Posts Tagged ‘Mary Randolph Carter’

The maples and sumacs have shed their glory.  That riotous circus of color is over for another year, and the muted shades of the oak leaves remain.  The maples and sumacs catapulted me into action.  Now those subdued autumn oaks quiet my soul, as a prelude to the season of rest.

Oak leaves are the last to turn, and the last to fall.  Some will cling tenaciously to their branches until the new leaves bud out in the spring.  I rejoice in the mellow oaks as they reflect the hues of many things I love:  rusty iron, tarnished sterling, faded bronze, weathered copper, ancient pewter, muted gold, and my late autumn paint palette—purple magenta, alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, raw umber, Naples yellow, quinacridone gold. 

Yesterday Joe and I set out on country roads for an end-of-the-season visit to an antiques shop in a cozy barn, COUNTRY ECHOES.  The atmosphere of this shop induces euphoria.  Retro music plays softly in the background, and every display sparkles in the sunlight which filters through the barn windows.  There’s a tucked away section for country primitives, an area reminding me of my mother’s kitchen, and a Victorian parlor—replete with English and Bavarian china, and American pressed and patterned glass in jewel tones.  

The shop features cases of vintage brooches, necklaces, earrings (mostly the clip-on variety), rings, and bracelets.  Attempts at reproducing these beauties are rampant, and supposed “look alikes” may be found everywhere—from Walmart, to hospital gift shops and the finest goldsmith establishments.  But none of the new costume jewelry can begin to match the quaint, subdued beauty of the old stuff! 

Barring special pieces containing precious gems, vintage jewelry is still very reasonably priced.  This will continue until a new generation discovers that old can be lovelier than new in many instances.  Meanwhile, since the prices are moderate, I’m buying the vintage treasures—for myself as well as for kindred souls who also enjoy “old”.  If I have a “signature look”, it’s that of vintage jewelry—the kind my mother and grandmothers wore.

Vintage housewares, vintage table settings, vintage costume jewelry—reminiscent of late autumn, when our souls are stilled by the shades of vintage oaks! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

I am not alone in my passion for most things old!  Again, I recommend visiting my favorite kindred-spirited author and photographer via her inspiring books—especially FOR THE LOVE OF OLD by Mary Randolph Carter.

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Recently I read an article in a home decor magazine, which brought my blood to that proverbial boil.  The author of the article, an “interior decorator” wrote:  “I can always tell when I enter a home which has not been decorated by a professional . . . .”  Then she went on and on, describing everything that was “wrong” with non-professional, do-it-yourself home decor.

(To that I might retort, “I can (not always but usually) tell when I enter a home which has been decorated by a professional—no verve, no panache, no individuality, no artful clutter, no plethora of memories, no evidence of personal penchants.  No soul, no spirit, no stacks of books on the floor and under tables, no dog hair*, no cats’ furballs, no funky collectibles, NO ANYTHING, simply a very tasteful and abysmally vacuous cookie cutter look!”)

The author of the above mentioned article cited a list of her self imposed “rules” which actually sent me into paroxyms of giggles, despite my boiling blood.  The funniest rule was:  All pictures must be at eye level.”

Isn’t that a hoot?!  Anyone with half a brain will question, “Whose eyes?”  The eye level “rule” is as silly as mandating that all humans must be the same height—or that they all must be 130 pounds of brown eyed brunette for women, and 185 pounds with shaved heads for men.  (Obviously children don’t even begin to factor in this “professional decorator’s” dictum.)

Here are some of my happy violations of the eye level rule:

Ooops!  ↑  My great-grandfather, Benjamin Luckey, is nearly touching our ceiling.  What is he doing up there?  Not many eyes in our family can level with him! 

But at least our 6′ 3″ tall grandson, Adam, can read his Irish ancestor’s face.  (Please note the aesthetic cobweb to the right of Benjamin Luckey.  The cobweb may not be “decoratively correct” either—but hey, I LOVE spiders.  No arachnophobia here.)

