Three Rules for Collecting

I’ve always been a natural collector. If I find something I like, a part of my brain immediately lights up and says “maybe you should get another one!”. It’s just natural for me to be curious about objects and enjoy having them around me. To temper my instincts, I have made a concerted effort not to let my collections get too big, or too expensive. I frequently move things to better display everything, and try to know when it is time to say goodbye. If you are a collector, I offer three simple rules I’ve followed in my decades of collecting. With these rules I’ve been able to enjoy my collections and achieve balance in my space.

A small collection of vintage items, grouped by colour.

#1 – Set a Size Limit, then Follow the “One In, One Out” Rule: When you first get excited about something it can be easy to keep acquiring, especially if that item hits your sweet spot in terms of availability and price. For me recently, that item has been vintage McCoy planters. These beauties are found all over North America, but they’re still rare enough that they’re fun to spot. The small ones sell for around $20. They are lovely to me, and I use some of them to actually grow plants, so I can convince myself they’re even useful. With so many reasons to love them, what’s the harm in buying just one more?

The harm, simply, is that eventually I have too many. Hitting a wall with collection size is expected. Collections tend to fill the available space, but there are warning signs when it’s time to stop – You won’t appreciate the ones you have as you try to find a place for another new addition. You will stop being able to display them. You will hate having to dust them. You may look at them and worry about what else you could have done with the money. At this point, you can either sell the whole collection (dramatic but effective!) or you can decide how many is enough, and keep your collection at that number.

Once you’re at your limit, I’m a fan of the “one in, one out” rule because instead of a dead end to your collecting, you will now enter a period of refinement. For instance, now instead of buying three $20 McCoy planters, I will wait to buy a much nicer one for $60. Then I get rid of one of my lesser pieces by selling it so the collection takes up the same amount of space. I’m learning as I go, and investing in pieces that are special. This evolution is how great collections are made.

Most of my McCoy planters are displayed on this antique moveable staircase. The staircase is from a nunnery in Quebec.

#2 – Display Your Collections: Want a really simple way to tell if you enjoy a collection? Look around and see if the collection is on display or shoved away in a box somewhere. There are exceptions (temporary storage issues etc), but in general, if you should have a collection you will have it displayed. You will make space. It will make you happy to see it, because it will reflect an interest or affection you currently hold.

I love to display my collections, no matter how small. I have about a dozen Tiki mugs. One day, the dream is to have a full tiki bar, but for now it’s just a little collection I keep on the book shelf that makes me smile. Learning how to attractively display your collections will make your home more interesting and personal. The golden rule of display is “like with like”. Even three similar items look better displayed together. Aim for a triangle shape in your display (larger items in the back, smaller in front). Group your little collections and put them out where you can see them. Give them some love. Don’t be embarrassed or think that something has to be expensive or “impressive” to be out. Your home is your sanctuary, and if something makes you happy put it where you can see it.

My little selection of new and vintage Tiki mugs (hello Darth Vader!)

#3 – Beware of Nostalgia and Learn When to Let Go: You’re a growing person, so don’t expect all your collections to last. Beware of nostalgia that might make you hold onto an item you no longer actually enjoy. Ask yourself if you’re just keeping something because you’ve always kept it. Or if you have good memories of collecting something (I bought this with dear old dad!) and so parting with the item feels cruel. If this is the case my advice is to shrink the collection to your absolute favourite or most meaningful pieces. I recently had to do this with china inherited from my grandmothers. I didn’t want to keep full sets of dishes, but I did carefully go through the sets to keep a small sample. Then I mounted an assortment of plates on my kitchen wall. I see these plates every day and they mean something to me. This small display is a much better use of these items than having boxes of dishes forgotten in the basement.

Once a collection is no longer making you happy, it’s okay to get rid of it. Honest. You don’t have to feel like you wasted money or time or space. It served its purpose. My mother spent years collecting a full 100 antique biscuit barrels (yes, she kept count). She loved them, but then one day she decided enough was enough. She sold all but a few of her best ones. She moved on to collecting birds for her kitchen. Learn to embrace change and say goodbye to your items when it’s time to let them go.

