeek.) Ultimately, this is the key: Look for the things that really matter, if you want a great wing chair, one that’ll look and feel great for years.  Add up the total cost from the get go. And always, always buy fabulous wing chairs that are from the time when beautiful furniture was meant to last.

Credit: Minto Thorsen
My Renaissance Revival antique armchair, still dressed in the dreadful, cheap celery green velvet, it was wearing when I bought it, 12 years ago.

Click here to read more on becoming a savvy antique and vintage shopper!
For Sale on GoAntiques: Victorian Mahogany Wing Back
For Sale on GoAntiques: Early 1900s Wing Chair
For Sale on GoAntiques: 19th C Walnut Armchair
Italian Bergere Chairs, c.1950

Click here to read more on becoming a savvy antique and vintage shopper!

“I say to myself that I shall try to make my life like an open fireplace, so that people may be warmed and cheered by it and so go out themselves to warm and cheer.”

Elegant and gorgeous, all the essentials for a perfect Holiday tablescape
Credit: Donal Skehan


So many wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas tablescapes and decor ideas bombard social media, this time of year… So, this is the short list of biggest-bang-for-the-buck things you can include  to make your tablescapes, and decor truly wonderful, and gorgeous.

Mood, romance, and settings so beautiful they almost have fragrance, are not that difficult to achieve, with a few carefully chosen elements.  Architectural features like ancient stuccoed walls, 20 foot high ceilings (fit for chandeliers) and banks of windows may be beyond many folks reach. But there are a few things that import so much atmosphere, to a room or tablescape, that I use them whenever possible. They are fragrant botanicals, wonderful antique and vintage mirrors, candlelight (and additional lighting with chandeliers, Edison bulbs, or fairylights), and antique tableware.

Botanicals and candle light
Credit: viaQuintessentialduckeggBLUE

Botanicals are always best served fresh:

Holiday brunch perfection. Rosemary sprays and wreaths.
Credit: QuintessentialDuckEggBlue


Holly, poinsettia, pine, and boxwood are ubiquitous, but can be a bit boring. Instead, I hunt down the most fragrant botanicals I can find: Fir, eucalyptus, bay leaf, rosemary, and cedar boughs, garlands, and wreaths. I enjoy contrasting foliage with fruit (pomegranates, lemons,  clove spiked oranges,) gourds, fossils and naturally shed horn, antler, and exotic artifacts.. Extra long cinnamon sticks and pinecones are traditional, and get tucked away in many rooms.  But other than fragrance, it is those botanicals that introduce a calligraphic statement which create the biggest impact.

Happily, they can be gathered yourself, or easily purchased: tall, stripped branches and groomed boughs, which I sometimes paint–this year in red, with fire hydrant paint, in case they end up outside, in arrangements.  Grapevine branches and young bamboo, left natural or sprayed gold, are wonderful and add layers of height, without blocking sight lines.

Candle light, texture, chandelier and mirror, with evergreens. Lovely, even by day.
Credit: Carmen Darwin


A Time To Reflect:

There are few things that work well in almost any space, with low or high ceilings, that instantly add as much atmosphere and mood, as does a large antique mirror.  A wonderful collection of smaller antique mirrors can sometimes carry the same impact, and have the added virtue of being adaptable to a variety of spaces. But large mirrors open a room, much like a window, and have decor chops like almost nothing else. Moreover, apart from any individual mirror’s singular beauty, they reflect light. 10 candles become 20, 40 fairy lights become 80.  Mirrors and candlelight belong together like the stars in the night sky.

Versatile collection of smaller antique mirrors
Credit: Kindred Vintage


Candlelit elegance
Credit: Enchanted Home


“I say to myself that I shall try to make my life like an open fireplace, so that people may be warmed and cheered by it and so go out themselves to warm and cheer.”

George Matthew Adams, a mid-20thC writer, editor and philosopher said that. And isn’t that the highest goal of any tablescape, any meal, any occasion?  The great thing is, aside from adding beauty, candlelight can help you accomplish that goal. Researchers have found that time spent in proximity to flickering fire lowers blood pressure, and causes people to both relax, and feel more sociable. A fireplace, bonfire or firepit would no doubt give a stronger dose of well-being, but not everyone has a fireplace in the room in which they dine, and bonfires, in the home, are frowned upon.

Since the studies scientists used to record these facts used video of fire, rather actual fire, it is no stretch to see how candles’ flames can provide similar results. Candle light is, in fact, just a more diminutive, less smokey version of that wonderful thing that happens around a campfire, at night, when the stories start to flow. It’s rich amber hue is inviting, soothing, inviting, forgiving…and perfect for taking marvelous photos. Candelabras, and multiple candlesticks, recreate that atmosphere, at table. It is essential because it is so much more than just table light.


