Monday, August 24, 2009

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous: An Interview with The Elegant Thrifter

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ny thrifters out there? Just kidding! I know you are there because I read your posts at linky parties all week long!! Well, dear thrifters, I introduce you to Stan Williams, known as "The Elegant Thrifter" and author of "The Find." Stan recently emailed me about my JunkMarket Contributor Challenge in which I used a vinyl record as a silverware holder in a place setting. He asked to interview me and then posted the interview responses in a wonderful post called, "The Gift of Thrift: Repurposed Pop!"

Well, turnaround is fair play, so I asked Stan a few questions myself! I was curious about Stan, his book, and his perspective on thrifting. Without further ado, heeeeeeere's Stan!...

1. What does it mean to be an "elegant thrifter?"
I came up with that brand just before my book The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating With Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details came out. I had a blog called "The Object of My Desire," but it just didn't really fit the message I was trying to convey, which is "Always Frugal, Always Fabulous." Even though the economy is difficult and we're saving money and cutting back doesn't mean we can't have a fabulous moment in the way we entertain or the way we decorate our homes. Vintage and thrift objects go a long way in conveying that message. Even mixed into a new decor, they add instant heritage and charm for pennies on the dollar. I always like to say that we might not be sipping $100 bottles of champagne these days, but a $5 bottle of prosecco is quite delicious!

I also wanted to create an inviting concept. You know how people are so afraid of making a mistake in decorating their home that they never even try? A lot of people have misconceptions about shopping in a thrift store or flea market, so I wanted thrifting to sound fun, rewarding, and chic. And I believe it's all three, dont you?

2. How did you develop your thrifting skills?
My family has always been quite frugal. My parents didn't make a lot of money as educators, so we had to be careful with out budgets. And even though we loved shopping the garage sales in Independence, Mo., to save money, it was more of an adventure, because you never knew what you would find. I would say that my skills happened naturally. I've always loved cooking, crafting, decorating, and fashion, so it just came naturally. I always point out that I am not a decorator, but a home maker. I know that sounds funny for a guy, but I am passionate about everything that relates to the home. If I don't know how to do something, I will figure it out and go for it with gusto. I'm about to embark on a "Transforming My Ugly Bathroom" project. Never done it before, but I'll document it, mistakes and all!

Also, I'm a journalist, so I am a trained observer and curious question asker! For many years, I worked as a fashion journalist, most recently a nine-year stint as editorial fashion director of Maxim magazine. I know what you might be thinking, but I was in charge of all the men's fashion in the magazine, which was much more sophisticated than the rest of the publication. I left that job in May 2007 to create The Find. So, I've always been around style and fashion.

3. What is your favorite part about thrifting?
The stories. Even if I don't buy a thing, it's the stories that people tell and the memories their items evoke.

4. Is thrifting different in New York than in other parts of the country?
Oh yes. We don't have garage sales here, which makes me jealous of all the people who write all these glorious pieces they find at garage sales. We have fantastic benefit thrift shops that are beautifully merchandised. This kind of thrift shop exists in larger cities, but not so much in smaller ones. The prices in these shops are a bit higher, but we also have Goodwill shops all over, and you'd be surprised at all the goodies for sale there.

Our flea market scene has died down, and I have to admit, since the death of the big flea markets on Sixth Avenue that were replaced by hideous high rises, I haven't been in years, even though they've moved. We have to rely on public transportation here, so it's not so easy to hop out to Brimfield or jaunt over to Jersey for garage sales.

But here's the best news. You can find FABULOUS things sitting right there on the street -- free! Because we live in such small spaces, and moving is such a hassle, sometimes, at the last minute, someone just doesn't have room any more or can't get rid of something, and they'll set it right out on the street. Believe me, a great find doesn't sit outside for too long!

5. What are your favorite thrifting sources?
LA and Kansas City garage sales. Just the thought of it gives me a frisson. The assortment of merchandise is so broad, and the people so interesting, that those garage sales top my list. And because there are regional taste differences, you'll find stuff you'd never find in New York in LA, and stuff in Kansas City that would cost a fortune in LA!

In New York: Housing Works Thrift Shops (, where all the proceeds go to eradicating the dual dilemma of HIV/AIDS and homelessness. With nine locations, this shop gets the crème de la crème of donations. Each shop turns over merchandise at lightening speed, and the brand is a favorite of celebrities and fashion types. Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon have been known to both donate and shop there!

My newest find in New York: Cure Thrift Shop ( It's another benefit thrift shop where proceeds go to diabetes research. GORGEOUS!! Great donations. Merchandised incredibly. And (shhhhh, don't tell anyone), they will bargain within reason.

I like the Brooklyn Flea here in New York, but I also love the regional flea markets and "antique malls" wherever I may be. In Kansas City, the River Market Antique Mall (www.rivermarketantiquemall) is a day of delight! And then there's always Goodwill. When I see a Goodwill, I go in and do a breeze-through. If I don't see anything in 10 minutes, I leave. I don't want to feel the pressure to buy something just because it's cheap. If something leaps out at me, I'll linger, but after 10 minutes, I skeedaddle.

And then any European flea market, from Paris to's truly otherworldly what you'll find.

6. What are the top 5 thrifted items you own?
A vintage jewelry encrusted Christmas tree, with working lights, mounted in a gold frame found at a flea market at the Santa Monica airport. I love it so much I keep it up all year round.

A promotional still from the movie cast of "9-to-5," signed by all the cast members, found at a thrift shop in Waxhaw, N.C. I love Dolly Parton, and find her rags-to-riches story a true inspiration.

Two wrought iron garden chairs probably from the 1950s found on the street in Brooklyn. My mom made green velvet seat covers for them, and I love them so much use them indoors.

