As you know I am a huge, HUGE fan of The Find by Stan Williams, also known as The Elegant Thrifter. Even though I pester him like he is my big brother, he was gracious enough to let me ask him a few questions. Read On to find out more about this fabulous guy!
I loved reading about your rummaging adventures when you were a kid back in Independence, Missouri...It was so visual! Do you think these excursions made you the thrifter you are today? I know they did. You know, we didn't have a ton of money when I was a kid, and we were always looking for ways to stretch a dollar. But more than that, it was fun. I always loved trying to see what I could get for a few cents, and watching my Grandma Churchill get excited when she won the bid on a box of dishes and bric-a-brac at an estate auction. And when I say estate auction, I'm not talking fancy antiques. I'm talking about a down-and-dirty, old country house loaded with everything for sale -- from pantyhose to garden hose! Mostly, she bought dishes since she owned a small dairy farm in Mansfield, Mo., and had to feed a ton of people all the time. I've told the story before, but I remember a white china plate with 24 karat gold trim that my sister and I fought over to see who would eat off of the treasured piece. That's probably why I love old dishes and plates so much. The garage sales for us were truly a family outing, especially when the extended family came into town. We were allowed a few coins and could buy whatever we wanted. Mostly we bought games and puzzles. And since my mom's younger sisters were always looking for kids' clothes, it was a jackpot. It's funny. I just thought it was something that everybody did.
Are your other family members still avid thrifters? Hmmmm. I think my sister Cheryl comes the closest. She loves meeting people, like I do, and learning their stories. My sister has always been a thrifty person -- always looking for the best deal and skilled at maintaining a budget. She has a young child and not much time to hit the garage sales, but when we are together, we power garage sale by seeing how many we can hit in an hour or two. After seeing the retro-fabulous Charles Phoenix do his vintage slide show last year in Kansas City, she was even more inspired recently when she found at a garage sale a treasure trove of old slides from the 1950s going all the way to the early '90s that we're going to plow through when I can find time to get home.
What are you collecting right now? I always pick up a pretty platter. I use them to offer my pineapple upside-down cake upon for a unique hostess gift. In general, I will always pick up a plate or a dish if the price is right. One of the things I love to do is have a few on hand so that when I'm invited to a dinner or an event, I can leave the plate behind with the host. I always pick up unused postcards from places I've been and use them. I especially love old Paris, Kansas City and New York postcards, since those are my favorite places. I also like old motel postcards. I can never resist French ephemera -- maps, books, posters or letters. I also always pick up a nice vintage bag that can be hooched up for a special occasion. I've lagged in my Hooch Bag creations as of late with the book launch and all, but I probably have 100 or so vintage bags -- no designers-- of all types. And then, anything that has to do with Dolly Parton, as I'm a huge fan! On my desk is the concert portfolio from her 1977 tour, which my friend Senor Amor of Jonamor Decor gave me. I went to that concert, but couldn't afford the deluxe program at the time. Oh...and funny, old cookbooks with faded, Technicolor images of weird ham aspics, drizzled bundt cakes and crazy hors d'oeuvre. I love the midcentury attempt at food styling!
How do you teach people who "Ewwww" thrifting? I show them my book. I give them a unique gift. I drag them to a thrift shop or make them pull over to the side of the road to look at a garage sale. I don't really try to convince people to change their minds, but when they get a gift from me you can be almost 100 percent assured that it or many of its components came from a thrifty venture. And more likely than not, they can't believe it. The most common reaction people have is not of the Ewwww kind, but the I-don't-know-how-to-do-this variety. I think people are afraid of making a mistake or buying the wrong thing. I always say that if you only buy things you truly love, then you can't go wrong. And at the prices these treasures go for, then if you decide you don't like what you bought, then give it away or donate it to a charity thrift.
How often do you go thrifting? All the time. I always walk by Goodwill, Housing Works and The Cure Thrift Shop in New York. I just discovered a fabulous shop called Upper Rust near me, and it's gorgeous. I will be posting about it as soon as I take the photos. Of late, I've been lucky to run into several stoop sales, which are becoming even more popular here because of the economy. I sometimes kidnap a pal who lives in Queens who has a car and we hit the thrift shops in Connecticut, Long Island and Upstate New York. And when I travel, I thrift every day, from garage sales to junk shops.
Are you a clutterbug or simplifier? Is it difficult to part with treasures? I'd like to say I'm in between. I sort of call the style of my home Grandma Chic. And I LOVE giving my treasures away to special people.
Living in Iowa, it is hard to imagine "Street Finds". You came from Missouri, was it just as surreal to see furniture on the street that people left behind? Yes. When I first moved here, I had a friend who decorated his entire apartment with fancy finds they discovered on trash day on the Upper East Side., I was mostly disappointed because I never had the space to take most of the furniture I found. Now, it's a little better.