Atmospheric candlelit tablescape and antique mirror
Credit: Donal Skehan

Mismatched Treasure:

“Antique silver objects are among the most evocative treasures we possess. Whether handed down from generation to generation or purchased new, they become one of the threads in a family’s history…Because these things are also part of our everyday life, and not just displayed in a glass case, they give us a special link to the past and remind our children of their heritage — of quirky family stories and fun adventures. These pieces travel with us through our lives, growing older with a special grace.” 

This is one of the loveliest explanations on why this remains an essential for the best tablescapes. Not only does it add incredibly romantic luster, old world glamour, and marvelous beauty to your table, it starts up conversation all across the table. Guests compare their settings with one another to decide favorites, making up wildly humorous, fictional histories, or to listen, smiling, to family stories about some particular piece.

Mismatched Antique & Vintage Silver
Credit: Unknown source, Tumblr

I use mismatched antique and vintage hotel silver, mismatched antique cutlery, with beauty and/or charm,  and unusual Victorian (or heavy silver) candelabras and candlesticks. I also collect antique silver napkin rings and beautiful fabric napkins. Each piece is chosen for its whimsy or beauty, though I tend toward an eclectic blend of classic and simple lines, Art Nouveau era, and quirky folk tale inspired pieces. That they are mismatched, I find wonderful, though I have repeats of a few. Each piece tells a different story.

I’ve found that family members and friends develop their own favorites within my collection, which tickles me to no end, and adds to the continuing legacy of each piece.  The settings, to me, matter more than the table, though, of course I love big antique wooden tables, especially those about whose patina I do not have to worry over much.

Mismatched antique silver
Credit: Lisa Cohen

That is because, if a dining table is less than lovely, it can be covered. And if it very valuable, it must be covered.  Layer table covering with texture and contrast in mind. Rough over luxe, solid over print. If the tablecloth is primarily solid (for example burlap over a lighter muslin, ticking, or broadcloth), I mismatch the napkins so that no two are alike, though a color prevails. If the tablecloth has a print, solid colored napkins are preferable. It is the combination textures, and of solid and print, and that allows the eyes to rest, and gives the broadest room for successful mismatching of tableware, silver, botanicals, and sophisticated whimsy.

Lyrical and lovely Holiday tablescape

Buy items like those shown in this blog below on! 

Large mirror in gilded ornate frame. Believed early 20th Century. 53 X 30.


20th Century Italian Mirror In Gilt Wood
Antique Neoclassical Giltwood & Gesso Mirror, 36.5″x50″x6″deep, c.1900
Antique Vermilion Red Chinoiserie Mirror, 63″ H X 33.3″ W X 2″ D
Pair of Antique Bronze & Brass Candlesticks
Victorian Revival Brass Candelabra Multi Arm Candelabra
Antique Baccarat Style Molded Crystal Glass Candelabra
Pair Bronze & Porcelain Rooster Candelabras by Arson, c.mid1800s


Pair of Silver Art Nouveau Candelabra by WMF




Antique Persian Qajar Dynasty Period Silverplated Lantern / Hanging Lamp
Antique Neoclassical Silvered Bronze Chandelier
Rogers Fair Oak Dinner Forks 6 pcs. 1913 Silver Plate
“Louis XVI” Silver-Plated Bouillon Spoon Set/3 Ca. 1900 Nat’l/Bonn/Smith
Antique Knowles BONBON Spoon STERLING
Bakelite handled and Silver Plated boxed Deco teaspoon set
Antique Robert PRINGLE Teapot LONDON S.P.
Antique Mappin Bros Silverplate Coffee Pot
Victorian Silverplate 3 Sided Biscuit Box
Meriden Silverplate Victorian 6-Bottle Castor Set




Credit: Mimi Reed for Veranda Magazine

The holidays and guests are on their way!

Preparing to host holiday guests doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. In fact, sometimes it’s the smallest gesture that says the most. A few good tips, some forethought about the needs of your particular guests, and the effort to make whatever you have, as comfortable as you can, is key in being the best host. We’ve gathered some basic best practices for a host to show guests they are welcome.

First Things First:

Clean your home thoroughly, especially any area where your guest(s) will be.  This is especially important if you have a pet – even if your guest has animals, themselves. Folks sometimes have sensitivities to the dander of other peoples’ pets. Nothing is worse than an allergic reaction in the middle of the night. Moreover, as the weather grows cooler, houses are warmer and more closed up, making heat, dust and Eau de Pet more extreme. It is easy to overlook our own critters’ impact on our homes or allergies, so do make sure you deep-clean before your guests arrive. Dust, vacuum, mop, and open the window, to circulate some fresh air.  

Sleeping Arrangements in Shared Space:

Credit: SFGirlByBay

The thought and effort a host puts into making their guests comfortable doesn’t have to cost a penny, yet it speaks louder than luxurious bedding, and an endless supply of amenities.  Considering a guest’s needs, and trying to make them as comfortable as possible, whatever your means, quietly translates into a heartfelt welcome.