Another delightfully happy and gorgeous faux pas!  ↑

Now this funky collage ↑ goes to the other creative extreme; it’s almost on the floor.  Never mind.  Our 2 year old great-granddaughter, Lyla and our 19 month old great-grandsons, Cole and Lucas, can enjoy art at their level. 

Plus we have a 3 month old baby, Ella, in our family—and 2 more little boys about to be born.  They’ll be cruising our digs on their knees, and then on their feet, in no time at all.  Why do “interior decorators” have to forget about the little people?

Still one more hilariously stupid “decorating” rule is:  Limit groupings to 3 (or at the most 5) items.  Ha-ha!  Get a load of this!  ↓

Tea anyone?  We can celebrate the only decorating rule worth mentioning, namely:  THERE ARE NO RULES!

*And speaking of tea reminds me that the above diatribe does not apply to many British home decorators or home decor publications.  

America’s history of taxation without representation (and the Boston Tea Party!) notwithstanding, I applaud the English for their concept of home as evidenced in their magazines and books.  Tattered upholstery, chipped and crazed china, hairy dogs on crumpled beds, shelves and hutches crammed with diverse funky collectibles, muddy Wellies strewn around muddy back halls, and many other marks of beauty and ambience abound in British home decor periodicals. 

But don’t despair, all of you fellow Americans who love to collect and display junk and antiques.  We have a counter culture, in defiance of the boring “Everyone Look Alike and Get Rid of Clutter” crowd. 

We have a powerful, well-known advocate—that gracious Manhattan maven beautifully skilled in the arts of collecting and displaying junk, Mary Randolph Carter.   

Mary Randolph Carter has a brand new book, just released in October of 2010: 

Need I say more?  My copy is en route from Barnes & Noble, as I type.  What a treat!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

P. S. Here is a motivational bit of verse which I wrote for a fellow junker a few years back.  I posted this before, and think it’s worth repeating in view of new readers and the glorious rummage season just ahead!  🙂

To a Fellow Forager
For countless days of questing,
tracking county roads and off-beat trails,
seeking “gold” in worn enameled pots,
dented copper bowls and rusted pails . . .
For afternoons of sheer delight
in treasure flaked and faded over time . . .
clouded bottles, china chipped and crazed,
to cherish for a quarter or a dime . . .
For serendipity of junk acquired,
and troves of memories the years unfold,
I lift my coffee mug of battered tin
and toast the ecstasy of all things old!
Margaret Longenecker Been, ©2007

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My friend Linda is a fellow crafter, collector, and lover of home and hearth.  Her home reflects the warmth and joy of her personality.  Linda put a wonderfully encouraging comment on my last blog entry, which I’m quoting here in the event that some of you readers haven’t read the comments: 

“Your ‘cottage’ is wonderful!  All those authors who want us to get rid of our treasures or call them clutter, don’t have a clue.  I wonder if they ever feel the warmth and love you have painted.  Just makes me want to put a pot of that soup on!!!!!”

Thank you, Linda (alias “Sunshine”, and Linda really is a ray of sunshine)! 

If I have a MAJOR PET PEEVE, it is magazines which feature articles on “getting rid of clutter”.  When I see a title referring to “clutter” on the cover of a magazine, I would (almost, not quite) rather venture into the lion cage at the zoo than buy that magazine!

People who prefer stripped-down, bare-bones digs have every right to pursue their personal taste in decorating.  I certainly agree with the wisdom of giving away clothing we don’t use, or odds and ends that serve no sentimental or aesthetic purpose (like extra plastic food containers).  That’s a huge DUH!  

But it’s incredibly rude for the minimalist adherents to excoriate those of us who cherish beauty, creativity, and the memories evoked by our collections!  