Sometimes collections are small and silly, like this group of china dog figurines. I displayed them with a photo of Kurt Vonnegut because he liked dogs.

It takes effort to enforce these rules, but collecting is still a great source of joy for me. It’s just how I’m wired. There is a specific excitement in a new find, and the pride of displaying that makes my space comforting to me. By thinking critically, and only keeping what I want to display, I have things I love and room to breathe. Life keeps going, change is inevitable, and the good collector knows how to go with the flow. Happy collecting!

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The Changing Face of Antiques in Restaurant Decor

This week I read a well researched, compelling article in Collector’s Weekly called “The Death of Flair: As Friday’s Goes Minimalist, What Happens to the Antiques?“. I highly recommend you follow that link and read the article yourself. It follows the history of the “casual theme restaurant” like T.G.I Fridays from hot 1970s singles bar to cliché family establishment. The decor in these restaurants has always relied on huge collections of nostalgia and antiques. Now that the designs are changing to be more minimalist (and apparently, Millennial approved), the old stuff is coming off the walls.

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The old T.G.I Fridays on left, new design on right. Images via Collector’s Weekly.

I found it very interesting to learn about the networks of antique pickers and dealers who make restaurant decor their business. Throughout the years, the market went through trends that affected what antiques were in demand. When the restaurant chains started in the 1970s, they wanted bang for their buck. Whatever was abundant and affordable made the cut, and that’s why items like porcelain signs, stained glass windows and Tiffany style lamps became standard. As these same categories of antiques became harder to find, and more expensive, reproduction or “fantasy antiques” (I love that term) were added to the mix.

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Antiques for use in restaurant decor via Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

My favourite part of the article includes a short video on the massive Tennessee warehouse that still holds all the 90,000 individual antiques used in Cracker Barrel restaurants (unlike the other chains, Cracker Barrel is expected to keep with their antique tradition). This family business grew with the popularity of the restaurant; from local antique dealers to networked provider for a large national chain. It’s pretty amazing to see what is essentially a library filled with categories of antiques instead of books. Each and every Cracker Barrel restaurant uses approximately 1,000 antiques in their dining rooms and 99% of their decor is authentic.

Doesn’t that warehouse look like a fascinating place to visit? A few years ago on a trip to Nashville, we made it a point to visit the local Cracker Barrel. It was my first time encountering this temple of Southern Americana. Everything from the rocking chairs on the front porch to the shotgun mounted on the wall added to the impact. There were large advertising signs mounted with old musical instruments, photographs, clocks and farm tools. It was kitsch but it was also interesting. I could see that some items were worth more than others but they were all mixed together into a cohesive whole. In this way, Cracker Barrels are like Tiki bars – they represent a getaway into an idealized version of the past. The nostalgia is real because the items are real. They also serve huge breakfasts for very reasonable prices (go for the antiques and stay for the grits).

I came away from this article with a new appreciation for the business of American restaurant decor, and the use of antiques in that industry. I hope restaurants don’t get overly “tasteful” and boring in their desire to appeal to the younger generation. On one hand, yes, Millennials don’t like tons of stuff on the walls, but on the other hand they value the idea of authenticity. You can’t throw a rock in a hip restaurant these days without hitting an Edison bulb or rusty industrial relic. Times change and what is cool now will seem outdated soon. I might be a dying breed but I don’t go out to stare at my phone. Let’s keep something interesting on the walls. If it can be something antique all the better.

The Roadshow Antiques South Market

collectivatorrasouthThis summer we took a sunny drive to nearby Pickering Markets for the first time. This large building is situated just east of Toronto off highway 401, and encompasses a farmer’s market, flea market, food court and antique market. There’s plenty of free parking and multiple entrances so it’s easy to navigate. We didn’t spend much time in the flea market but headed straight to the antique section that anchors one end of the building. This is home to the Roadshow Antiques South location. It’s a smaller sister market to the Roadshow Antiques North market in Innisfil Ontario. I’ve never been to the other location, but based on the website it appears quite similar.