If you will be using an air mattress, try to place it out of the main traffic pattern in whichever room it will be. If possible, place it so that there is as much privacy as possible. Test the mattress over 3 days, ahead of time, to be sure it doesn’t have a leak. Also, be absolutely sure to use a heavy mattress pad, (a blanket, or even an aired, opened flat sleeping bag can work) between the mattress and the bottom sheet.  Cots and air mattresses are affected by the temperature of the floor, which radiates up, and makes the sleeper cold (or hot) & clammy, even if the vinyl mattress has been “flocked.”  A bottom sheet just isn’t enough insulation, and is miserable to sleep on. Sweep the space, before setting up the mattress, to protect it from punctures. If the mattress has a pump, leave it accessible, for middle-of-the-night adjustments.

Credit: Death-By-Elocution.tumblr

Whatever caliber of bedding you use, make sure it is fresh. Blankets and comforters that have been in storage can always use, at least, a good shake and airing, either by hanging outside on a line, or a long air tumble cycle with a dryer sheet. I love percale sheets & pillowcases, & linen-covered down duvets, which are easy to launder, and deliciously comfortable. It’s a good idea  include a top sheet, even with a duvet, so your guests can sleep only under a sheet if hot. Include an extra blanket, at the foot of the bed or close by, for added warmth. Two pillows per person is a common rule of thumb, ideally, one firmer/softer than the other.

Credit via: One Kind Design

 Something many hosts don’t realize, especially if they are younger or more fit, is that not everyone can easily get up from low sleeping arrangements, especially for a midnight bathroom run. Do place a wooden chair near any bed that is low, in the assumption your guests could need something to hold on to, whilst getting up or down. Wooden chairs are great as they can potentially double as a makeshift bedside table, a suitcase stand, or just a spot to put on socks and shoes.

However, whether your guest will have their own room, or a sleep in a shared space, the Number One Most Important Thing is to put yourself in your guest’s shoes, and try to accommodate THEIR needs. Try out your guest sleeping space, by sleeping there first, yourself. You may find that the albeit beautiful sunrise, hits the guest sleeper smack in the eyeball, unless you move the mattress to a different spot,. You need to provide a window cover, or a sleeping mask. It gives perspective. Remembering your own best and worst experiences as someone’s guest is always helpful, as well.

Space Trumps Decor:

Credit: Kelly Nan
  1. A small vase of fresh flowers is a lovely touch, but fight the urge to over-decorate. If collections/decor cover the better part of every surface (because you think “I am beautifying the room for everyday, not just for guests…”) pare them back to a minimum, before your guests arrive and bring them back out after your guests depart.
  2. Creating space for your guests, on surfaces, in the closet (with plenty of hangers), with over the door hooks, or in a dresser, says you care more about their ease in your home than your decor. It says, “We want you to be comfortable, for as long as you are here.”
  3. At minimum, a guest needs someplace elevated and flat, to easily access their suitcase, whether it is a bench, a trunk, a wooden chair or a suitcase rack, which can be bought for less than $50.Likewise, a nightstand, shelf, or bedside surface, of some sort, near the bed, for a guest to lay out their bedtime articles, like spectacles, jewelry, meds, a charging cellphone, a carafe/bottle of water…is helpful.
  4. I always include a plugged-in 3 prong power strip, that reaches the bed, so guests can easily power/use their laptop, phone, etc. The basics I have always provided were a box of tissues, a carafe or bottled water, and unmessy treats/snacks that don’t need refrigeration.

If that sounds overwhelming, do what you can, and start with the basics.

Credit: Benjamin Moore

Ready to prepare your home for guests this holiday season, using antique & vintage finds?

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The Dedicated Guest Room:

Good (Basic):

Credit: The Art of Doing Stuff
  1. A3 prong extension cord
  2. Water
  3. Tissues
  4. A waste basket
  5. A printed card with your WiFi login and password, entry passcodes, a couple of core
  6. emergency phone numbers, and the address of your home.
  7. Some hosts add basic how to use the TV/remotes info, and notes about the oddball
  8. home idiosyncrasies they might need to know (ex: our guest bathtub built-in drain
  9. plug requires it being opened or closed a certain way, without any symbols
  10. revealing the secret maneuver.)
  11. A nightlight in the hall or a flashlight

Better (Additional gestures that cost little, but have great impact):

Credit: A Beautiful Mess
    1. All of the above
    2. Bedside reading lamp
    3. Access to an ironing board and iron
    4. A small bowl for jewelry
    5. A basket with slippers, fuzzy socks, for cold floors
    6. Hand lotion
    7. A spare house/gate/pool key for those days you can’t be there
    8. New issues of interesting, or local magazines, a copy of a favorite book or two (short stories, or ones that they can take with them, if they get enmeshed.)
    9. Local magazine, map, brochures, places of interest
    10. Pencil & paper
    11. A small alarm clock (not necessary for most cell phone users)