I have never before felt the need to “justify” my personal taste.  But now a bit of justification is appropriate, in the hope of possibly freeing up women who are intimidated by trendy magazine articles—and therefore terrified to let loose and express themselves creatively at home. 

I grew up in a little Wisconsin town full of Victorian era homes with attics—those romantic Mother Lode sources of fascinating family history.  My parents were avid collectors—and they frequently took me to antique shops where I wandered spellbound, with my hands carefully clenched behind my back. 

For me, the antique shops were (and still are!) a treasure trove of euphoria:  cabinets laden with glass and porcelain, the fragrance and mellow patina of exquisitely crafted oak and mahogany furniture, shelves of tattered books, bins of lace yellowed with age, sepia photos of someone’s ancestors, old guns, old fishing poles, old kitchen tools, old everything!  My parents introduced me to the poignant charm and beauty of old stuff, domestic history, and visual memories—and I have never looked back!  

But now we are surrounded by a fast-lane, functional, “throw-away-rather-than-cherish” culture—a culture where family history too often means little, and media-deadened imaginations lie dormant.  In our fast-lane society many objects (which have heartwarming stories to tell about people and places) have been labeled “clutter”, and simply trashed. 

Fortunately these unfairly maligned objects may still be found and reclaimed (recycled!) by those of us who care to preserve and appreciate.  Resale shops, antique stores, garage sales, and even curbsides abound in treasures—some useful and some purely aesthetic and/or interesting, which may be the highest “use” of all!   

Sometimes the bare-bones crowd will equate collections with messiness.  That’s really odd!  Many collectors that I know are fantastically NEAT, because they take joy in their surroundings!  Everything has its place, and artifacts are displayed to enhance the beauty of each room.   

I’ve always been a neat freak.  That’s the way God made me, and I’m through apologizing for it.  Neatness and organization are not burdensome for me.  It would be hard for me to be anything but tidy.  

Yet neat freak that I am, I LOVE to make creative messes.  When I cook, build collages, paint, or design a knitted garment, materials can be happily swimming around me.  For art projects, I spread out on all available surfaces—the floor in my bedroom studio, our bed, and even on top of Dylan’s bed when needed.  Then it’s equally fun to clean up my mess!

When a home reflects the hobbies and interests of its occupants, it’s a relaxing place to be whether tidy or messy—and with young children, home is apt to be messy in areas!  A room brimming with the detritus of family activity is a room that reflects life well-lived.

When they were young, our children made trains out of chairs, and tipped chairs upside down to create tents with old blankets slung across the top.  As neat as I was in my kitchen, our living room, and the master bedroom, I always cut our six children some slack.  Their rooms were their sanctuaries.  Although I insisted that they hang up or put away their clothes and tidy their beds, the children were free to save and collect to their hearts’ content.  Books, rocks, shells, stuff culled from rummage sales, stuffed animals, old toys, and countless oddities were their very own treasures! 

As a mother, I remembered how delightful it was for me to be a child with my collections of stuffed critters, paper dolls, bottle caps, chestnuts, Storybook Dolls, and rocks.  Seeing our children enjoy their rooms brought back the mellow joy of childhood for me.

Today my home is a living history museum.  But nothing here is roped off to visitors.  We don’t have any signs that say, “Do not touch”.  When people visit, they can relax in the serenity we’ve created—while savoring the peace of our vintage, slow-lane decor.

“Home” was meant to be a sanctuary, a respite and reprieve from the outside world, a place where we can truly rest and refresh our souls.   “Home” should be far more just a periodic escape from the “real world”. 

For Joe and me, home IS the real world!

Margaret L. Been, ©2010


P. S.  The tea invitation stands!  You can select the teapot we’ll use for the occasion!  🙂

Although “old” is normally my favorite thing in decor, there are beautiful items out there today—ordinary things worth saving such as glass bottles with aesthetically pleasing labels, especially the olive oil bottles. 

