Trends End…So Buy What You Love and It Never Goes Out of Style!

Just like in world of fashion, antiques and vintage items are subject to trends. Right now Chanel is doing a “Hippie Chic” look with price tags that are sky high. Next season it will be something else. Similarly, in the world of antiques and design, all things Midcentury Modern are hot. So at flea markets, antiques shops and auctions, those items now have higher price tags.

But what about items from other periods? Well, those price tags have gone down—significantly. It’s pretty much common knowledge in my circles that any ‘brown’ furniture, Oriental rugs, fine china, etc., are not commanding high prices. Everyone wants Midcentury Modern.

Well, I’m not everyone. And I know many of you might not be everyone either.

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This 1930s mantle with glass block is the heart of my living room. It was an end of day flea market purchase—just $100!

Midcentury Modern is great, but I’m partial to furniture and decorative objects from the 1930s and 1940s and earlier. I like the lines, the character and the overall look. So that’s what you’ll find in my home now. It’s also what you’d see in my home 10 years ago and likely into infinity.

I make no apologies for liking what I like and believe that it’s important to love what’s in my home, no matter what the trend reports say. In fact, I say, buy what you love, and it never goes out of style.

Look at Ralph Lauren, who is one of my business, design and home furnishings heroes. He has a signature look that doesn’t change much. It’s classic, comfortable and sophisticated. It’s also timeless.

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Bookshelves in my dining room are filled with things that I love and have found in my flea market travels.

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I love this old wooden chest of drawers my friend Craig was selling at the “Antiques at Rhinebeck” event.

Whatever success I have as a designer comes from honoring what people love and creating spaces that speak to them. That means not creating spaces that look like what’s on trend at the moment. In fact, it’s those homes that in a few years often look most dated.

I receive lots of emails from people asking me about the value of their favorite possessions, and oftentimes they fall into categories that are not on trend (like brown furniture), and I say… hold onto it. Chances are it’ll be trending in a few years and you can sell it then. Conversely, if you know brown furniture and other items that are not white hot right now are your style, it is a GREAT time to buy!

Buy confidently based on what you love. Trends end. Buy what you love, and it never goes out of style!

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I loved everything in this booth at the fabulous “Antiques at Rhinebeck” event.

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One of my favorite finds at “Antiques at Rhinebeck” was this pair of amazing hand-carved bookends.

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Finding Christmas

This year Christmas feels like a real crescendo for me—because I’ve been working on Christmas all year long. I’ve just written a book called A Very Vintage Christmas. It will be out in time for next holiday season. In it, I chronicle about 150 years of Christmas artifacts and about 40 years of my own personal collecting.

Writing the book has truly been a labor of love, and I’m excited to share it with everyone. That said, I’m so grateful most of the work is behind me now. I’ve had many photo shoots and video shoots to create the best possible content in and around the book.

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With all this flurry of activity, I haven’t really stopped to enjoy Christmas. I’m so very grateful that I have the opportunity to do that now. I’ve still got shopping to do, cards to write and gifts to wrap…but that’s all part of the fun.

For me, Christmas is a very magical time. It is a great opportunity to get in touch with my inner child. It’s also a perfect time to contemplate the year that’s past and to begin to make plans for next year.

I’m grateful that I can do this under a Christmas tree that represents so many years of my collecting–with so many vintage ornaments that meant so much to other people before I owned them. One of the reasons I love collecting vintage Christmas ornaments is that they were all very special at one point in time to someone else, and now I am the curator and caretaker for them. One day they will be passed on to someone else.

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My own collecting craze began when my father gave me a box of ornaments when I was just a young boy and said to me “it’s time you started collecting something.” Well my dad lit the fire and now I hold my Christmas torch high.

No matter how many ornaments on my tree or how many decorations in my house, the bottom line is that adding vintage touches to Christmas really honors the past and keeps it alive today. It helps me remember Christmases past and those who have passed in a way that surrounds me with comfort and joy.