    Credit: Good Housekeeping via Fox Hollow Cottage

The Best:

  1. All of the above
  2. A suitcase stand
  3. A sleeping mask
  4. An XL robe in a unisex color
  5. A fan/heater
  6. An armchair & ottoman with a side table, reading light, lap blanket
  7. A full length or wall mirror
  8. A desk/vanity near a window where a guest can put on makeup
  9. White noise generator (Fans & air purifiers can pull double duty here.  This is hugely valuable for visiting children at bedtime.)
Credit: Improvements Catalogue


Credit: Tessa Neustadt for Architectural Digest

The Guest Bath:

No matter your living arrangements, the goal is to make your guest feel welcome, as comfortable as possible, and cared for. So work with what you have, add what you can, but make sure whichever bathroom guests use, is really clean, and your guests do have a way to freshen up.

Basic (Core:)

Credit: Shades of Blue Interiors via Country Living Magazine
  1. Stock way more than enough toilet paper. (You know how you would feel if stuck in that uncomfortable situation!)
  2. At least 1 large towel (2 is better), a hand towel, and 2 face cloths, per guest.
  3. Space to put their toiletries
  4. A water glass, to rinse teeth
  5. Core toiletries should be full and include liquid body soap or a new unopened bar
    of soap, just for your guest.
  6. Door hooks

The Better Guest Bath:

Credit: The Holding Company
  1. All of the above
  2. Emergency feminine hygiene products, so they don’t have to ask…
  3. Tylenol or other pain reliever
  4. Cotton pads, q-tips
  5. Hair dryer

The Best Guest Bath:

Credit: Fortune and Luxury
  1. All of the above
  2. Plush towels
  3. Plush bath matt
  4. Weight scale
  5. Choice of special toiletries
  6. Bath salts
  7. New toothbrushes/toothpaste
  8. Clean comb/brush
  9. New disposable razor
  10. Hair elastics
  11. Makeup/nail polish remover towelettes
  12. Emergency travel sewing kit, safety pins
  13. Nail file
  14. Lint roller

Expand your guest’s experience this holiday season using antique & vintage finds!

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Credit: Kelly Nan

The Extra Mile:

Finishing touches can be small, or extensive. Adding a small vase of flowers to a guest room is lovely. But even a single wildflower, in a water glass, brightens a space and speaks volumes.

Thinking about your guests’ needs,  make sure your kitchen is stocked with basic breakfast ingredients, especially coffee or tea, sweeteners and cream, or whatever you know is key to a guest getting a good start, in the morning. Juice, fruit, muffins, or oatmeal are easy foods to have on hand. It is a good idea to ask ahead whether your guests have any special dietary needs (allergies, diabetes, etc), or is particularly fond of certain foods. Having breakfast and snack foods that familiar, or loved, is a fabulous way to show you care.






Credit: A Shade of Teal


Hosting Little Guests:

If your guests will include children, it is important to think through some basic safety issues. Outside doors, bathroom doors, closets and cabinets that hold cleaners, poisons and sharp objects should be closed, locked and made difficult for smaller children to access. Pools require huge vigilance. 

The holidays are a time when both guests and hosts are happily visiting, and more distracted than ordinary. It is worth making your home as child-safe as you can to avoid the accidents that can happen so quickly.


Stocking a few basic, familiar child-friendly foods including Cheerios, bananas, raisins, milk, apple juice,  Annie’s Mac & Cheese, or frozen cheese ravioli can make everyone’s life so much easier, and are almost always thoroughly appreciated by visiting mothers. Additionally, items like fragrance free wet-wipes, ziplock type bags for disposing of diapers, and age appropriate goodies like puzzles, sticker books, an Art Box with paper & crayons or colored pencils, and pipe-cleaners,  go a long way in helping you all get more and better adult visiting time, and kids that’ll adore you forever.


A Host’s Lasting Impressions  :

Unfortunately many  of us have stayed in homes in which the hosts made so little effort, the guests were made to feel like an afterthought. Little forethought or effort from a host, inevitably sends the message that the host is indifferent about the guests’ visit, is ungenerous, or is even put out. That sad impression lingers long into the future. Therefore, the more effort you can reasonably make, the better. Conversely, much effort, on the part of a host, even of small means, engenders a kind of heartfelt appreciation that is almost blind to any lack, and likewise, echoes into the future.

I love reading other folks’ ideas on wonderful ways to show friends and family how happy I am they’ve come to visit. But I have also come to understand that the follow-through which compels someone to actually prepare, even in young folks who are already pretty considerate people,  is an evolving skill.  If practiced, it matures, part of the character of a generous heart. I know hosts, with very limited means, who routinely take care of their guests, with joy, thoughtful gestures, and clear forethought.  And, while who wouldn’t enjoy 5 star accommodations, I’d choose that kind of host over a chilly 5 star any day. It really does not matter how much or how little you have. Hosting comes from the heart, and is expressed by forethought, resulting in effort.

