Cottage Decor Swap 2007

Our grandmothers would be in shock; swap-meets have taken to the Internet highway. Now instead of gathering together in a large church basement to trade crafts, baked goods and other items with friends and neighbors, we do so with our virtual neighbors online.

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in my very first swap. This was a little bit of online whimsy devised by some of the crafty minds on the Cottage Living forum, and efficiently organized by one of the fine members there. In this case, our set of rules were this...

We were each to mail an assigned swap partner a package of cottage-style decorating items for their home. It had to include:

--One floral item (because, hey, what cottage girl doesn’t like flowers?)
--One old or distressed item (because cottage girls are never distressed by distress)
--One recipe
--And the total cost of the items were not to exceed $10 (because cottage girls believe in bargains)

Prior to the swap, each member posted a little info about their favorite colors, flowers, and collectibles, in order to guide their swap partner.

Below is the thoughtful and rather overwhelming collection of goodies my swap partner sent me.
Not only was I touched by how she took into account the colors and types of things I collect-- like the Victorian postcards and transferware plate-- but I particularly appreciated the handmade cards and pretty little notebook she took the time to assemble for me. The fabric-patterned notecards are so cheerful, I’ve included them on my memo board here by my computer, and I think they look right at home.

I’ll be having a lot of fun in the coming week finding just the right place for all of the items. I think it might be hard-- simply because there are so many things they’ll coordinate with!

Now, my swap partner indicated she collected milk glass and vintage handkerchiefs, loved peonies, had a number of rooms in a pale green, and had just beautifully redone some outdoor furniture in a vintage Shabby-chic-styled fabric. This was the kind of information I needed!

So armed with my list o’ rules and my swap partner’s favorites, I set out to, yes, the thrift store and antique malls.

This turned out to be amazing fun because, having never focused on milk glass as an option before, I was really surprised and delighted to see just how much of it is out there. For folks who are collectors, they really have a wide choice of lovely glass pieces, and it has gotten to the point that now when I go out on my shopping adventures, I actually can’t un-see the milk glass!

Anyway, at the Salvation Army, I uncovered a really nice milk glass vase-- good size-- and within my $10 limit. I was rolling!

But what to put in it?

Well, that very day I also found a bouquet of... pale limey green silk peonies of all things! When I saw them there in the craft aisle, I about fell over at the happy coincidence. So I grabbed those babies, which turned out to be just the right size for the vase. So that took care of my “floral” item-- along with enabling my swap partner’s milkglass collection.

The next thing I needed was something distressed. So I decided I’d go with something old, and distress it just slightly, in order to meet the criteria.

I think I’ve mentioned many a time about my Lamp Addiction, and how I like to fix these up to either use myself or give to others. Well, I selected very nice little lamp which was waiting for a home-- because it seemed to me very similar in style to the Shabby Chic outdoor furniture my swap partner redid. Probably originally from the 50s, the lamp just needed a little love and a bit of rewiring to really light up a room once more.

So I removed all the old, questionable wiring and added some new. Then I tackled the off-color fake golds of the lamp fixtures. First I painted the golds out with a vintage moss green. Then when dry, I rubbed various area of the painted metal pieces with a candle. Then I painted over the whole thing with wicker white. When dry, it was easy to rub off the candle wax and reveal bits of the green underneath. I recovered the felt base with some vintage color-coordinated fabric, and topped the whole thing off with a little Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic shade. And there ya go!

The final part of the package was to include just a few vintage hankies I discovered from an antique mall.

It was a fun project to put together, and so nice to shop for someone else’s collections. But the most interesting thing about the experience, many of the participants agreed (myself included), is that we felt we got a chance to break down the “fourth wall” by sending tangible items into the homes of our online friends. It was just a little bit surreal to know something you chose is in someone else’s house. And best of all it’s been a wholly different way of getting to know each other.

Just one more wonder of the Internet!

Big Shelf Little Shelf: Or What You Can Learn From a Muppet About Displaying Collections

Think back… Back... No, no, FURTHER back...

Okay, there-- stop there! (Screech!)

Where are we, you ask? The address is 123 Sesame Street. And Ernie is debating putting Bert’s favorite vase on the Big Shelf, or the Little Shelf...

Inside Ernie’s imaginative, Velcro-covered noggin, he pictures the outcome of his decorating choices...

First, the vase is placed on the too-tiny shelf. And, unfortunately, it goes from tasteful home accessory to potential mosaicing project in about three seconds.

Ernie is evicted for his carelessness, presumably gets no portion of his rent deposit back, and likely is taken to small claims court for vase restitution.

