July 30, 2010

Treasures by the Yard

Baltimore decorator trolls local yard sales and finds six bargain buys for $20 or less
By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore, July 31, 2010

Meg Fairfax Fielding might be a mild-mannered fundraiser by day, but in her spare time, she's The Junque Whisperer*, trolling thrift shops, auctions and yard sales for bits of unrealized fabulousness.Sun 1 On her blog, Pigtown Design, Fielding often shows off her bargain coups: the steel card catalog she liberated from Goodwill and turned into a home for shoes; boxes of silks and other imported textiles she scored for $5 at an auction; ivory cutlery she stumbled upon in France.

A few years ago, the xx-year-old Baltimore native who had been living in Wales, returned home and furnished an entire house with secondhand finds.

To see how she spots the treasure amid the trash, I asked Fielding if I could tag along as she hit local yard sales around Towson on a recent Saturday. I added a bit of a throwdown that I thought would have her shopping with one hand effectively tied behind her back: Nothing could cost more than $20.

Let's just say the budget constraint didn't faze Fielding. It takes more than a thin wallet and a 100-degree day to inhibit The Junque Whisperer.

Here are some of her finds that, with a little imagination and elbow grease, could make Pottery Barn jealous.

Chandeliersun4This didn't look like much, lying on the grass in a heap. But a closer peek revealed it looks an awful lot like the sort of simple, shaded chandelier that's on sale right now at Restoration Hardware for more than $400. Here — only $5.

Fielding said if she bought it, she'd spray-paint the body of the lamp in a silver or a chrome to give it a more contemporary feel. New shades would instantly freshen it. "It's a really classic-looking piece," she says. "It's not really going to date, and if it does, you can just change the shades again."

The trunksun5When Fielding pointed to this trunk, sitting on someone's driveway with a price tag of $8, I didn't really get it. What about that dowdy flower paint? How could that possibly look good — anywhere?

"It's a nice little cocktail table or a side table," she said, standing over it, giving it an intense assessment. "And there's storage. If you live in small house, you always want pieces with a dual purpose." To give it a designer look, she'd paint it all white or black, glossing right over those grandmother flowers.

Flatwaresun6I would have browsed right past the little case, hiding on a picnic table spilling over with doodads. Fielding made a beeline for it, popping it open to reveal what looked like a set of shrunken, yellowed spoons, forks and knives.

But looks can be deceiving. What it was, Fielding explained, was a canteen of Thai flatware made of bronze and teak. I searched online when I got home and found similar vintage sets selling for hundreds of dollars. At the yard sale, the whole service for eight was marked $10.

"It's just an interesting set," Fielding said. "It would be fun for a dinner party if you had a Thai theme."

Vintage tinssun2At one sale, there were a number of big boxes stuffed with tins selling for 50 cents each — someone was getting rid of her longtime collection. Though there were bigger ones, Fielding pulled out these because of their character. She advises people looking for worthwhile old tins to avoid anything with a bar code — it's shorthand for "new and cheap."

Fielding bought those pictured here and plans to use the colored ones as classy containers for her dog's treats. The brass one, which she purchased for 75 cents, will be used as a tea caddy. "I think they're decorative," she said. "The workmanship is something you're not going to find anymore."

The chairsun7If we're being honest, this furry piece was getting a few dirty looks at the sale. For the traditionally inclined, this isn't something that would make the living room cut. But to anyone who appreciates the midcentury modern, "Mad Men" vibe, this chair and ottoman — for just $20 — is a steal-and-a-half.

After a visit from an upholstery cleaner, this fur-thing might be an entirely new animal. For those who want to step it up even further, recover it in entirely new fabric with a vintage feel.   "I see it in a loft," Fielding said. "A hipster loft."

The birdsun3This piece is one of those love-hate items. Fielding felt the love. Especially for just $3. She thought the owl, which happens to be kind of trendy right now, as far as species go, could masquerade quite convincingly as a piece of blanc de chine — the shiny white Chinese porcelain. With a can of high-gloss white paint — hopefully that could cover the slightly creepy eyes — and a crisp new shade, Fielding considers it "a pretty cool piece."