This sweet sentimentality is exemplified in a bowl on my coffee table. In it, I have nestled greens and berries, wherein I placed an ornament I made when I was a young boy. It reads “May The True Meaning of Christmas Dwell in Your Heart All Year Through.” Next to it is a new glass ornament in the shape of a cardinal—the bird that always reminds me of my grandmother. My dear friend Sharon gave it to me. To the far left, I placed a clementine I adorned with cloves, which was something my Mom still does to this day. The aroma is wonderful and I love keeping the tradition alive. There’s a lot of love in that bowl. And that’s what Christmas is all about.

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Finding Christmas… No matter how you celebrate this year, I wish you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A Very Vintage Christmas is available for pre-order on Amazon now: http://www.amazon.com/Very-Vintage-Christmas-Collecting-Celebrating/dp/1493022148/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1450554366&sr=8-2&keywords=a+very+vintage+christmas

photos by Ethan David Kent

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Give A Vintage Gift

If there is one common denominator about those of us who frequent flea markets, antiques shops, auctions and estate sales, it is that we love to shop. In fact, it is recreation, therapy and many other things for us.

We often shop without a list and let the day surprise us with what we find. While this describes much of my shopping experience, I do always look for certain things for clients, for myself and for gifts.

Those who are closest to me know that most of their gifts will be vintage, and since they are my friends, they certainly appreciate gifts that have a little history to them. I keep an eye out for vintage gifts all year long. The truth is that I might very well see the perfect birthday gift for a friend months and months before the actual date. So I buy special vintage presents for my best friends when I see them. (The trick is remembering where I hid them in my apartment when it comes time to give them!)

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This week I saw one of my dearest friends, Sharon, and presented her with a batch of vintage gifts I’d found especially for her. There was a mesh bag from the early 1900s and a deck of “Gypsy Witch” fortune telling cards. Knowing Sharon as I do, I was pretty certain she’d appreciate each. And she did!

I also gave her a vintage photo of a little girl I’d found—as her card. I love to do this. Flea markets are filled with vintage photos (instant ancestors!), and I often find ones that remind me of certain people and write them a birthday greeting on the back. It is unique, personal and unlike things people are used to receiving.

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I also pick up vintage wrapping paper when I see it. What better way to wrap a vintage gift than with vintage paper? The truth is most homes had at least one drawer of wrapping paper, so there are a lot of vintage examples out there. They are often a fraction of the price of new paper and have so much more charm.

While not everyone may appreciate a vintage gift, I know those who do and I’m glad they are my friends!

Give A Vintage Gift…and you’re likely to see the truth in that old adage “it’s the thought that counts” ring true in the smile on the recipient’s face.

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Christmas In July

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved Christmas. In fact, soon into my love affair with the most wonderful time of the year, I began spending time far in advance of the actual date getting ready.

As I kid, I often spent the summer months making ornaments. Since I was off from school, it seemed like the perfect time to open up Santa’s workshop. My favorite one read “May the true spirit of Christmas dwell in your heart all the year through.” I still have it, and keep it hanging from the knob on the china cabinet in my dining room all year long.

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In addition to making ornaments in the summer, I also began collecting vintage décor that I found at flea markets and estate sales. When I was 10, I even put an ad in the local paper saying that I was looking to buy old Christmas ornaments.

I’ll never forget my Dad taking me to the home of a woman who called in response to the ad. She brought out several boxes of early 1900s German ornaments and I was in hog heaven. I bought them all with money I’d earned doing odd jobs. And today I still have some of them, in addition to ornaments I found in many other places that summer.

In fact, summer is an EXCELLENT time to find vintage Christmas décor, because it is off-season, and for many who might be deemed ‘normal’, it seems crazy to even be thinking about the holidays.

Yesterday was one such day here in NYC. It was the hottest day of the year so far, but that didn’t stop me from heading to the flea market. As I wiped sweat from my brow with a vintage bandana, I found several boxes of vintage holiday items and acquired them all for $20.