But in the second scenario, Ernie chooses to display the vase on the Big Shelf, the shelf of safety and visual balance. Instantly he gains the sort of over-exuberant fanfare seen today only in episodes of “Extreme Home Makeover Edition.”

Of course, in real life, no one expects parties and fawning over smart home decorating. (Well, not anyone without a merchandise line, anyway.) But, hey, our orange Muppet pal has a point-- displaying collections in a coherent way does have its rewards. It’s nice to be surrounded by the things you love. And it’s visually soothing to see the right combination of objects in the right sizes displayed together on something that really fits. Guess that’s just the way the ol’ Velcro-covered noggin processes the world around us...

And why it’s so important to find the proper Big or Little Shelf to showcase our collections.

The Ernie skit came back to me because, well, for one thing it’s been rattling around in my brain for decades-- no doubt pushing out information I could use for, say, my job...

Or tax time.

But also, I’ve been a bit shelf-centered lately. You know how some people collect cats? Me, I hoard Victoriana. And it’s a constant struggle between the desire to collect, versus my desire to not be struck from above by too many objects popping off my walls.

So while the Victorians had no problem with layers of items in their vignettes, my goal has really been to create a SENSE of that-- without actually wading knee-deep in tchotchkes. Shelves have proven to be a great way to create some structure and order, and still savor, well, stuff.

By way of example, here’s the photo I posted in January. This was my one kitchen wall.

The wall had started out okay with a few of my Victorian plates on it, but after a while, as I found some marvelous little treasures, it grew organically until there was entirely too much clutter and too many little shelves—even for a gal who’s pro-stuff.

There was just way too many things going on here. It was agitating.

So I took two of these plain pine shelves from Michael’s, dressed them up with a bit of William Morris-like trim and—you can see the “After” below.

Because of patterns on the kitchen walls and the whiteware plates themselves, I’ve tried to balance it all out with some smooth, creamy (patternless) jadite. Now I have room to display more plates at a time-- and still, I think it works a lot better than before. Today I have similar shelf projects going on in my living room and in the entryway.

(And, no, I don’t know why the pics look so bendy-- must just be the effect of the camera angle, because the shelves actually are straight. :) )

In my Collecting section of the site I’ve shown you some of my bisque pieces. So I wanted to show you now where they live.

This is really the extent of them-- with the exception of the three on my dining room mantle, which we’ll go see in a moment. I purposefully chose ones I really liked, in colors that went with the pinks, turquoises and ambers of the entry way. You’ll notice, I could probably squeeze one or two more in there, but if it did, it would look entirely too overcrowded. So to keep the visual balance, I don’t plan to acquire any more, unless I come across something truly amazing-- in which case I’ll either trade one on this shelf for that one, or find a new home for it entirely. The great thing about this shelf, is it fits perfectly in the unused corner, and helps create some space. So let’s hear it for corner shelves! They’re not particularly easy to find, but they’re definitely worth the trouble.

Now when it comes to a kind of shelf many people have, already built-in-- this is the diningroom mantle currently.

What I like about this is, not only am I able to display three of my favorite bisque pieces, but I have a safe spot for the luster shoe a thoughtful friend gave me, and a teacup that reminded me of my Great-Aunt Bess. I purposefully tried to balance different shaped pink and green luster items on either side of the mantle, to carry on the interest, while still feeling cohesive.

Okay, so what’s the point of all this, you ask? Simply to say that no matter what you collect-- whether it’s schmaltzy Victorian porcelain, streamlined deco, or even early 70s rubber duckies-- take heart, there’s always a way to make your collection feel at home in YOUR home. It’s all about trial and error, thinking it through, giving each item the space it deserves and, most of all, knowing when to say when.

This week’s blog was sponsored by the letter J and the number 6.

Field Trip!: Welcome to Amish Country-- Smicksburg, PA

Nestled between Indiana and Armstrong Counties, just over an hour from the great glass skyscrapers of Pittsburgh, you’ll find a more gentle existence.

Here Amish buggies have the right of way, candles are still hand-dipped, and the old-fashioned general store has trotted forward, undaunted by big box grocery competition.

Here, cheese is made and sold fresh, oak furniture is still crafted by hand, herbs and flowers dry in special sheds, and baking goods are sold in bulk.

When the worries of work and city life hang a little heavy, I find myself rejuvenated each time I get in the, er... mint green pottery car... and venture to this world where everything moves just a bit more slowly.

So if you’re in need of a happy mental respite from your stresses, I hope you’ll join me today, as we venture into Western Pennsylvania Amish country.
You’ll want to remember to be kind, proceed slowly, and share the road when you drive past the Amish horse and buggies-- And while it’s always perfect manners to return the friendly wave of the Amish driver and his family, please keep in mind that it’s not polite to take photographs of them-- it would be considered offensive. So to steal a phrase-- “When in Amish Country...”