Credit: Yvonne Pratt for Stone Gable

Wow your guests by furnishing your home with antique & vintage finds!

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Starting a Collection Is So Easy You May Not Realize You’ve Begun!

Folks have been amassing items purely for pleasure since 4,000 B.C. starting with collections of non-functional stone tools. Over the centuries, collecting became the hobby almost exclusively of the rich, who collected books, art, oddities, botanicals, taxidermy, the unique and exotic.  By the early 1900’s people of all ages (and economic backgrounds) could enjoy collecting; the wealthy still collected books, art, historic furniture, weapons, and the exotic, women collected dolls, jewelry, ephemera, needlework, household decor, and textiles, children-discarded cigar bands, toys, and advertising give-aways. More recently, collecting has gone far beyond being merely a wealthy person’s status symbol, or past time to keep one occupied whilst indoors or infirm.

Chained library at Chetham Library in Manchester, England. The oldest public library in the English-speaking world.


Avid, seasoned collectors may agree with author Steven Gebler, (Hobbies) who stated, “The desire to be the possessor of a unique item is, in the opinion of many collectors, the underlying motivation for the hobby since it makes one the object of envy, and to be envied is a sign of success.”  But times are a-changin’ and, today, many collections are begun without any sort of conscious decision, no “Hey, I think I’ll become a collector, starting with this right here!” $64 billion worth of home decor items are expected to be purchased by 2020, much of it by “collectors” who have only just come to the realization that not only are they repeatedly drawn to the same kind of thing, but they seem to have acquired quite a few.


Et Voilà! Another Accidental Collector is born!

Whether you’ve become an “accidental collector,” have a life goal to become a collector, or are a full-fledged magpie with one serious (or many) collection(s), taking a next, deeper step can be hugely beneficial. That step is to focus your collection. In other words, as you go forward, narrow the selection, within the genre of what you collect, into a specialized, focused part of that genre. In the top left photo, the owner doesn’t just collect “art,” but paintings, and not just animal painting, but paintings of dogs. As a result, this collection has wonderful visual cohesiveness, and is far more unique. If you collect, say, mirrors, consider limiting your collection to Mid Century Modern versions, convex mirrors, Louis Philippe style, or ones with the same color frames.

Focus Your Collections!

By color, texture, shape, subject matter, designer or era, there are many ways to narrow your choices. You’ll find this adds interest, fun, and challenge to the hunt for additions to your collections. Moreover, the visual punch of a well curated, focused collection is amazing. Displayed, your newly focused collection will reveal something wonderful- the variety and nuances within this more specialized grouping, and the synergy that exists between the individual pieces, when gathered together. You’ll  be thrilled to find that your specialized collection is a marvelous example of Aristotle’s “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”


Need something wonderful for your collection?

Antique 17th century Nürnberg Zinn Pewter Relief Plate Kaisertel
Antique miniature cannon, 18th century style, dates from the 19th century
19th Century French painting
La Negresse Plaster Bust Sculpture After Jean Baptiste Carpeaux
Antique French Mirror, second half of the 19th century.
Vintage French Mid-Century Modern Brass Starburt Mirror by Chaty Villauris
Vintage Musical Rotating Globe/Cigarette Holder Mid Century Modern
Vintage World Globe With Seasons, Zodiak, and Months


Click on the item that is calling your name to see it up close! Or click here to see many other wonderful additions to your collections!

Interested in learning more about collecting? Check out our Developing a Good Eye series.

Credits:   1. Diocese of Wenchoster library, Photo: Pharisaios and Pharisaios Publications 2. Photo: Blayne Beecham 3. Photo: Jeff Hirsch  4. Photo: Hannah Puechmarin for Apartment Therapy 5. Design: Eileen Kathryn Boyd, via Traditional Home 6. Brook Astor’s Dog Painting Collection, undated file photo provided by Sotheby’s 7. Photo: Philippe Kress, for House and Home

Fall has come…

but that doesn’t mean we have to hole up just yet. Use every night you can to enjoy being outside. Fairy lights have become Edison lights, great vintage chairs don’t have to match, an antique, rustic table that can seat a crowd is perfect. Pile on flowers and greenery! Use all manner of old lanterns like starlight; they are perfect in profusion. Drag your vintage, beautiful things outside, light it up with laughter, and enjoy that wonderful sense of rest that happens when you can still be outside for hours at a time! Hooray for warm days, balmy evenings, with a bit of snap, and great friends! Image from Pinterest. Looking for more like this? Visit our Style Shakedown section for all things Design Inspiration

You can find items like the ones in this photo at! Click the images below for more information.