Yard sale tips
Meg Fairfax Fielding, the Baltimore Junque Whisperer and author of the blog Pigtown Design, has some advice for conquering yard sales:

  • Scout sales online at Craigslist. Look for multiple sales in one area so you can strategically hit more than one without much traveling. If housewares are what you want, avoid sales that mention baby clothes and toys.
  • Bring ice water. You don't want to stop if you get thirsty and you don't want to have to use dollars on water that could be spent on treasure.
  • Money is king. Bring cash — preferably small bills.
  • Train your mind's eye. "The biggest secret to yard sales is knowing what's good and what's not good," she says. "You have to educate your eye." She also says spray paint can't be overrated. It's "a thrifter's best friend."
  • Don't go in with expectations. "In all likelihood," she says, "You're not going to find what you think you want. You have to have a really open mind."

Images: Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun

* For the real Inner Junque Whisperer, click here!

July 29, 2010

Art at Sudeley Castle

Sotheby’s is hosting a selling exhibition at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire from 28 May to 31 August 2010. Twenty-five unique or limited-edition works of contemporary design, including some specially commissioned pieces, are installed throughout the gardens by artists and designers such as Marc Quinn, Pablo Reinoso, Marcel Wanders, Studio Job and Atelier Van Lieshout.

Through diverse and innovative reinterpretations of traditional functionality, these artists challenge popular perceptions of everyday objects to create brilliantly original pieces of contemporary design.

Lathe XSudley 1

Spaghetti CortenSudley 2

Bon Bon GoldSudley 3

BuissonSudley 4

Wellness SkullSudley 5

Pouring JugSudley 6 Sudley 7

I love the juxtaposition of a classic space with modern art.

July 28, 2010

Royal Flickr

The British Royal Family has just gotten themselves a subscription to Flickr, the photo-sharing site. Not the freebie version, mind you, but the full paying professional version. RC Grooms These people are not new to technology, what with their Twitter account (@BritishMonarchy), their YouTube Channel and their top-rated and –ranked website!RC Christmas 60I read this saucy comment about HM’s Flickr account:

Loyal hearts beat quicker
The Queen on Flickr !
One will beat one's paps
With one's digital snaps !
RC HM & The Duke

In addition to current events, there are all sorts of historical photographs included on the Flickr site, including some dating back to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Of course, very few of Diana and NONE of Wallis & Edward.

Hard to tell who is cuter, Harry or the puppy!RC Harry & pup 

The annual Swan Upping, when all of the swans are counted. HM owns all of them!RC Swan Upping

It’s an interesting way to spend a bit of time and see some interesting snaps!

July 27, 2010


Capitulate - verb (used without object)
     1. to surrender unconditionally or on stipulated terms.
     2. to give up resistance

I capitulated after less than a week. I could not deal with looking into each and every drawer in my “card file” to find a bloody pair of shoes as I was racing out the door in the morning, with Connor tugging on his lead, and knowing that I was already late!7-27 002So, this evening, I made up little cards for each pair of shoes housed in the file and stuck them in their assigned slots. 7-27 005 They are in no particular order, but enough that it will only take me 20 seconds to find the right pair of shoes.7-27 006 I would rather be obsessive than late.

July 26, 2010

Some Guy Things

Today, when my New York Social Diary arrived in my in box, I scrolled down and saw a photograph of my friend and style/decorating/shop-owning icon, Stiles Colwill. The article was about the new exhibit of Matisse’s art at the MoMA.  Stiles with Matisse Stiles was there in his role as Chair of the Board at the Baltimore Museum of Art, which lent MoMA several pieces from their collection of Matisse paintings and sculptures.  Many people do not know that the Baltimore Museum of Art has the largest collection of works by Matisse in the world. They were collected by sisters Etta and Claribel Cone. You can read the NYSD article here.

As I have mentioned before, I think I am hilarious! No, really, I do!  Anyway, my friend and fellow blogger, Maxminimus, did a hysterical post on what pictures not to put on your page if you’re on a dating site. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. There was one picture he posted and he mentioned to the gal in the photo, that he’d be at the Giant Food Store in Old Town Alexandria on Saturday, if she cared to meet him.

As a spoof, I created an article from the Washington Post talking about the near-riot conditions that he caused by announcing the time and place of his appearance. post pageI found out what fonts the Post uses and then photoshopped an article I’d found that was short and had a by-line and a jump. Maxminimus has just posted it and the comments are very funny. Someone even asked for the link on the Post’s site.