But photography aside, for the Victorian, country, rustic or cottage decorator, it’s hard not to find something appropriate and memorable for the home. In addition to hand-dipped candles, painted metal pots for in- and outdoors, pottery and blown glass, you’ll find quilts in virtually any color, Heritage lace draperies and mantle scarves, and even some vintage and antique items. Knitters and crocheters may find themselves caught up in some intriguing new yarn, in a Smicksburg shop where the entire first floor is devoted to yarns and woven products.

“Downtown Smickburg Amish Country” is a large barn-shaped shop filled with sturdy Amish-built furniture. Most stores here-- like “The Coleman House” and “Daisy’s Fine Gift Shop”-- are located within formerly-residential houses, so visitors wind through rooms and corridors to see the businesses’ wares-- further reinforcing that relaxed, homey atmosphere to shopping.

Hungry? There are several places to eat, ranging from just a quick bite to a large sit-down meal. “Country Junction Restaurant” is usually where I go for some home-cooked nourishment. Consider it a cross between a diner and an ice cream parlor. It’s the kind of Western Pennsylvania eatery where the hot roast beef sandwiches are made with real potroast, and gravy on your French fries is always an option.

Other restaurants include the Amish House Restaurant, which has a buffet on weekends featuring various Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch style foods, and a soup and sandwich shop right on the main drag in Downtown Smicksburg.

Plus, there are any number of ways to take a bit of Smicksburg fare home with you.
Visit the “B&B Country Cheese Shoppe” or the “Smicksburg Country Store” for a wide array of fresh cheeses and meats. (Here you’ll see some locals I got directions from outside the Country Store. The guy on the left just kept going on and on... Fortunately, his directions were good.)

The “Windgate Winery” is a local vineyard that produces a number of different wines, including some festive spiced vintages right around the Christmas season. Feel like a kid again at the “Smicksburg Mercantile,” which indicates it has over 450 kinds of candy, including those old-timey candies you might just feel a bit of nostalgia for. Or step inside the “Smicksburg Chocolate Shoppe” and purchase anything you’d need for making your own homemade candy, or select from chocolates and hard candies pre-bagged in bulk, perfectly ready to enjoy.
I love going here to get spices, herbs and chicken stock seasonings in big bags-- it’s a bit less expensive than most city stores due to lack of branding and packaging, so I always enjoy stocking up.

Okay-- so now you say you’ve done all there is to do in Smicksburg. Well, back on past the giant Cow-on-a-Stick, and heading back to Apollo, PA, why not tack on some thrifting and antiquing?

“We Miss Back When” is a two floor antique mall, recently under new management who seems to really be working to keep the mall continually filled with new treasures. Or visit the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, right across the street, and see what treasures await you there.

Lastly, on the road back to Pittsburgh you might stumble upon “Grandma’s Attic” a small one-floor antique mall with glassware, furniture and collectibles.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m bushed! It’s been a big day.

If you’re thinking of making your own real-life trip to Smicksburg, consider doing so on a Saturday, because on Sunday, many businesses will be closed. And if you’d like more information on Smicksburg, PA, I’ve stumbled on the following area websites so you can learn more right online:

--Smicksburg Tourism site:

--Smicksburg-Dayton area site:

And me? I’m going to get back in my little mint green pottery car and drive on back to those bright Pittsburgh city lights.

See you next week!

New Ideas, Old Hat

Ms. A., over at, once asked if I’d write something on vintage hats. It was such a fine suggestion, and with hats such a part of the ol’ spring-Easter tradition, I was excited to tackle the topic...

Only I realized I didn’t have anything to SAY about vintage hats.

Oh, it’s not that I don’t USE them in my decorating. I do. In fact, in my thrifting and antiquing adventures, I pursue a good vintage hat like Audrey Hepburn on a bad hair day.

But, ya know, I try to be REALISTIC about these things. And you just can’t get 500 words out of: “I put them on a flat surface. I hang them on a knob.” See? That’s thirteen words there. And as far as originality goes, that wouldn’t even make copy for the classifieds.

You guys deserve better than that.

So it started me pondering on more creative techniques for actually using my hats-- in a non-head-gear-related way, of course. I sat down and really started thinking outside the hat-box. So to speak.

Now one way I HAVE used vintage hats in the past-- which you all have probably already seen by now-- was as a topper for my Shabby Chic-influenced Christmas Tree. That one was a Red, White & Blue acquisition and I think it only cost me a buck or two.