The green and brown bottles and charming labels are works of art!  How beautiful are these everyday bottles and jars, with or without their labels, as vessels for a handful of garden flowers or herbs!  I love to have little bouquets everywhere, in delightful containers.

Always I’m awed by the gracious beauty in simple, ordinary things.  Beauty is EVERYWHERE, just waiting for open eyes and receptive hearts! 

If you are a beauty and nostalgia lover—yet have never sampled the delight of Mary Randolph Carter’s books, try seeking her out!  Her books may be out of print, but they are readily available through online used book sites. 

My most beloved of all Carter’s books is, FOR THE LOVE OF OLD.  Her writing is as wonderful as her photography.  Carter exudes the joy of family, family heirlooms, and that mellow meaning in everyday objects which we all share!  

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Indeed, it is SPRING!  My heart pulsates to the music of cardinals, redwings, robins, mourning doves, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, and other skyward signs of the season.

There is another sign—or rather a plethora of SIGNS—which soon will pop up in yards all over the little communities in our vicinity.  They may vary in wording—RUMMAGE SALE, GARAGE SALE, ESTATE SALE, YARD SALE, or whatever.  But these signs all mean the same thing:  absolute, abject BLISS!

I think some folks endowed with a sense of humor cackled when Joe and I moved to a condo last fall, after we had lived in fairly roomy houses for over fifty years of our marriage.  “HA,” these individuals reasoned.  “Now she’ll have to stop collecting!”

Well I am having the last “HA”.  We had scarcely unpacked our 280 moving cartons last fall when we discovered that we were smack dab in prime rummage country, and we dug right in—always coming home from a Saturday morning foray with one more thing to stick in a bare spot somewhere. 

Now we are relishing the realization that rummages will resume, any moment now.  There is alway room for more STUFF—somewhere, somehow!  I call it “uncondo-ing the condo”. 

Sometimes I don’t know which I enjoy most—the treasure hunts resulting in adding fresh decor to our home, or the raised eyebrows and eye rolling of those folks who “just don’t get it”.  When people unversed in the joy of junking visit our home, they look perplexed—even distressed.

But most fun of all, are those few individuals who “do get it”.  They may be practically strangers in terms of longevity of friendship, but something snaps when they enter our home.  These kindred spirits move quietly from room to room, wall to wall, and corner to corner—studying every detail with intense interest.  Appreciation and a sense of freedom are written on their faces.  Appreciative visitors experience THE GREAT AHA as they wander through our home as if it were a museum.  They know that, when it comes to interior decorating, “MORE IS MORE”. 

There is a nasty word out there, for those of us who love rummaging and junking.  We are called “hoarders”.  Never mind.  We are a mighty army of individuals who find beauty in things that the trendy folks cast off.  We are a brigade of non-materialistic “materialists” who value things for their sentimental implications, memories evoked, funki-ness, and unsung beauty rather than for their status or price.  You will not find the latest and most fashionable in our homes (or on our bodies, for that matter).  But you will find the most fun in our lives—as expressed in our homes and personalities. 

We are never bored—always alive to whatever we see, hear, smell, touch, or imagine.  We are an esoteric sorority and fraternity bonded by our enjoyment of stuff.  We share a priceless gift of creating beautiful arrangements comprised of whatever the trendy people throw away.

Maybe we collectors are hoarders:  hoarders of dreams, memories, and fun.  Hoarders of pizzazz and panache unearthed in everyday life!  Hoarders of quality of life!  But unlike the quintessential hoarder in fact and fiction, we junkers are hoarders who share!  We love to share our home, our stuff, and our joie de vie with whomever will slow down long enough to appreciate! 

So here’s to my “sisters and brothers” in JUNK:  Karen, Betty, Judy, Alicia, Sandy, Barbara, Julie, Joe, Andy, and countless others.  Here’s to author/photographer Mary Randolph Carter and her wonderful junk books which keep me vicariously and happily junking even in winter. 


Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

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