I crack myself up sometimes.

July 25, 2010

Flowers on Sunday and My Adventure on Saturday

I wasn’t wild about any of the flowers at the Farmers’ Market today, although I did buy two bunches of colourful zinnias. But my eye was caught by some gorgeous purple and green cabbages. They were laid out on an old farm table and were just lovely in the early morning light.7-25 001 On Saturday, I went on a yard sale treasure hunt with Jill Rosen, a Baltimore Sun reporter, and Kim Hairston, a Sun photographer. Naturally, Saturday was slated to be the hottest day of the year, and even though we got a very early start – we met at 7:45 – it was already very hot.

Jill’s assignment was to find treasures at yard sales for less than $20 and see how they could be either re-purposed or refurbished to get a new look.

Our first stop proved to be a treasure trove, and we actually returned there at the end of our tour so that Kim could take additional pictures. Here, she’s shooting my way-cool Ice-o-mat ice crusher, exactly like the one we had in our pantry as children.7-25 028 We spotted this owl lamp and kept coming back to it to talk about what we could do to it, and how Kim could best shoot it. 7-25 029 My suggestion was  numerous coats of white paint to make a blanc de chine treasure, and then getting a new lampshade to replace the rather worn burlap one. Here’s a little how-to for creating your own blanc de chine objet d’art. Our only remaining question was what to do with its eyes.

Next up, we spotted this mid-century modern chair and ottoman. 7-25 034 Although it was covered in fur from an aged yeti, at least someone had the foresight to add a pillow from the right era. Stylistically, it could be easily improved by the right fabric and a little scrub of the wood. And, it was only $20.

Here are a few of the other treasures I found:

Peacock pin from Swoboda. Marked on the reverse, and listed on the successor company to Swoboda for $75.7-25 011

These are either huge salt cellars or teeeeeny tiny bathtubs. 7-25 003I am guessing that they’re for condiments at a formal dinner. They are only two inches tall, and two and a half inches wide. They have great little paw feet on them.7-25 007

Some old decorated tea tins, of the variety which I love.

7-25 023 7-25 024

Here’s what I didn’t buy:

A broccoli-shaped cookie jar. Not the slightest bit appealing. 7-25 031

Another piggy bank. Just because I live in Pigtown, I don’t need any more pig items. Ok?7-25 033 The article detailing our adventures in yard sale treasure hunting will be published on Saturday, July 31st. I will be sure to link it!  Thanks so much to Jill and Kim for a fun morning!

How to pick up secondhand bargains in France

I found this great article in the Guardian, and thought I would share it with you. Even if a trip to France is not on your current schedule, you may pick up a tip or two.

The French hold second-hand in great esteem. From Easter to September, the country stages a prolonged clear-out, with weekend brocante flea markets held in most towns and villages. Brocante means bric-a-brac, specifically 20th-century, and comes under many names: brocantes, vide-greniers, dépôts-vente, braderies, déballages. All are variations on the same theme: knick-knacks and furniture, circulated from attics to living rooms and back again.brocante1

All types come for the rummage: professional dealers, expats and second-homers sourcing wrought-iron daybeds for their gardens, locals in search of doorknobs and tourists thinking they need a spinning wheel. Bargain hunting becomes addictive – if you're lucky, you can snap up an original Pastis 51 water jug, say, for the price of a pain au chocolat – and the secret to success is do your fieldwork, bypass Paris and comb the provinces. Rather than waiting for goods to reach the capital's chichi flea markets, or head abroad to the likes of Kempton Market, grab it fresh from the hands of a papi in a village square.brocante2

There are bargains to be had – the market has stagnated post eBay and the credit crunch. And it's worth haggling: slope off unimpressed and you'll often receive a volley of lower offers. Arrive early, when stalls set up at dawn, or buy late at lunch, when heat and hunger break down the stallholder's bargaining power. Being charming helps, too. Hefty farmhouse furniture and traditional coffee grinders are particularly out of favour right now, while you could pick up a pair of battered leather club chairs for €150-300 (around £125-£250) or a porcelain soup tureen for €20 (around £16).rbrocante1Brocantes

Stallholders are mostly professionals, though a few are wily amateurs. Organised by local clubs and councils, they fill streets and squares; more recherché versions in local halls charging for entry. Look beyond the cake stands, coloured blown-glass vases, ceramic sugar pots, enamel bedpans, farm tools and armies of Orangina bar glasses for rarer treasures such as wooden carousel horses and vintage épicier cash tills.

