Rotating Collections

If you are a collector, you have probably faced the challenge of how to display your collectibles.  And if you have multiple collections, as I do, or have one gigantic collection, you may also face challenges in finding sufficient display space. The solution to this problem is rotating your collections.

Even museums and art galleries rotate their collections to keep their displays fresh and interesting.  I’ve found that rotating my collections gives me the opportunity to bring out items that have been packed away and greet them anew. After a time out of the spotlight, they feel like old friends I haven’t seen in a while.  Changing out collections freshens up the space and often helps me to see them in a new way.  Even small changes can have a big impact and reinvigorate a room.

The ironstone has a calm, architectural feeling. I think it is appropriate for any time of the year, but I enjoy adding a bit more color to my decor once the weather starts to warm up.

As a self-professed “dish addict,” I have several collections of tableware that bring me great joy.  I find tableware aesthetically pleasing, as well as useful (well, “useful” is how I justify it!). When we purchased our home in southern California last year,  one of the best selling points for me was the built-in bookcase in the living room. This feature is the first thing you see when you enter our home and I knew it would be the perfect place to display my collections.

I have had my white ironstone collection displayed on these shelves since we moved in almost a year ago. My blue and white china collection had been stored in my dining room hutch, largely behind glass doors. I decided to simply switch them out, letting the vibrant blue and white collection take prominence at the entry of the house.

As I was taking everything off the shelves, I realized it was also time for a little spring cleaning. I took the opportunity to dust and wipe down the shelves. I wiped down each piece, making sure lids were secured with earthquake putty before placing them in their new home. While I had to set aside an afternoon for the task, the exercise was not at all onerous for me. It makes me happy to look at and handle my collections, and I’m guessing you feel the same way about the things you collect.

So whether you rotate an entire collection or just several items within a collection, I encourage you to do this on a regular basis. In addition to gaining a renewed appreciation for your collections, you’ll also find a change can infuse new life into your home. The exercise is well worth the time and effort.

I found these adorable white porcelain bunnies and thought they added just the right touch of whimsy to the display. It almost looks like they are playing on the shelves.


Sourcing: The Estate Sale

Today I want to share one of the best kept secrets for finding great furniture and household items at rock bottom prices: estate sales.  Having had my own estate sale several years ago when we decided to downsize and change house styles, I came to understand how these sales work and why they are such a great thing from the standpoint of the buyer.

Estate sales differ vastly from yard sales where individuals set up in their yards and try to dispense with household clutter, e.g., used toys, half-burned candles, old florist vases, clothing, etc., in hopes of earning a few pennies on the dollar. While you certainly can find great deals at yard sales, I generally find the quality and diversity of offerings is not at the same level as estate sales.  In most cases, estate sales are held to liquidate the estates of people who have passed away, moved to assisted living situations or otherwise downsized, or those who are liquidating assets due to divorce.  The goal is to quickly get rid of what is sometimes an entire lifetime’s accumulation of stuff.

While the first impression upon walking into a stranger’s home and seeing all their belongings displayed with price tags can indeed be a little sad, I’d encourage you to get past that and see it as an amazing opportunity to purchase unique quality items at excellent prices.  And keep in mind that, for whatever reason, the people holding the sale NEED to get rid of these items. You are helping the sellers alleviate the burden their possessions now represent.  Their possessions will have a new life through a new owner.  It is recycling at it’s best!

While many estate sale companies now accept credit cards, many do not. Take cash, preferably small bills.  It can enable you to negotiate better deals.

The best site I know of to find sales in your area is Type in your city and you’ll get a list of upcoming estate sales in your area. Once you are on a company’s mailing list you will receive regular emails telling you when they are conducting sales in your area.  They will usually advertise a few days before the event with numerous photos of every item included in the sale.  Sales usually include furniture, garden items, jewelry, clothing, kitchenware, and collectibles.  I recommend scanning through all the photos to see if any items catch your attention. I can usually determine whether the sale is a “must” or a “pass” just by previewing the pictures.

See the white ironstone pudding molds towards the front of this picture?  Several of them ultimately came home with me! I paid between $4- $8 each which is a steal!

For example, earlier this year I came across the estate sale of the former editor of Bon Apetit Magazine.  The preview photos showed a wall inside the house that had been signed by Julia Child during a visit for Christmas Eve dinner in 1980!  I knew this was the estate of someone who loved cooking and entertaining, and I could see from the pictures that there were vast amounts of tableware, cookware, linens and many other items of interest to me.  It was a three day sale and I went on the second day. (Truthfully, I also went the first day but there was a line wrapped around the block to get in!  I decided to return the next day.)  I came home with two of the ironstone pudding molds shown in the picture above.  I went back the third day when items were 75% off and purchased two more molds, several pieces of tin bakeware, a vintage faux fur throw, as well as other miscellaneous goodies.