Rustic Farmhouse Dining Table

1930’s Antique Enamel Porcelain Babybath with stand – makess a great planter


Lennart Bender Mid-Century Chair

French Country Farmhouse Dining Chair

Good Eye – Part 3

Developing a Good Eye #3 Header Image

Developing a Good Eye, Part 3:

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series. Click below for the previous installments:

1: Learning To Discern

2: Working Through The When

The “Where”s- The Four Best Stops on a Collector’s Roadtrip

The last time I drove cross country, I talked to people who lived in Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. I was hunting for something specific, so I needed to tap into the locals’ insider knowledge base. I talked to everyone, sifting for an expert.

A map is pretty helpful too, whether or not you have GPS, because it gives you a constant overview of your journey. Still, a map is useless if you have no idea from where it is you are starting. You have to know two things, in fact: where you are, currently, and where you want to go. Developing a collector’s Good Eye and acumen is like that. In fact, it is a whole lot like a road trip.

If time and money are no issue, you can wander around aimlessly, see whatever pops up, and buy everything you come across. No prep, no pain, but also, very likely a lot less gain. However, if a person is serious about becoming an expert, they won’t want to meander, and won’t want (or can’t afford) to fritter away time and resources on regrettable purchases. A person who has determined to take the road to developing a Good Eye takes the time to figure out his starting point, his key resources for the journey, the destination, and the best route to get there. He identifies a few top places he does not want to miss, because there is truth in the saying that the trip is as important as the destination.

There are many ways to learn to ask “Where” questions about your collectibles. The questions could involve learning what the city hallmarks are for silver assayed in Great Britain. You could decide to research which are the best parts of the country to find new pieces for your genre of collection. Another could be, “Which are the best cities for flea market, estate, and garage sale finds?” According to antiques expert Reyne Haines Hirsch, Texas yard sales mainly yield used clothing and baby gear, while New York estate sales are still a treasure trove for collectors. The “Where Questions” you formulate will be compass points that direct you, as well as markers on your journey to becoming expert. They are also food for conversation with other collectors along the way.

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The First Stop

You really can’t get far down the road without making the first critical stop. This stop is at your favorite, comfortable chair, where you need to sit down, and do a little critical thinking about your current knowledge base, and the areas in which you lack information. If you are a Star Wars memorabilia fan, consider what it would take to learn everything possible about the franchise, its production, and locations. Look at every facet of the object of your fascination. Think about camera and CGI techniques, the script, the costuming, the depiction of outer space and alien worlds. Identify what elements it is about each film (or whatever you collect) that drives you to collect it. Define what is most interesting to you, and then watch for those same elements and their development across the history of the Star Wars franchise. Identifying and then focusing on what makes something interesting, or of value to you, will direct you to ask better questions, and search out deeper and more thorough information in places like online forums. YouTube videos and online education courses, like or Skillshare, are easily accessible pools of information.

Even if your fascination for Star Wars is limited to the action figures, research their development, creation, and manufacturing. This first stop is comparable to the red bubble on the “You Are Here” map at the mall. Without that key element for orientation, you could be lost for hours (days, even), hopelessly unable to find the store you need. This is exacerbated when you find yourself unable to retrace your steps through a vast ocean of parked vehicles all resembling your car. So, before you go any farther, stop and analyze your current position. Define what it is that you love most about what you collect, and identify at least a few areas in which you need to grow your knowledge. This will direct how you expand your knowledge base.

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Collectibles on display from a visit with Gemr member, The Brick Store Museum

Stop Numbers 2 and 3

The 2nd and 3rd places to visit along the route to developing your Good Eye are sites you must not miss. Museums, for example Winterthur, the former home of the Duponts (who were collectors of fine antiques), are the places where you can expand your mind beyond its current limits, no matter what you collect. Museums house collections that time and history have determined to be the most important. Take in what has lasted, what was brilliantly made, what is important enough to have been preserved, and what is still beautiful in spite of changing tastes.

Museums are a gift to your growth. In a similar manner, galleries have the bead on today and tomorrow’s aesthetic. Galleries like the Jackson Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta, GA are the showcase for what is new, what is emotionally moving, what is important enough to be displayed, what commands big bucks, and yet is still purchasable. Both museums and galleries, whether virtual or brick and mortar locations like the Portland Museum of Art, train you to recognize excellence on a level you cannot easily find elsewhere. And, they train you for free.

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@estateguy shared not only this mason jar with the community, but his expertise about the piece as well.

The 4th Stop

The 4th place on the journey that you do not want to miss is that place where you can hang with experts and dealers you admire. Often, they are happy to share information with a kindred spirit, especially if you have clearly spent some time in the above 3 locations on the route to developing a collector’s Good Eye. It’s important to have done this because, typically, their time is valuable. A sincere, thoughtful question from a novice is a pleasure to answer, but thoughtless ones… not so much. Experts are generally busy folk.