The Roadshow Antiques market is sectioned off into aisles and most of the booths are filled with items. I’d say only 5 – 10% of the booths were either unoccupied or very under stocked. The staff were friendly and I had a few people ask me if I needed help finding anything. It was also easy to simply roam the booths without feeling watched or rushed. For convenience the front cash has cubbies so they can hold your items while you browse.

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In terms of general quality of stock, I’d say it’s a mixed bag. I had no problem finding cool vintage items at fair prices, and a truly great selection of Pez (more on that later). However if you’re looking for strictly older antiques or furniture you may be disappointed. This market weighs more towards collectibles and nostalgia of vintage (or newer) age. There were a few booths featuring vintage jewelry and fashion accessories, toys and advertising. Some dealers specialized in popular collectibles like cameras and records. There was some good antique and vintage furniture scattered throughout, but the emphasis was on smalls.

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The Roadshow Antiques market is not going to wow you with every booth, but with over 150 dealers it has something for almost everyone. If you’re looking for classic collectible items like bottles, tins or china you’re in luck. Of particular interest to me were a few stalls full of classic vintage kitchenware. There was diner styled plates, glasses, cake stands, and Pyrex at good prices. I even found a small Tiki display and picked up a new mug for my collection. Speaking of Tiki, if you’re the type of person who finds kitcsh irresistible, there were plenty of “bad art” paintings, cutesy 1950s figurines and odd decor to catch your eye.

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Finally, as I mentioned above, there was Pez. So much Pez. I was in the last aisle of the market, ready to pay and leave, when I turned to see a towering Peter Pez display filled with older dispensers. I literally gasped like a Southern lady with the vapors. If you’re a Pez collector this is a GREAT place to go. The Pez dealer, Darlene, was there and we had a lovely conversation about her collection (some of which can be found on her website Pezopedia). She also sells Lego minifigs, Hot Wheel cars and other collectible toys.

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In the end, I think most people would enjoy checking out the deals at the Roadshow Antiques market. Many of the booths had sales on all regularly priced items, and I imagine stock gets replenished quite often. The rest of the mall offers a food court (the Italian and Mexican food was good), a large section of discounted toiletries and clothes, as well as a great British booth with cheap tea and crisps. We enjoyed spending a few hours comfortably browsing and we left with a bag of interesting items. I look forward to visiting the Pickering Markets again.

The Old Book and Paper Show

On Sunday, March 29th I had the pleasure of attending The Old Book & Paper Show. Billed as Toronto’s biggest one day “vintage print-fest”, this show is dedicated exclusively to books, postcards, posters, photographs and all types of old ephemera. It takes place twice a year (March and November) in an interesting part of the city along St. Clair west.

Artscape Wychwood Barns

The show is set up in a long hallway in the Wychwood Barns building (originally a streetcar repair barn from the 1910s). Tall ceilings and bright windows flood the space with light. We arrived about a half hour after the show opened at 10am, and the room was packed. If there is something in particular you are looking for, you should get there early. One seller told me the serious collectors wait outside to enter as soon as the doors open. If you’re more of a curious looky-loo, you might find it easier to browse a little later when the crowd dies down.

Interior Artscape Wychwood Barns

When we first entered I didn’t think it would take too long to see all the booths but we ended up staying for almost three hours. What I didn’t realize was just how many individual items were crammed into every square inch of space! Vintage advertisements, postcards and magazines filled file boxes. These were often organized by topic but once you started it was easy to keep flipping through. Then there were the art prints and large format photographs ready for framing. Historical images of Toronto, Canada and the world. Postcards of tropical paradises. Vintage fashion magazines and pulp fiction novels. Rare and valuable first edition books alongside travel brochures, sports cards and comics. The show is very well named because literally everything old and paper was represented.

Interior Wychwood Barns

Vintage paper ephemera

Boxes of vintage postcards

Antique and vintage photographs

As you may expect in a professional show like this, the dealers had their specialties and knew their stock. If you had a specific item you were looking for they could always help. If you were just interested in a topic or time period they could also steer you in the right direction. Most were also willing to cut a price on multiple purchases, and I found the prices on the whole quite reasonable.