Most estate sales start on Fridays and end on Sunday afternoons.  The first day you will get the best selection, but you will pay the most.  By the second day, most sales cut prices by 50%. On the final day, prices are often slashed by 75%!  Yes, there is a high probability the item you eyed on Saturday may be long gone, but if it is still there, it is now at least half price! Because I’m not in an active acquisition mode these days, I most often go on the last day of the sale to scoop up amazing deals on unexpected finds.

Here are some of the best things to buy at estate sales:

Large pieces of furniture.  You can purchase large pieces of quality furniture at extremely low prices.  These items tend to go for very low prices because no one wants to haul them away.  Since these pieces have usually remained in use, they are most often in quite good shape.  Oftentimes, the style of the furniture is dated, but a fresh coat of paint or new upholstery can breathe new life into dated pieces of furniture.  Smart estate sale companies will usually have a mover on call that will give you a moving estimate before you purchase.  Since the mover is usually connected in some way to the estate sale company, try negotiating the price to include the moving fee.

Tableware.  Formal china, crystal stemware, silver serving pieces, linens, and other cooking related items are often great deals at estate sales.  Of course, it helps if you like vintage but don’t be surprised to find items of all styles, quality levels, and price points.  I recently found a set of twelve contemporary handmade dinner plates that still had their original price tags on them.  The original price was $33 per plate and the sticker indicated that they had been marked down to $25 each when they were purchased.  On the last day of the sale, I got them for $2 each!

Linens.  If you’re a fan of vintage linens as I am, you can often find gorgeous tablecloths, napkins, and hand towels at estate sales.  In bygone eras, fine hand needlework was something every well-equipped household had. And because it was prized, oftentimes it was rarely used.  It is not unusual to find an entire room dedicated to linens at estate sales.  While you’ll need to examine them carefully to check for stains or damage, I’ve seen many, many beautiful items with original tags still attached.

Garage/yard items.  Tools, garden supplies and equipment, planters, lawn furniture and other unusual items are often displayed in the garage or in the backyard.  These practical items can be quite expensive to buy in retail stores and you might find just the item you need for your garden or patio.

Hobby Items and Collectibles.  From cameras to comic books, estate sales tend to reflect the owner’s hobbies and interests.  Depending on your interests, you can find just about anything you collect at reasonable prices.

This beautiful Chanel jacket was for sale at a recent sale I attended. If you enjoy vintage purses, hats, shoes, jewelry, etc. you can often find unique designer items at estate sales.

So if you’ve seen signs around your town for estate sales and been intimidated or thought they were just junk sales, I’d encourage you to give them a try.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the treasures you’ll find.

This enormous French provincial style armoire was even more amazing in person.  It was originally priced at $300, which was already a steal.  It was half off on Sunday afternoon and they offered delivery for only $60.  I offered $200 for both the armoire AND delivery–they accepted!

Handpainted Shamrock Shortbread Cookies

A friend recently posted a picture on Facebook of some lovely hand painted shortbread cookies she had made.  It was the first time I’d ever seen this cookie decorating technique and I immediately queried her about the procedure.  She gave me the basics and assured me it was easy.  After a bit more research, I decided that St. Patrick’s Day might be the perfect occasion to give it a try.

Always try to place your cookie cutters as close together as possible when cutting out cookies. Dough toughens when it is overworked and the fewer times the dough is re-worked, the more delicate the cookies will be. Also, reducing the number of times the dough must be rolled out makes the task quicker to complete.

The first thing I learned is that one needs only a few supplies–gel food coloring, a paintbrush, and a clear food grade alcohol to thin out the food coloring.  In light of my novice cookie painter status and my St. Patrick’s Day theme, I didn’t want to attempt anything too complicated.  Shamrocks seemed to be an achievable goal.

The first task was making the shortbread cookies.  My friend told me that, in her experience, a shortbread dough was sturdier and thus better suited to painting than sugar cookie dough.  I used this shortbread recipe and found it made a light buttery cookie that was still dense enough to hold up to a bit of handling.  The icing recipe is conveniently in the same link.

After the cookies have cooled thoroughly, apply icing to coat the top side of each cookie entirely.  I dipped my cookies into the icing and used my finger to clean up the edges.  You’ll want to make sure your icing is completely dry before attempting to paint. I let mine set up overnight.

I headed to the craft store and purchased a new fine tip paintbrush that will be dedicated to food use only.  I used rum to thin out the food coloring and make the color easier to spread. I had some leaf green gel food coloring on hand which turned out to be the perfect true green for my shamrocks.

I put a small amount of rum in the bottle cap. First I dipped into the food coloring and immediately dipped into the rum to thin out the color and make the consistency better for spreading.

I picked out the “least pretty” cookies and practiced my painting technique on them.  I found it took a bit of practice to get the consistency of the food coloring right and to figure out the best way to create my shamrock designs.  I eventually learned that the best painting technique was to first dip the brush into the food coloring and then quickly into the alcohol. (I poured a small amount of rum into the bottle’s cap and dipped my brush directly into it.)  The more you dip the brush into the alcohol, the more translucent the effect will be. Just be careful not to make it too watery or it will bleed and make your design murky. (Yes, that happened.)