That, truly, is the beauty of a collecting community, like, a social platform of over 105k collectors. Gemr is home to an array of both serious collectors – ones with massive collections, and ones with smaller, highly curated collections. There are a number of amazingly informed collectors, and some flat-out world-class experts in their fields. Comic book collectors could not do better than to spend time in the Comic Book Club with @jetpackcomics. Antiques collectors share club membership with author, researcher, and dealer/collector @estateguy, who has, he says, a “particular interest and knowledge in the fields of early American furniture and clocks,” and a lifetime accumulation of knowledge in many areas of collecting.

There are very few locations, geographically or virtually, where there is access to such a pool of experts. Just by being active on Gemr, identifying the serious collectors and experts, and listening to their interactions about their own, and others members’ collections, you can learn. Consider what background information experts use in their explanations and descriptions. Do they seem to have a larger understanding of the era, or a more technical or mechanical understanding? Add these to your list of things to research, or places to visit on your journey. Study their tagging and info cards; model your own after theirs. This will move you far and fast on the Good Eye road trip.

Paying attention to other collectors’ interactions with experts may highlight elements in a collectible you hadn’t even noticed. Camera and Photographic Equipment Club member, @davidsilver, is a remarkably knowledgeable, globally recognized expert in antique and vintage cameras. A recent comment he made, concerning a fellow gemr’s antique mystery camera, not only shed light on the camera’s maker, model and value, but also pointed out a missing part that no one else had mentioned. An expert’s eye is generally so finely tuned, they see what others miss. They see what ought to be, but isn’t. You can grow just by listening to what they say to others collectors. However, it is by sharing what you have learned that you retain the information. Experts never stop learning. They are sponges, as all collectors should be. And, because experts love what they collect, learning about it is not a chore. That is the leading thought and model we must follow.

The Destination

And so, you see, the route to the destination is learning. The homestretch is the process of critical thinking, using that knowledge. The doorway is the developed Good Eye that enables you to scout out, recognize, and keenly understand which collectible to buy. The warm, and wonderful “Welcome!” is the collection that you will have put together over the years, curating it yourself, with all that you have learned, traveling along the road to acquiring a seriously Good Eye.

This is Part 2 of an on-going series. Click here to see Part 1.

It doesn’t matter if you collect Fine Art or Funko Pops, the training method necessary to developing a good eye remains the same.

Whether you collect ephemera, antique furniture, or prehistoric animal parts, you can learn to be discerning. Using the five W and H questions before purchasing a new item will go far in improving your collection. The questions must be tailored to point you toward the elements you need to look for. However, even learning how to ask the question trains you. Learning to see past the obvious, you begin to analyze what you are seeing. Reading your collectible with a purpose, enables you to objectively determine if the item is a wise purchase.

The order in which you ask your 6 questions is not important. What is important is that you tailor each question to suit the genre of items you collect, and then internalize the questions so the asking becomes habitual. Finally, you must take the time to mentally answer those questions, and let the answers direct your buying.

Animation Cel from Gemr User Sullivanimation

“When?” obviously, is the time question that helps you place an item in its proper era. For Gemr user sullivananimation, this could be as simple as, “What year did Disney’s Fantasia hit theaters?” But if you collect the artwork that is part of the cartoon’s development, knowing the timeline of a cartoon movie’s production process is helpful. Storyboards, 2D and 3D modeling, sketchy “pencil tests,” and composited animation cels are sequential. They all speak to when, in the production process, an item was created. Sullivanimation’s Classic North American Animation collection includes elements from one franchise that spans over 60 years. Because Disney uses recurring characters, such as Mickey Mouse playing the role of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in both Fantasia (1940) and Fantasia 2000 (1997), knowing when changes occurred within Disney’s animation production process can actually tell you whether an animation cel of Mickey is from 1940 or 1997.

The “When” questions you ask should compel you to look for those elements that are both easy and more difficult to see. Analyzing a production process often yields time indicators, materials, colors, and techniques not often used in modern production. Depending on what it is you collect, that could mean the use of square nails, hand stitching, hand applied ornamentation, or decorating techniques that would likely be machine applied today.


Your type of collection determines the span of time within which you need to be able to differentiate. A collector of clocks will have 300 years to categorize, while a collector of Star Wars related items has no more than about 40 years. “When” questions should encourage your eye to notice indicators or discrepancies that reveal whether a piece is “period appropriate,” or accurate in style, technique, materials, or packaging for the time frame from which it (supposedly) hails.

It may be that your item has, or does not have features that are important in determining its age. Marble collectors who would buy this rare, $250 marble on eBay must also note what the marble does not include to determine its age and value. They must look for an indicator of how the marble was made. If there is no “pontil,” the attachment point of a handmade glass blown marble, the marble is almost certainly machine made. When no pontil is visible, but there are other antique qualities, such as the caliber of the glass and colors, or the presence of bubbles, the contradiction itself will enable the collector to place a marble’s age within an era.


