Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Flying Turkey

Let me just lay it all out on the table and fully admit that I am a product of my Mother. I come from a distinguished line of garage-sale junkies, antique-shop hounds, and collectors-cum-pack rats. My Grandmother, Aunt, and Mother all had (have) the knack to hone in on beautiful pieces at great prices and bring them home (much to the chagrin of their husbands). As a child I could recite their collections by name, like a mysterious code passed down from Mother to Daughter: Ironstone. Spatterware. Transferware. Blue Flow. Depression Glass. Salt Glaze. Cranberry Glass. Hobnail. Petalware.  I didn't necessarily know why they were named as such, but I understood that they were all beloved by generations of women in my family.

The passing of my Mother and Grandmother led to my acquisition of several sets of beautiful and unique dishes. While my pieces aren't perfect and worth a mint on eBay, they are special and important to me. Even chips, crazing, a poor transfer, or yellow residue from an ancient price tag don't matter; they're part of each collection's history and identity. And it certainly doesn't stop me from using them as often as I can!

I collect Ironstone, Spatterware, Salt Glaze, and Petalware, but my curiosity was piqued when my Aunt asked if I wanted a set of blue and white "Flow" dishes. She couldn't remember the name or the size of the collection, but I readily agreed. Some of my best childhood memories from my Grandma's house centered around her extensive Blue Willow collection, and I knew these dishes would have a similar look and feel. 

Opening up the large storage tote of dishes, I was pleasantly surprised. I came face to face with blue flow dishes of large birds intertwined with flowers and vines. Most of them had "Made in Japan", "Japan", or an "M" encircled by a wreath stamp on their base. I had no clue how old these dishes were, but I guessed that they were produced before the War. I went straight to my computer, and a few Google phrase searches later, I had solved the mystery. 

It turns out that the bird is a Phoenix, and that the pattern is more commonly known as "Flying Turkey". The Phoenix is a very common motif in Japanese and Chinese art, and the legend of the Phoenix is known the world over. Further research showed that my pieces do date from around 1920 to 1950. Before 1920 many Japanese porcelain producers used the name "Nippon" (Japan) in their stamps; therefore, "Japan" is a more contemporary mark. The M encircled by a wreath turned out to be a mark of Morimura Brothers, the predecessor to the now-famous Noritake brand. Because many production facilities were destroyed by the Allies during the War, and between 1945 and 1953 most porcelain was stamped with "Made in Occupied Japan", I'm confident that most of my collection dates before 1945. 

The dishes are now drying in my dish rack, awaiting their placement in the china cabinet. It's amazing to think I was able to uncover more information about these dishes in a few minutes via the internet than prior generations could in their lifetimes. These dishes are another connection to the past, and, more importantly, another connection to the women of my family. Now all I need to do is plan a tea party centered around this pretty addition to my cabinet....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chic Decorating...on the Cheap

I've been in my apartment for a couple of years now, and in that time I've done whatever I can to make this apartment a home. I haven't always had a lot of extra money to work with, so I've substituted elbow grease and a little creativity for the deep wallet. Here are some of the things I've learned since moving in to my little city abode:

A can of paint does wonders. Some decorators say to wait until you have completely settled in, to see what colors you already have in your belongings and to find complementary paint colors. But to me that just means a lot of work to pull everything off the walls, move all of your furniture, cover everything in plastic, and then get to work. In my case I had very few belongings to begin with, so the first thing I did when I moved in was painted. I highly recommend lighter neutrals, especially in a rental. Priming and re-painting over claret-colored walls is the last thing one wants to do when moving out!

Another benefit of neutrals is their adaptability. I selected a soft New England blue-grey for my living room, a color I would have never thought of before, but was so pleased with its results. Natural sunlight and indoor lighting warm it up, yet it keeps its cool composure on the hottest of summer days. Contrary to what one would expect, this blue is actually very neutral. Since I love rotating colors and fabrics seasonally, this blue stands up well to the reds and navies of winter, the yellows of spring, and the fuchsias and greens of summer. Find a few contenders, paint a few sample swatches on your wall, study how the colors change in different lights, and make your decision. The worst thing that can happen is that you don't like the paint. Better to lose $40 in paint than several hundred on a piece of furniture you don't love!

Take cheap furniture and add a few unique touches. Like I mentioned earlier, I started with hand-me-downs and furniture from Target and Ikea. Needless to say, new drawer pulls or crown molding nailed to the top of a cheap bookcase can do wonders. I bought a neutral slipcover and pretty pillows to hide a dated couch. My dinged, stained, and otherwise unloved wooden furniture received an update (but more on that in an upcoming blog).
Cheap bookcase and TV stand dressed up with light fixtures, plenty of books and new drawer pulls. I also built a "revolving" gallery for whatever I feel like hanging up at the time. I used plyboard, quilt batting, muslin, and furniture tacks to create a piece where I could use t-pins to hang photographs and art. This board also means no extra nail holes in the wall!