A booth at the show
Being the nerd that I am, I made a bee line to some boxes of mid century “Amazing Stories” and sci-fi pulp. I was just as interested in these books for their kitchy covers as for the stories. $5 bought me a paperback with a title story called “The Girl Who Hated Air”. Not a very promising read, but I think the astronaut cover is worth the money. I also spent time at the postcard sellers finding some more cheerful Alfred Mainzer cat postcards.

Vintage sci-fi pulp

Booth with magazines

Anson found a few sets of small black and white photos of Niagara Falls and Stanley Park in Vancouver. These little sets were sold to tourists in the 1940s and 1950s as additional photos to use in home albums. They were sort of the precursor to the postcard books you can buy today, but higher quality. The photos are crisp and clear and often well composed. They are quite charming and historical mementos of Canada’s natural beauty.

Vintage tourist photos of Stanley Park

Our purchses from the show

In the end we had a bag full of curiosities, books, photographs and postcards. I doubt we spent over $100 but we found some great little gems that will find a place in our home. I saw many serious collectors at the show, but not too many younger casual buyers. This is a shame. Gift stores sell reproduction images that cash in on the vintage charm of old ads, or the artistic appeal of black and white photography. Here was a place to buy all of that, and more, in an authentic form. There was also a great selection of books on specific and hard to find topics in art, music and history. From high brow to low brow, and all the prices between the two, there was truly something for everyone. I look forward to visiting the show again in the fall.

Graceland

Graceland Living RoomI’ve been back in Toronto for a while now, but I still had to share the photos and impressions I got from visiting Graceland. Yes – Memphis Tennessee, home of Elvis Presley Graceland. I’m not going to discuss his music, his legend, or his death. I just want to talk about his house and specifically the interior design. Graceland is like a 1970s fever dream of shag carpet, monkey statues and indoor waterfalls. I loved it.

Elvis (along with his girlfriends and family) really went for it in home decor. They had money to spend and they spent it. Ridiculously. But even with the white carpets and mirrored walls there is a coziness to Graceland. There’s hospitality in Graceland, and there is definitely fun in Graceland. You can imagine a little Lisa Marie running down the stairs to the basement rec room, or out to the stables to ride her pony. It’s a slice of perfectly preserved American dream circa 1977. If you are interested in vintage decor or kitsch and you find yourself in Tennessee you need to visit.

Let’s take a look!

GLext1The exterior.  Very symmetrical and pleasant. Looks like a dollhouse. Note the smaller size of the home. It’s a mansion, sure, but not a monster home like so many nowadays. There is a charming scale to the interior you might not expect.

Graceland living roomThe first room to the right of the front door is the living room (also pictured at the top of this post with those amazing peacock windows). This couch was something like twelve feet long. White shag carpet, white couch, white TV. This wasn’t the place you plopped down with a glass of red wine. This was fancy guest space. Of all the rooms I saw in Graceland this was the most dramatic and feminine. It was completely impractical and I liked it.

Graceland dining roomThere were a lot of “antiqued” mirrors in Graceland, like the dining room table surface. Patterned mirrors are actually making a comeback. Elvis remains a trend setter!

Graceland KitchenThe Graceland kitchen. As I said in my post about this fabulous vintage design book, you can tell that people did drugs in the 1970s because they put carpeting in their kitchens. Fun fact – the kitchen wasn’t open to the public until 1995, because the last resident of Graceland, Elvis’ aunt Delta, used it until her death in 1993.

Graceland basement rec roomThe basement TV room. All yellow and black and white. The lightening bolt was a symbol Elvis loved and used late in his career. The monkey statue was unexplained but obviously horrifying. Anyone need a pillow?

GLrr2The other side of the TV room showcasing three TVs so Elvis could watch all three (at the time) national networks. And no, this is not where Elvis pulled out a gun and shot out a TV because it had Robert Goulet on it. That happened in Vegas (of course). Not pictured is a wet bar on the other side of the room decorated with Murano glass clowns.

Graceland pool roomThe Billiards room! I swear my camera could not focus properly on this room. It could be because the furniture was wearing wall camouflage.

GLptr1Why did we ever stop doing this to our ceilings? My flat white ceiling looks so boring now.

GLportrait2Why hello hot young Elvis. I like the mirror cutout (notice the “antiqued” effect) that follows the line of the staircase. I love the pirate shirt.