A Mid-Century wooden server I bought for $100 on the street almost 20 years ago from a crusty old woman who used to bring finds in from New Jersey and sell them on the street on Sixth Avenue.

A Betty Crocker cookbook from 1950. My dad bought it for me at an estate sale. I have tons of vintage cookbooks because I love the crazy recipes and the attempt at food styling. But this one is special because my dad bought it, packed it into a box, and mailed it to me!

7. What recommendations do you have for other thrifters?
Like I say in my book The Find, go in with an open mind but only buy what you truly love. I say that when thrifting, don't worry so much about provenance if you've spied an item that truly speaks to your heart. Certainly, if you are a dealer of serious collector, then brands matter, but I don't really care so much. I choose quality and appeal factor above anything. And then....don't be greedy. Leave a little something for the next person. I believe that thrift karma can be kind or come back to bite you in the behind. I cannot tell you the number of times I witness situations and hear stories about someone buying a single item (a lamp, an accessory, a pillow), and then its mate appears across the country or even the world. It happens all the time.

Most of all, control the compelling urge to buy. I thrift all the time without buying a thing. For me, just as it is in my book The Find, it's about the journey and the experience more than the actual acquisition.

Thanks, Stan, for the great responses! I've learned a lot!! No garage sales? I can't imagine Minnesota without them! But the FREE stuff on the side of the road and the thrift shops sound fabulous!! I know where I'll be stopping when I make it to New York someday!

I also love the concept of the thrifting experience being more important than the thrifted purchase. Seeing new things and imagining how you might use them is 99% of the thrill! It's the same feeling I get when I read other people's blogs!


Is it the thrifting journey/experience or the actual thrifting purchase that gets your thrifting heart aflutter?


  1. For me it's the thrill of the hunt. Searching boxes and boxes of junk to find that one treasure that everyone walked right past because they didn't want to dig through the junk. It's even more exciting when you're not quite sure what you want but you will know it when you find it and then you do find it in the most unusual place.

  2. I agree about the thrill of the hunt. I didn't grow up thrifting or garage saling, althoug my family was thrifty. In the past few years, though, I've done it a lot and found some really wonderful items.

  3. I feel so humbled that you featured me on your beautiful blog. Truly, it means so much to me that you have shared my labor of love with all of your readers. My sincere thanks to you from the bottom of my heart.


  4. I think this is a great story. I've so been wanting to buy his book, now this just makes me want it even more. Will have to go to the bookstore this week.

  5. Now, I gotta buy the book!

    I get as giddy as a school girl with the hunt. Today, I just picked up a mirror that someone left outside the paint store and was so excited that I nearly forgot to go buy paint!

    I don't know why they left it there, but obviously, it was meant to be thrown in my truck and taken home.

    Great interview:)

  6. Great Interview and so much of it I can relate too...I love finding just that one special piece that has so much history and love...I think the thrill lies in the act of thrifting, never knowing what you will find...and i agree buy what you love, not just to buy! thanks Amy!

  7. Great interview. I love the hunt and then when I do find a treasure, I am so thrilled. I'm not snobby about brand or pedigree. I just buy what I really like and will work for me. Thanks a bunch for the post. Hugs, Marty

  8. Of course its the thrill of the hunt! Not knowing what is there is the best.

    Great interview and now another blog to check out.


  9. The photo of the green chair sits well with me.

  10. What a beautiful blog. This was so interesting. For me it's the thrill of the hunt, the find and then seeing if I can re-do it just a Always a thrify shopper a junk store, antique store or even the Salvation Army makes my heart go pitty patter.. Thanks for stopping by and saying hello. I'm looking forward to getting to know you...hugs ~lynne~

  11. I do love the journey even more than the actual finds, well usually-I do have a few items that I adore that I've found along the way. But they serve more as a reminder of the journey to find them, that they've found a home with me is just icing on the cake!

  12. I'm a big fan of Stan's but the best part of this interview is getting to find out about this blog!

  13. hi, i keep looking for the winner of the online junkology food makeover who won ;) gio

  14. Great interview Amy! I feel priveledged to call Stan a dear friend. I met him after I featured his book on my blog and conducted my own interview. I'm so happy that others are seeing what an exceptionally talented man he is! I'm hoping to get him out to Antiques Weekend here in Texas with me this Fall for a book signing. Keep your fingers crossed!

  15. Girl, that was so well written. I had to go over and read your interview as well. Very good, grasshopper!
    I love the thrill of the hunt, but I love the money to be made from the kill even more! Nothing beats strapping a great find on the hood of the car and bring it home to my man!

  16. Oooh, I must get his book now that I am the Thrifty Mom of the Junk Bonanza! I think he really provides true inspiration....great interview!

  17. Hello, I had to leave a comment for you because you have such an incredible blog with an eye-catching and creative header shot! Beautiful pictures and writing; I've been really absorbed reading your posts. Thank you for sharing them and best wishes....

  18. For me, its the thrill of the hunt mostly, but I love when I find a treasure that stills my heart. Therapy for daily stresses in life, are slipped away when on the hunt.
    Enjoyed this interview so much, and will be checking out this book next time I get to the book store. Just ordered "Blogging for Bliss" last night, and now I'll have to search out this great book next.

  19. Really enjoyed your interview. It's very informative. Good job.

  20. It's all of it. I have changed thru the years. I can leave things for others where before I had to have it all.
    Great interview.

  21. Hi Amy
    Great interview with the Elegant Thrifter. I recently bought this book and am really enjoying it. Your blog is such a source of inspiration, and I am so glad Stan found it and featured your project as YOU should also be publishing a book!!!

  22. Definitely the "hunt" - the journey, the experience! Thrilled to be in such good company.


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