The best brocantes
The annual, giant
Braderie de Lille on the first weekend in September is Europe's biggest flea market .

Best for Rotary dial telephones, bistro chairs and factory lamps.

Amiens, 75 miles north of Paris, bookends the season with the Réderie de Printemps in April and the Réderie d'Automne, this year on 3 October, and its 2,500 stallholders.

Best for Wicker farmhouse chairs, coal buckets and 2CV headlights.

Isle sur la Sorgue is the upmarket antiques repository of the south, an attractive Provençal town 25km east of Avignon with a weekly Sunday market bordering the canals. Lofty prices reflect the local wealth. The twice-yearly Foire Internationale Brocante et Antiquités at Easter and, this year, from 12-15 August, fills the town with 200 stands.

Best for Iron garden furniture, old station clocks and church statues.

Lyon in the south-east is another major brocante centre. One of the best markets is the weekly Les Puces du Canal in Villeurbanne, north-east of the city. On Sunday mornings, 400 extra stands are set up.

Best for Enamel jugs, art deco lighting and 1940s soleil mirrors.

Bordeaux to the west holds a market every Sunday around Basilica St Michel, near the city's antiques area.

Best for Antique books, gas lamps and copper basins.

For details, go to brocabrac.fr.Bric-a-brac-in-Lille-Fran-006 Vide greniers

Your best bet for a bargain, vide-greniers are smaller-scale amateur markets where locals sell incomplete china dinner sets and the like. Look for antique books and linen, enamel street signs, milk churns and wartime postcards among the grubby stacks of toys, 1980s VHS cassettes and rinsed-out yoghurt jars.

The best vide-greniers
La Farfouille de Leymont, 30km from Bourg-en-Bresse, on the last Sunday in August, has 1,700 stands.

Best for Pernod metal waiter trays, silverware and wine glasses.

Carpentras in the Vaucluse, north-east of Avignon, holds a weekly Sunday vide-grenier, and a big market on 12 September.

Best for Garden urns, floral ceramic chandeliers and wine bottle carriers.

The more remote you go, the more obscure the booty (and the more naive the prices). Vide-greniers in Aiguebelle in the Savoie, Craponne sur Arzon in the Haute-Loire and clusters of villages in the Creuse around Guéret have been known to unearth cowbells, scarred breadboards, boulangerie price panels, ornamental wooden block planes and antlers. Be strategic, and rake several vide-greniers in one morning.

For details, go to vide-greniers.org.

Dépôts vente

The concept of secondhand megastores, where household goods are sold on behalf of private sellers, is highly developed in France. Troc.com is a chain of 148 warehouses on the periphery of most major towns and cities. A good-value source of large pieces, including architects' drafting tables, retro dining chairs, country dressers and chimney pieces; prices drop the longer items remain unsold. Bargaining is not accepted, though bulk-buying usually entitles you to a discount. Check stock regularly and buy online. Delivery can be arranged.

Elsewhere, France's secondhand mania is embodied in the success of the charity Emmaus. Founded by Catholic priest Abbé Pierre to fight social exclusion, its 191 "communities" collect furniture, ornaments, textiles and electrical devices donated by people emptying their houses and resell them at reasonable prices. Everything is up for grabs, from accordions and wooden skis to spiral staircases.brocante3

And finally…

Getting your purchases home is the tricky bit. Instead of stuffing cut glass into your luggage or resisting a butcher's table due to its size, send it home using transporters. Try Hedley's Humpers or Alan Franklin. Better still, do it yourself: hire a van, and wine, wheel and deal your way around France.

July 23, 2010

Trois Propriétés en France, Que je Prendrai!

Three properties in France, all of which I will take!

First up:GasgonyGasgony. An hour from Tarbes airport near Aignan, West Gers, this is a recently restored farmhouse with pool, hot tub, tennis court and gardens sweeping down to an ancient oak wood. It’s a shame there are only three bedrooms. Yours for €335,000 (£277,700 or $432,317).