Cover your walls. Nothing livens up a room like paintings, photography, collages, and the like. I printed a lot of my favorite photographs in black and white, put them in black wooden frames (look at Target and Wal-Mart for great bargains!), and created photo displays. Finds from, matted and framed, add color and a personal touch. I am by no means a professional painter, but some of my more decent results ended up on my walls too. Last, but certainly not least, add mirrors where you can. I have 4 mirrors in my living area alone! I really believe in the assertion that adding mirrors to a room (especially across from a window) will open it up and add light to the space.

A group of photos and knick-knacks that are dear to my heart. The "My Fair Lady" poster is an original from the 1960s, when my Mom played Eliza Doolittle in her high school production.

Whatever you do, don't make it matchy-matchy. Rooms shown in decorating magazines look amazing because not everything coordinates. Avoiding matchy-matchy syndrome is also a lot easier if you select items mindfully and one-by-one. I know "room in a box" kits (read: a couch, love seat, end tables, and a coffee table that all match) are extremely popular, but it's a fast way to paint yourself into a decorating corner. Different furniture heights, textures, and colors are what make the room interesting and draws peoples' eyes.

I think people are often afraid of mixing different wood colors, patterns, and fabric colors, for fear that they will make a mistake, which makes the "room in a box" so appealing. My theory is that if you buy what truly appeals to you, things will always come together in an unexpected, yet perfect, way.  Trust your senses! I think we're often drawn to things of a certain style, color palette, or design. With these similar styles, colors, and designs united, we naturally create a look that makes sense.

For example, I am drawn toward neutrals as my base, but love many different colors, patterns, and textures. I bought a brown and white houndstooth chair because of its perfect size in my little living room and because I love  menswear-inspired houndstooth. The brown and white is neutral, so I threw on an angora throw in robins-egg blue and a pillow encased in a lively rose-printed cotton. The throw and the ground color of the pillow complement my blue-grey living room wall and are a nice contrast to the brown and white print. The soft angora contrasts the nubby houndstooth, and the floral print of the pillow lends a feminine touch to a masculine print. The result is unexpected but looks put together...and more importantly, it looks like "me".

My little armchair, perfect for reading or idly looking out the window, is in arms' reach from one of my must-haves: my books!

Always keep your hobbies and lifestyle in mind. If you love books, make sure you have plenty of shelving to hold them. If your hobby is photography, plan out a photo wall with your work and use mats and frames in similar colors to bring a sense of cohesiveness to the collection. If you are more homebody than person about town, splurge on the TV and theater system that will make your quiet evenings at home memorable.  If dinner parties with friends and family is enjoyable, make sure you make room for an expandable dining table and keep mix and match linens on hand.
My current tablescape: a sweet eyelet runner, hemstitched cocktail napkins, and mis-matched placemats from Pottery Barn. The pillars and topiaries were found on clearance at Pottery Barn, and the candles were dollar-store finds. Vintage butter pats hold tealights, and the napkins were found for pennies on the dollar at Home Goods.

Lastly, don't be afraid to leave your space empty for a while. It's ok to not know exactly how you want the room to look. It's better to wait for the exact item you want (especially with more expensive pieces, like furniture) than to buy something that is merely "ok". I started with a lot of hand-me-downs and a few antiques inherited from my Grandma, all supplemented by finds from Target and Ikea.

I started with colors to which I was naturally drawn, items with personal value, and items I could never live without. For me it was almost any color, depending on the season: shades of red and pink; navy, robins-egg blue, and blue-grey; olive and emerald and kelly green. Items with personal value were my photographs, inherited antiques, and collection of pottery. The items I can't live without are books, my television with theater system and collection of DVDs, and my painting supplies.

Once you know your colors and your-must haves, it's all about layering on pieces that enhance what you already own and love. There's no point in hiding things for the sake of a "look". Your spaces should always be a reflection of who you are.
 The inside of my recently-inherited hutch. I used fabric remnants as shelf liners, and arranged parts of my pottery collection, my Grandma's spatterware, random tea sets, and stemware inside. Does it match perfectly? No. But does it somehow work together and reflect me? Absolutely. 

Another of my really easy and cheap projects. I took an outdated chandelier that came with my apartment and made it look completely different. Black torchiere shades from Target diffuses the light, and I used thick scrapbook paper to cover the "candle" base of each bulb. The crystals came from an antiques shop and Michael's and were leftover decorations from Christmas that I didn't quite feel like pulling down.

I have open shelves in my kitchen with displays that rotate seasonally. Right now it is pretty china, English ironstone, coffee grinders I inherited from my Grandma, and jars of pantry staples. In a few weeks it will be salt glaze pottery, spatterware, and copper to reflect the changing seasons.