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Yes it is six months until Christmas, but for those of us who are collectors, now is the prime time to get great deals. And for me, its just another way to keep celebrating my favorite holiday all year long.

In fact, I’ll keep some of the ornaments I purchased this weekend in a bowl on a shelf in my home. Call me crazy, but even when the mercury rises like it did today, a bowl of sweet vintage Christmas baubles makes me feel kinda warm and fuzzy. Of course this feeling is aided by the air conditioning, which is on full blast!

Christmas in July…It’s more than just an opportunity to get great savings, it’s also a chance to celebrate. As the old song goes.. “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute.” If it was good enough for Auntie Mame, it’s good enough for me!

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Price Versus Value

In this world most things we purchase go down in value the longer we own them: cars, furniture, clothing… In fact, it’s safe to say that the moment something isn’t showroom new, it is less desirable and consequently has less value.

In the realm of vintage and antique finds, however, we hope the opposite is true. We hope to purchase items that increase in value as they age. We also look for undervalued items in the hopes of turning a profit should we decide to resell.

No matter how you slice it, however, it’s suffice to say that price fluctuates. Ask anyone who’s tried to sell something at an auction and has been disappointed with the results. Also, many items in the antiques sector have dropped in price as tastes change and new collectors emerge looking for different items.

So more and more, I focus on the value of the things I own. By value I mean the value I place upon the items, not the price they’d command in a retail setting.

A great example would be a tea set my Grandmother gave to me. As a young boy, I’d visit with my Grandmother and she’d make tea for me using the yellow lustreware set. Just seeing it conjures up many good memories and feelings.

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My Grandmother’s tea set is one of my most valuable possessions.

When I moved to New York to attend college, my Grandmother boxed up the set and told me not to open it until I had a place of my own. Of course I opened it right away and what I found inside was a lovely note from her thanking me for all of the memories we’d made with the set.

Before long I had my own place, and several places after that. In each one I used the tea set, and in each one my Grandmother came and used it with me. Now that she’s gone, I still use it and think of her. To me the value of this set is priceless. But the truth is that in a retail setting it would barely command $75.

Continuing along the lines of vintage china, I recently purchased a partial set with a very interesting provenance. Great looking Art Deco lines drew me to the pieces but the story sold me on them. It seems that a U.S. soldier stationed in Germany during WWII took refuge in a home that was bombed out. Most things were destroyed, but when he came across the china, he was amazed at how many pieces were unbroken.

The soldier packed up the china and sent it back to his family in New Jersey, but he kept one of the egg cups with him for the rest of his time in active duty. His rationale was that if this fragile china could survive, so could he.

And survive he did. After the War ended, he came back to New Jersey and raised four children and returned to his job as a commercial fisherman. After his death, his daughter decided to sell the set, but like her father—she kept one of the egg cups. Of course I love this story, and the courage and symbolism around it. And I love that I was fortunate enough to acquire it. Like my Grandmother’s tea set, the china would not command a very big price, but I place a great value on it.

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The remaining pieces of this 1930s German china, as it was displayed by the seller.

When I use this china, I think of his courage. When I use my grandmothers’ set, I think of her love and companionship. I intend to keep their stories alive and when it’s time, pass these items along to someone else who will appreciate their legacy.

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My new set looks great on an Art Deco tray I found at a flea market.

Price Versus Value…Similar words but very very different things. Here’s to enjoying your own valuable heirlooms. They are truly priceless.

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Sharing Your Stuff

Last night I watched To Kill A Mocking Bird for the upteenth time, and like so many classic films, it is comfort to me in every sense of the word. As with most classic movies, each time I watch this one I’m struck by something different.

This time it was the opening credits, which show images of Scout’s collection of ‘treasures’ in a cigar box. It is the physical manifestation of what I so often say: “If you want to know someone, ask them to see their stuff.” Children do this all the time when they take a friend or relative by the hand and show off their rooms, their toys and their treasure boxes. I certainly did this as a child, and I continue to do it as an adult.