Second:Paris FlatParis. You couldn’t be more central than this €164,000 (£136,000 or $211,641) studio in Le Marais, just around the corner from the Pompidou Centre. Inside it is surprisingly spacious with exposed stone walls and ceiling beams.


Dordogne. This three-bed stone manor house near Sarlat has a roof in need of major surgery and decor which needs to be rescued from the 1960s. Then there are the un-renovated outbuildings … It could be a pricey project unless you are DIY-confident, but you get 17 acres close to a pretty bastide village. Cost: €486,000 (£403,000 or $627,182).

Which will it be? No. 1? No. 2? Or No. 3? 

July 22, 2010


I had an interesting adventure this morning when I was asked to go to our local public radio station to do a remote interview for the business and finance radio show, Marketplace. It was fascinating to be able to see some of the inner workings of a radio station.

I had huge headphones on princess leia and felt like I was speaking into a giant allium flower.Allium_Globemaster The interview was about the profusion of vicious anonymous commenters on blogs, and how to handle it. I am very fortunate to have a commenting community which is polite and respectful. Although an occasional nasty comment slips in, I generally leave it because I feel that it reflects more poorly on the commenter than on me. And I never, ever moderate comments. The piece should air next week.

On Saturday, I am accompanying a reporter from the Baltimore Sun on a tour de vente de bric-à-brac (yardsales) for a story she’s doing on treasures you can find in the most unlikely places. American Junk I’ve always loved Mary Randolph Carter, aka Carter. She was my go-to gal when I was buying and selling several years ago. I always figured if it was good enough for Carter, it was good enough for me. If you don’t know Carter, you can get to know her a little bit here.

It’s supposed to be about 150F out on Saturday, so we’re heading out to treasure hunt at 7:30, armed with hats, cool clothes and plenty of bottled water, along with handfuls of $1 bills!

July 21, 2010

Wishes Granted

I am sure you, like me, know someone who has the most remarkable taste. That everything they have in their house is something that you covet. That’s the case with my friend, designer and blogger, Grant K. Gibson. GrantGibsonBut the good thing is that you can both covet and then own his amazing treasures. He is, like I am, a hunter/gatherer, and has the ability to part with the things he’s collected over the years. I am just beginning to achieve that possibility!

I know that there’s going to be an internet traffic jam on Saturday morning when his Tastemaker Tag Sale begins on One King’s Lane. One of the most amazing things on offer is Grant’s set of 25 framed pieces of the Turgot Plan de Paris, circa 1734.  Master Map for Ewen copy The most difficult thing for me about this amazing map was finding the frames that would fit all of the pieces. No worries! Grant’s done that part for you and taken the hard work away, so you’re just left with a stunning showpiece for your home or office.

For a preview of the other delicious things that Grant’s got on offer, slip on over to his blog and check them out.  And tell Grant I sent you!

July 20, 2010

Spoke too Soon!

Just when I was saying that we’d not had any tornado warnings, along came two today! Big storms rolling though, trying to push out the 100% humidity and 95F weather. If they hit, they were south of here, by a little bit… along with the 70+ mph winds that blew through the other night! EEK!

We had really strange clouds last night, too. The light reflecting off of this cloud was so strong that it actually cast shadows. Apparently, this was the back end of a storm hitting 50 miles away. The top of this cloud was at 50,000 feet, which is massive. Roylance ThunderstormYes, I am a weather geek. I took a class in college called “Wind & Weather for the Serious Yachtsman”, and it was actually a tough meteorology class. If you’re racing off-shore, you need to be able to read the clouds and the sky to see what’s coming.  Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning. P1010085 When I lived in the UK, I was fascinated with the cloud formations there, as they were so different in that island nation, than they were here on the US Atlantic coast. Even though it was very cloudy, the sun always seemed to be shining. 

When I would drive to work, along the coastline, I would see rainbows dancing in the sky as it rained on one side of me and the sun shone on the other. st. donats cliffs at high tide The clouds were often dramatic with dark bottoms, looking threatening and somber. This was my last day at the castle and the sky matched my mood perfectly. Dark and stormy. st. donats 8 Do you pay attention to the sky and the clouds?