GLjr3Do you like Tiki? Do you like wood tones mixed with darker wood tones? Then let me introduce you to the FABULOUS Jungle Room. This is what I’m going to be aiming for as I collect my tiki stuff. One day I’ll get there.

GLcouchjrThe term “lurid kitch” gets thrown around so often, it starts to lose meaning. Then you see a Polynesian inspired, fake fur covered couch with dragon arms and you understand.

GLjr1That brick wall with the red light? Fountain. That green shag carpet? All over the ceiling. What’s under the window just out of frame? More monkey statues. Apparently this room was decorated by Elvis after an “epic shopping spree”. VERY EPIC.

GLext2Back outside. The stables and rolling hills were behind me and this was the view of the back of the house. Graceland had won us over. By this point my husband and I felt our three hour drive from Nashville was worth it. Later we would go the the historic Sun Studio and be even happier we made the trip. Don’t miss either destination if you’re in Memphis.

There is a lot more to Graceland I didn’t cover. A few random photos:

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To paraphrase the Paul Simon song, for reasons I can’t explain there was some part of me that wanted to see Graceland. And I am very happy I did.

Vintage and Antique Shopping in Nashville

Before I get into my post, indulge me for a minute so I can describe where I am. Here, let me give you a visual:

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This is the view from the balcony of my room at the huge “Gaylord Opryland” hotel in Nashville. For most of our trip we were at a rented condo, but this week my husband has a conference so we got a free room here. It’s pretty ridiculous. There are three large atriums with full size trees, waterfalls, restaurants, shops… all under glass domes and surrounded by hotel room balconies. I have a two story waterfall right below me, which I love because it provides the greatest white noise. I feel like I’m outside, in a garden, without heat or bugs. Talk about ideal writing conditions! I could get used to this.

Anyway, before I found myself writing in a fantasy tropical paradise, I was hitting the streets of Nashville looking for antiques. I didn’t get to see a lot, but I did visit the 8th Ave. South area. This is considered one of the main Antique districts in the city. The first place I looked, Classic Modern, was also one of my favourites. It had a great selection of vintage (1950s – 1970s) furniture and accessories, as well as antiques from the 19th century, jewelry and folk art. They had quite a few complete sets of furniture – a full 1950s chrome kitchen table set, or a 1960s couch and chairs for instance. Very cool. Prices were reasonable for the quality of the items. I also talked to the owner and a fellow patron for quite a while – real friendly people around here!

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The second place I visited was “Pre to Post Modern”. I liked the signage out front because it reminded me of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. It said something like “Come inside! It’s fun in here!” on the clapboard, and you can’t resist that.

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It was fun inside! They had a well curated selection of mid century accessories, advertising, clothes, decor and even some furniture. Everything was organized in themes so the clothes, hats and purses were together in a room, there was a rec room with albums and posters, the tiki stuff got its own corner etc. Very fun to browse. The best part was the prices! I was looking at smalls, but even the furniture was affordable. I wish I could have schlepped home one of their bar carts, but as it was I took three tiki mugs for a grand total of $12. If I lived in the area I would be popping in all the time.

Finally, the last place I visited was a good old fashioned antique “mall”. This one was called 8th Ave Antiques. The booths were a bit spotty in terms of age and quality, but I did find more antique furniture, china and art here. Some dealers had recognizable interests like pop culture memorabilia, kitchenware, or country furniture. Others were seemingly random with antique, vintage or even new and reproduction items. I didn’t see anything I had to buy (and pack – a deterrent for sure). Still, there was enough selection that if I were in the area I would gladly try again.

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Although I didn’t see everything the area has to offer (I missed a whole antique mall further up the road!), I enjoyed my antique and vintage shopping on 8th street in Nashville. There was a lot of mid century to 1970s decor, country smalls, and fun kitsch. Antiques (as in pieces over 100 years old) were harder to find but there were some good examples. Prices were overall lower than in Toronto, especially for the mid century modern stuff. Let me put it this way – shopping at even these three stores I’d have no problems outfitting a fabulous vintage rec room. Now I just need to get some bigger luggage!