In a Gemr blog detailing how to avoid buying bootleg WWE action figures, we are told that “the devil is in the details.” This slowing down and asking your eye to pick out whether your item is correct for the way items of its kind were being illustrated, painted (in the techniques of the day), depicted, carved, packaged, accessorized, clothed, or manufactured at that time, is the purpose for asking the “When?” of the five W and H questions. Preparing yourself with the timelines you need, teaching yourself to stop, ask, and answer even just this one question will improve your eye considerably.

Another When Question might be, “When was this item made, were many or only a few made?” Can it still be found in great quantity, or is it rare? Is it so fragile, or seemingly unimportant, like matchbooks, that few are likely to survive into the future, regardless of the number that currently exist? With many collectibles, their condition, visual appeal, and scarcity are important influences on value.

Some of these questions could be shoehorned into several of the other 5 Questions. The analysis of manufacturing techniques could be considered How, Where, or even What Questions. But, which category a question falls under is like the order in which you ask the question: It matters less than the asking and answering itself. The formulaic part of the five W and one H questions is only a mnemonic aid.  It’s like an anagram to help you remember, at that exciting moment of discovery, all the things to look for, and mentally process before you decide to buy. It is this process of thoughtful inquisition that is of value no matter what you collect.

This was part 2 of an on-going series. To see Part 3 click here.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Developing a Discerning Eye!


Learning To Discern

This is Part 1 of an ongoing series. 

Collectors with a “good eye” build killer collections. They know where to go, what to think about, what to pay, and when to pounce. They have learned how to assess each item they are considering for their collection. In fact, this ability to discern makes even the youngest of them seem seasoned and gifted.

Fortunately, having a good eye is not something you either have or don’t have at birth. It’s not like being born with perfect pitch. It’s not a gift of genetic coding that enables you to send a 15 lb shot put through the school’s back fence on your first try. It’s not like being born into the Rockefeller family, with such preposterous wealth that you can hire someone else’s good eye to build a collection of treasures for you. So, even if you think you’re the puny one at the waaaay back of the Innate Talents and Gifts Line, take heart, because with motivation and practice, you too can develop a good eye!


The Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English describes having a good eye as being “good at noticing a particular type of thing, especially something attractive, valuable, [or] of good quality.” Anyone willing to learn the intricate variations and differences between collectibles within a particular group can absolutely develop this talent. Anyone can learn to discern. The definition of discern is this: it is to perceive by sight and by the intellect. It is to distinguish mentally and recognize the difference between things. It is to become discriminating, in the best sense of the word. Those who take the time to learn to discern can develop an eye so good as to seem gifted.

The key to discerning is not that difficult. You must learn to distinguish between elements, not only looking at a potential treasure, but actually seeing it. This involves consciously asking yourself a specific set of questions and thinking through the answers. Interestingly enough, these core questions remain the same regardless of what it is you enjoy collecting. They are the “five W and H questions,” (who, what, when, where, why, how) and they are like secret weapons in a collector’s toolbox. The value in developing a good eye isn’t just the pride of doing something well, or even in attaining recognition of your skill. It is that, at the end of the day, you will wind up with a vastly better collection of the things you love.


Even though the core questioning method (five W and H questions) remains constant, each type of collection requires its own variation. For example, the elements on a timeline that a collector of Anime figures or Marvel action figures needs would be different than the timeline information that would be helpful to a collector of antique watches. The interconnectivity between each category of collectiblesthe culture of its eratechnological milestones, and even historical events is certain. Because of this, developing the question when, for your particular collection, will enable you to place a potential treasure more accurately in it’s time.

For example, if you were a collector of antique pocket watches, knowing something about metal working technology and historical events during the Victorian era and early 20th Century would be of great value. That watch collector would want to know that a white metal watch case could not possibly be older than 1895, when the invention of the oxyacetylene torch first made it possible to melt platinum for use in cast jewelry and watchmaking. Moreover, knowing there was no formula for white gold before 1912 would eliminate that as a possible material as well. Stopping long enough to think about a watch development timeline would reveal that the watch case could only be silver or a base metal. This bit of discernment might alter what price that collectors would pay, no matter how excited they might be at the moment.

 Seasoned members of  collecting hub’s Vintage Watch Club can date a watch just by looking at it.

Your eye is honed as you work through developing how to ask these questions. By answering these questions, you are developing a kind of conscious inquiry that enables you to zero in on what it is you actually see, recognize gems when you come across them, and pay no more than absolutely necessary (That quiet hyperventilation of discovery improves with practice…or so we are told.)

Developing your eye will give you the ability to further enhance your love of collecting, or perhaps turn your hobby into a serious collection.  It doesn’t need to begin at birth, and it grows with practice. So, take heart, it really doesn’t matter if you were born with a tin ear, a propensity to trip, or slow word processing. You can start now, at any age. In this series, you’ll learn how to give yourself the gift of having a good eye!

This was part 1 of an on-going series. To see Part 2, click here.