The first few cookies I decorated were pretty amateurish, but my technique improved the more I practiced.

I started off making rather large shamrocks and as I practiced, I gradually made them smaller and smaller.  I decided I liked the more delicate designs best and painted most of my cookies in this manner. I also realized that it was actually easier to create tiny shamrocks than large ones.

The smaller shamrocks were created by first making three small dots in a triangular shape and then going back over them with a diluted brush to join the dots together.  It takes the paint a little while to dry so you should have plenty of time to work with the color before it dries.  I tried to give each cookie slightly different pattern. (And for luck, I did throw in the occasional four-leaf clover!)

Served with a cup of tea, the cookies were not only a feast for the eyes but also for the palate.

I found hand painting was a unique and fun way to decorate cookies. I thought it was easier than icing with piping tips and I’ll definitely do it again. Depending on your skill level, the art form can be elevated and adapted to many beautiful designs. Of course none of my shamrocks are perfect, but I don’t think perfection is required to make this technique work. Once I got the hang of it, I found it to be fairly forgiving.

I highly recommend giving hand painted cookies a try.  You’ll likely find it won’t take the luck of the Irish to be successful!

The cookies are almost too pretty to eat!!


Vegan Moroccan Dinner Party – Part 2

In last week’s blog, I told you about a vegan dinner party I recently hosted for new friends.  If you missed it, you can catch up on the first part of the party here:

After our cocktails and appetizers, we headed to the dining room for dinner.  To continue the Moroccan theme, I attempted to create a vibrant, colorful and layered table setting.  For the most part, I was lucky enough to be able to utilize dinnerware and materials I already had.

After thinking through the tableware I owned, I realized that the best option for this dinner would be my formal wedding china.  The ornate gold border, when teamed with the colorful tablecloths and overlays I found, added just the right touch of elegance as well as a bit of opulence.  Plus I was happy to be able to put this rarely used dinnerware to good use!

I used a plain white tablecloth as my foundation and hit the thrift stores to find textiles I could add that would contribute to a Middle Eastern feeling.  I found a fuschia colored dress I was able to adapt by cutting it off at the waist and opening up the seam to obtain a flat piece of fabric.  I also found a pillowcase with an orange print that nicely complimented the fuschia piece.  Again, I opened up the seams to get a large flat piece of fabric.  For the third overlay, I found a vintage pink and white flour sack in my fabric collection that played well with the other fabrics.  I layered these three pieces on top of the white tablecloth base to add texture and to give the table a sense of luxury.

Layering multiple fabrics in complimentary but mismatched patterns helped to set the Middle Eastern feeling.
I placed a vintage needlework coaster under each wine glass for additional color and texture, and added a box of mints as a parting gift.

As I was going through my stash of vintage linens, I came across a lovely set of cocktail napkins with a rather elaborate pulled thread border. I decided to add them under the wine glasses for yet another layer of color and texture.

I always like to give each guest a small take home gift which provides them with a lasting reminder of the evening.  In this case I added to each place setting a small box of mints tied with a burlap ribbon.

I had a pair of hand-hammered silver tea cups that my cousin brought me from a vacation in Turkey a couple of years ago and I decided to use them as condiment holders.  I put some spicy harissa sauce in one and chopped mint and parsley in the other. I love the additional sparkle they contributed to the table.

I enjoy making menus for each table setting and thought the motif of a mosque dome backed with a vibrant Arabic print motif would be appropriate. For the background print, I found an image on line in a complimentary color scheme and printed it out on white card stock.  I then drew a simple dome shape on a piece of paper as a pattern and then cut it out on heavy card stock to use as a template.  The menu was printed on plain white card stock and the mosque shaped image was traced on top and then cut out.  I taped the cutout to the background print at the top with a piece of cloth tape acting as a hinge.  The card could then stand upright on its own. Our guests were invited to take them home at the end of the evening as mementos.

I made a menu for each place setting by creating a template of a mosque dome. After cutting it out and hinging it with tape to another card printed in an Arabic motif, it stood upright.

Here are the links for the recipes on the menu.

Quinoa Tabbouleh:

Moroccan Carrot Salad:

Marrakesh Vegetable Curry:

Coconut Rice Pudding:

While I am not accustomed to cooking either vegan or Moroccan cuisine, I must say I really enjoyed putting this dinner party together.  I loved planning the menu and hunting around my home for items that might be appropriate for the table setting.  I found the vegan dishes surprisingly delicious.  The complex flavors made up for any lack of animal products. As an added benefit, it was probably one of the healthiest meals I’ve ever prepared or eaten!

Colorful fresh flowers for the centerpiece and the warm glow of candles rounded out the table setting.