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Since To Kill A Mockingbird is a story told through the eyes of a child, it’s fitting we the audience get to know Scout right away from that box of treasures. A few hand-carved figures, a key, some marbles, and a pocket watch are among the items we see.

Of course for those of us who love the movie, we know that Scout’s father’s pocket watch is a prized possession. I saw an interview with Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout, and she said that when filming was complete, Gregory Peck, who played her father Atticus, gave her that pocket watch as a memento. She kept it always.

As it turns out, Harper Lee, who wrote the novel which the movie is based upon, gave Gregory Peck her father’s watch as a memento as she was so happy with his portrayal of the character (based on her own father).

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The objects that we hold dear are meant to be shared. Displaying them in our homes and sharing them with others are what it’s all about. I have so many things in my home that belonged to my grandmother, and they not only remind me of her, but often remind me of a story that I share about her. In this way, we all live on.

So many of the objects I find at flea markets are ones that hit a sentimental chord. I buy things that speak to me, and often it’s because they remind me of my own childhood and of the memories these items spark. I think this is quite common for those of us who love antiques and vintage pieces. If we didn’t inherit something from a relative, we are often lucky enough to acquire similar items that bring back great memories.

When shopping for myself and for clients I’m drawn to items that look like they have a history. These objects add soul to our homes and offer up more opportunities to connect by sharing our stuff.

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White Elephant Sale

It is safe to say that I never met a White Elephant I did not like. For those not familiar with the term, it is often associated with a sale to benefit a church or other organization—and those sales are usually made up of donated items, many of which are vintage and antique.

The meaning White Elephant actually applies to items that are hard to get rid of or expensive to maintain, but I guess the name was eventually given to rummage sales which embody the concept that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I went to many such sales where I found everything from Vintage Christmas ornaments to china to ephemera. I started collecting all of this by the age of seven, so White Elephant Sales became a great portal for finding inexpensive items that filled my childhood bedroom.

As I grew up, I continued to attend the sales and often began to appreciate the community aspect around them as well. The fact that a team of people solicits, organizes and sells items to raise money is a subject that interests me greatly. Of course I like the actual stuff and the thrill of finding it, but I really also appreciate all the hard work that goes into organizing such a sale.

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A few weeks ago I had the extreme pleasure of attending what I can honestly say was the very best, most organized White Elephant Sale I’ve had the pleasure of shopping. It was a benefit for The Oakland Museum in Oakland, California.

As I stood outside waiting to enter, I felt a great sense of anticipation and glee because this sale was about five times the size of any I’d ever seen. Once inside, I was hit with sensory overload, as my eyes danced around the room, taking in all of the treasures. The stadium-sized warehouse where the sale was held was broken up into sections, much like a department store.

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The truth is that this sale was organized and run like well-oiled machine. It was clear to me that volunteers worked on this all year long. In addition to everything being meticulously priced and well organized, there were plenty of people to help in each department and expert wrapping available. (So it was clear to me that people donated lots of time before the sale and also donated not only the merchandise, but packing supplies as well).

I quickly learned that The Oakland Museum Women’s Board (founded in 1955) aggregates an army of over 1,000 volunteers who help to make this sale such an annual success. As such it has become Northern California’s biggest and most celebrated event of its kind. I made lots of new friends and was wildly impressed and excited to be there.

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So what did a buy? I first headed to the china section where I found some Royal Doulton china pieces (creamer and sugar and salt and pepper) made for the Cunard Cruise Ships.

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Then I happened by the Christmas department where I found a sweet 1950s Santa, a green beaded garland and a white glass bell ornament. I particularly loved the labeling on each item. It further spoke to the care and attention that went into every aspect of this sale. The bell read: “Beautiful American-Made Glass Ornament.” (love that!).

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One of my favorite finds was a 1930s wedding cake topper. The bride packed it along with a sash from her gown and wax orange blossoms that were in her bouquet. Since I’m a huge fan of sentimental finds, this item had to go home with me.