Favorite Find? It's a costume jewelry encrusted Christmas tree that I found at a flea market in Santa Monica. I paid a little more for it than I'm used to, but Ruth Handel, my favorite thrift companion, said, "buy it" when we discovered it...and she's such a pro that she NEVER tells me to buy anything. It is on red felt backing, is framed in gold and had working twinkling lights when I bought it.They broke in shipping, but I replaced them this year. I keep it up year round.
What would be your dream find? Ha! A box of 1,000 postcards from the decorative arts museum in Paris from the 1940s! That is a hard one, because I don't ever dream of finding anything. I truly believe that I will find what I'm looking for. I'm never overly specific, but if I know I am looking for a gift or a bag to hooch, I will always find it. I love the element of surprise. Also, I try not to be greedy. I think that thrift karma pays you back when you leave goodies for others to discover. I need to work on that!
How long was the writing process of The Find? It seemed like an eternity, but it really wasn't and I'm looking forward to doing it again. I got the idea in 2005 and approached an agent. I was the editorial fashion director of Maxim at the time, and worked on the proposal on and off over the next couple of years. I knew I wanted Clarkson Potter to publish the book since they are tops in mass market decorating books. They publish people like Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray and Celerie Kemble. They had heard about the book and had expressed interest, so I submitted my final proposal to them in February 2007 and they bought it. But the manuscript (50,000 word!) and photos (500 original images!) were due in November 2007. So I did something I never dreamed I would ever do. I quit my job in May 2007 to concentrate fully on THE FIND: THE HOUSING WORKS BOOK OF DECORATING WITH THRIFT SHOP TREASURES, FLEA MARKET OBJECTS, AND VINTAGE DETAILS, and I met my deadline. Then there was the editing and design process, which was pretty much completed by November 2008, and finally in May, it hit bookshelves. I definitely don't have the income I once did, but I'm hanging in there. Anybody want to hire me?!?!
Do you get writers block? How do you break it? I force myself to write. The blog has been really good practice for me. You know, I was in a job where I was not doing the things I absolutely loved, and writing was one of the elements missing from my life. I really enjoyed working in the fashion world, but felt a void creatively because it seemed like all I did was put clothes on models and famous people. And when I expressed the desire to write, I was told that I wasn't a writer, but a stylist. I had been a writer before I took the Maxim job in 1998, but it's so easy to get pigeon holed by employers. So I made the break. Every time I feel blocked, I say to myself, "This is what you quit your job to do!"
What does it feel like to see your book in print and on store shelves? Incredible. But even more gratifying is the feedback I get from people who have been touched by my labor of love. Really!
Where do you find your inspiration? I find it in the thrifting process -- and I don't just mean acquisition. Just today I posted a picture of a bunch of ukuleles and guitars that reminded me of my friend Ruth. Even if I'm not buying, I'm talking to people, asking questions, hearing their stories and getting all kinds of ideas. I'm inspired by all the comments people leave on my blog, especially on days when everything seems to go wrong. I'm inspired when people tell me that because of something I wrote they tried something new .... or when they hear my story and say, "Dang it, I'm going to pursue my dreams!" I'm not a machine like Martha, so all the gifts and opportunities that come from THE FIND, I have truly honed myself. As hokey as it sounds, I'm also very much inspired by Dolly Parton. I've been a fan since I was a child. I guess she seemed like a fairy princess who grew up in a true rags to riches story. She never says a mean thing about anyone, never complains, is always grateful for everything, is generous and has made a good living from pursuing her dream job.
Describe a perfect day-- I think I told my pal The Vintage Laundress something like this before, but it would start with a fabulous pilates class followed by a skip by one of my favorite thrift stores, and then a light lunch at an outdoor cafe. I would then go home and leisurely pack my bags and take a limo to Newark where I would board an Air France flight to Paris (first class, of course), sip a coupe of champagne, and then drift off to sleep and awake at Charles de Gaulle. I actually get shivers when I write this!
If you could live anywhere, where would you go? Paris
What keeps you from going? That's a conversation for the therapist's couch! (I'm not in therapy, but maybe I should be!) I've made so many changes in my life over the past few years, and I'm getting much better at practicing what I preach in following dreams.
You are a New Yorker...is square footage a problem for you? Duh....I envy all the folks in blog land who have work studios, sewing rooms, walk-in closets and outdoor space. I know...I know...silly question!
Describe your perfect home--City or Country? Apartment? Ranch? Tudor? I have two ideas: an old 1800s apartment in Paris with buckling floors, floor-to-ceiling windows that open out onto the street OR a glass house in the middle of the country.
And finally: Can we get the recipe for your famous Pineapple Upside Down Cake? I sent it earlier. I hope it works out for you!
Thank You Stan!
See what I mean?! Isn't he marvelous?
You can find Stan at The Elegant Thrifter blog and be sure to look for his excellent book The Find...you will not be disappointed. And the recipe will be posted next!
And in a little side note...It was humid the day I had my photo taken with the wonderful Sharleen of Luticia Clementine's that Stan downloaded onto his blog. My hair does not normally look like that! Ack!