But again-- been there, done hat. So I admit, as I started brainstorming ideas, I MIGHT JUST have gotten little carried away...

How about a hat-based centerpiece?

Or taking my haughty French sculpture down a peg or two? (She hasn’t spoken to me since)...

How about as a whimsical shade for thrift store lamp?

A quick fix for a lack o’ wreath?

I started envisioning things like a decorative mobile made of colorful vintage hats!... Hats hanging from vintage scarves to create a window display!... Hats spanning a single dramatic feature wall!...


Once ya get your thinking cap on, there’s almost no end of possibilities.

And vintage hats are still fairly prevalent in thrift stores. So, whether you work them into an interesting vignette, use them in some strange and whimsical way, or even, yes, wear them, these bonnie li’l bonnets can top off your decorating inexpensively.

Hats off to that!

Miss Scarlet in the Conservatory with the Candlestick

I always loved the game of “Clue.” Not only does it have that 40s British mystery atmosphere-- and I’m a bit of an Anglophile-- but there’s just something about getting to hang out in that mansion.

I mean, okay, so some dude named Boddy was murdered there (and with a name like that, it’s a little hard to believe he never saw it coming). But even in the middle of a murder investigation, I found myself enchanted by the mansion’s Persian rugs, shiny parquet floors... oh, and the Conservatory. I LOVED the Conservatory. Didn’t quite know what one WAS, of course...

(Growing up in New Jersey, I did not come from a Conservatory-oriented people.)

But between the serene colors of the carpeting and that excellent secret passage... it always made me want to, well, Conserve something.

It probably hampered my gaming success because I spent so darned much time in there.

I also was a huge fan of those little pewter weapons. And my very favorite was the candlestick. The gun? Mundane. Rope? Inelegant. Lead pipe? Looked like an oopsy with the gamepiece mold. But the candlestick-- Now THERE was a clever weapon. Leave it anywhere in the mansion and it looked perfectly right.

So maybe my old Clue days are why I have trouble passing up a particularly good thrift store candlestick. Not that I’m saying my beloved candelabras are a tool for Evil...

No need to send Scotland Yard my way.

Though some MAY argue the Good Taste Police might need a call. Because my favorite purchases HAVE tended to be large 60s and 70s, multi-armed gold-toned creations with enough crystals and curlicues to satisfy Liberace.

Of course, they work so well with Victorian décor. And I try to keep them to a minimum. (Or else paint them off-white to tone ‘em down a little.) Yet I DO catch the curious looks of my fellow shoppers as they see me hauling one of these big brassy babies to the register...

See, I am thinking: “This is going to look so amazing at Christmas!”

THEY are thinking: “Good Lord, someone is actually buying that gaudy monster.”

And since one of my shopping buddies has also heard the Call of the Candelabra in HER décor, well, inobtrusive thrifting really is a thing of the past. Like recently, when the Salvation Army Superstore had THREE of these crystalline creatures on the shelves...

There they were-- towering among more sensible coffee mugs, demure Tupperware and ho-hum Dollar store tchotchkes. Their arms swept dramatically to the ceiling like gilded Nora Desmonds, appealing to the audience below for starry-eyed adulation. How could we deny them?

My friend and I divvied these prizes democratically-- the pair with the marble bases and amber votive holders for her… The one with the crystal inset and clear glass hurricanes for me.

We had them safely in hand, delighting in our finds, and only then realized… how the heck were we going to get them up to the front of the store? Or for that matter, out through the heavy entrance doors into the parking lot? Each one was about five pounds of metal and crystal, plus there were five delicate glass votive holders to balance-- apiece!

So I babysat our finds while my friend went to get a cart.

If you feel you gain unwanted attention when you’re brandishing ONE vintage candelabra, just imagine what it’s like when you’ve got three jingling, clanking, clinking vintage candelabras in a cart, winding around your fellow shoppers down narrow thrift store aisles.

There is no subtlety here.

Every few seconds a votive holder would inevitably spring from its candlestick seat. Or some unseen mountain under the flooring would jar the delicate yin-yang balance of the cart’s contents-- one of us diving to preserve our treasures.

But, speaking only for myself, it was worth all the effort. My candelabra will have its moment of glory in the center of the dining table, candles lit, crystals shimmering in the light of the flames.

With the serene colors and floral rug of that room, I suppose it’s the closest thing my home, dear “Waterhouse,” HAS to a Conservatory. Only in my mini-mansion, there will be no piddly little murder investigation to distract from the important stuff-- you know, the décor.

Anyway, the candlestick’s way too unwieldy for that sort of thing.