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Finally, I found several vintage compacts and perfume bottles which make great gifts and were easy to pack in my suitcase and take home!

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For more information about this fantastic event, go to www.WhiteElephantSale.org

I can guarantee you that I’ll be back next year!

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Got Winter Weather? Warm Up With Vintage Finds.

As we brave sub-zero temperatures this month, most of us are spending more time at home. And while I am all about making your space warm and inviting at all times of the year—right now it seems pretty essential.

As my grandmother taught me, switching out fabrics each season is a great way to embrace change and keep your home feeling fresh. Of course at this time of the year, I reach for vintage blankets and throws, which add extra layers of warmth and texture. While I’ve got many great blankets, this year I added a couple to the mix that are sure to become annual favorites.

The first is a vintage faux fur blanket that came from a Fifth Avenue estate. Judging from the label, I’m guessing it is from the 1950s. I love it because it reversible (one side = mink; the other = chinchilla). Best of all, it is also quite warm and adds just the right amount of coziness on these cold winter nights.

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The second blanket is a 1920s Pendleton wool blanket I found online from an Etsy store called “Mouse Trap Vintage” (https://www.etsy.com/shop/mousetrapvintage). It’s currently draped over a chaise lounge in my living room and adds warmth and lots of visual interest.

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While perusing Mouse Trap’s other merchandise, I couldn’t pass up a scarf the owner, Sarah Brown, made from remnants of another old woolen blanket. It has a great color combination and is incredible warm. When I’m not wearing the scarf, it looks fantastic folded over the arm of a chair in my dressing area.

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Each time I’ve visited Paris I’ve added to my collection of cafe au lait bowls, which come in very handy during the cold spells. I have my morning coffee in them and they do double duty as hand warmers.

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Since it seems the mercury is not rising much this week, I’ll happily spend more time at home with these touches of vintage comfort, which keep me warm and bring me joy.

If you’re interested in finding any of these items, you can shop online from the comfort of your own home, as Etsy, Ebay and other online shopping sites have many wonderful items like this to add warmth to your home.

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A Very Vintage Valentine’s Day

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Holidays are a great excuse to be sentimental, and perhaps the most sentimental of them all is Valentine’s Day. Love and other sentiments are expressed with flowers, candy, cards and a myriad of other offerings.

This Valentine’s Day, why not make the gifts for your loved ones extra special by adding a vintage touch? While some might disagree with me, I really do think it is the thought that counts when it comes to gift-giving. Vintage gifts show that you took time and bought something unique and very personal. They are also inexpensive and easy—and can be found at just about any flea market.


Here are 10 quick suggestions to make this February 14th a Very Vintage Valentine’s Day:

1) Put those red roses in a vintage vase

2) Find a special Vintage Valentine for your Sweetheart.

3) Give old fashioned kids cards to your friends like we used to do in school.

4) Deliver your sweet treats on a vintage glass cake stand.

5) Give candy in vintage boxes

6) Give a piece of vintage jewelry

For her….costume jewelry or a special vintage ring–or give her the new ring in a vintage box

For him…vintage cufflinks

7) Frame a photo in a vintage frame

8) Send an old fashioned telegram

9) Make a construction paper card and write a poem

10) Put away your smart phones and have a candlelit dinner at home with vintage china, vintage candleholders and a vintage inspired menu.

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Season Two of FLEA MARKET MINUTE Coming Up Next Week!

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As summer comes to a close, I’m reflecting upon all of the great times we’ve had filming Season Two of FLEA MARKET MINUTE.

We’ve traveled to new markets and visited old favorites. And of course the people I’ve met and re-connected with along the way have been a joy and a constant source of inspiration.

A laugh, a tip and a treasure are in store in each episode. Stay tuned because we’ll be releasing the first one next week.

In the meantime, here’s a little teaser of what you can expect to see:

See you at the Flea Market!

Have a great weekend. See you at the flea market!

Yours in Treasure Hunting,
Bob

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