Sometimes, it’s enough to be pretty

Nineteenth century designer William Morris famously said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful.”

I’ve tried to follow this advice over the years – it has guided many a “keep or toss” decision when I am in full purge mode. Of course, best case scenario is that an object is both useful and beautiful  – but this isn’t always possible. I’ve found that most often, objects err on the side of being useful. But occasionally a piece comes along that is just simply lovely for the sake of being lovely. The item I’m sharing today has undergone quite a transformation. Here’s what I started with:

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

This is a 1932 Philco Model 80 cathedral-style tabletop radio, nicknamed the “Junior.” Although in its day it was beautiful and useful (and rather amazing, given its purpose), it had long since ceased to be either one: it was completely roached, as they say, when I acquired it at an auction last summer, and my $5 winning bid reflected the fact that literally no one else wanted it. Although the cabinet was – to me, anyway – unsalvageable with huge chunks of missing veneer, it had some great details such as the design of the speaker windows, the bakelite tuning knob and the insert bearing the Philco name just above the frequency selection window.


Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

These were known in their day as “radio sets” because they contained groupings (sets) of glass tubes that facilitated the reception and tuning of the various stations. For early radio enthusiasts, any casing surrounding a set of tubes was sort of incidental to the tubes themselves, which were the real magic behind this early medium of mass communication.

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

In some cases, elaborate pieces of furniture were designed around the tube set and of course were very expensive. In this case, the Junior was intended to be Philco’s “loss leader,” advertised at a very low price to draw people into the store where they might be enticed to purchase a more expensive model. However, this was after all the Great Depression and the strategy sort of backfired in a good way, as it became one of Philco’s best-selling products ever at just $18.75 per unit.

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

My vision for this was really just to paint it white and do something a little different with the speaker windows. But once I got to that point, I realized it needed something more to be worthy as a purely decorative object. I didn’t take a lot of in-process pictures, but here is what I created using all craft stash items (no new items purchased!) – no longer functional, but just lovely for the sake of being lovely.

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

I began by removing all of the guts – the wires, speakers, tubes, etc. and giving the inside of the case a thorough cleaning. I gave it a couple coats of white matte-finish spray paint, then also painted a coat of off-white chalk paint. I painted the frequency window insert with some shimmery gold craft paint. I kept the bakelite knob, which I’ll try to sell to a radio restoration expert on Ebay, and replaced it with a piece of floral-themed hardware off an old dresser.

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

I attached a few silk flowers in muted dusty tones using hot glue.

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

For the speaker window, I had Greg cut out a thin wooden shape that would fit into the back of the case. Marked and drilled the holes where the mounting screws would go to hold it to the case. I covered this with a thin piece of foam for padding (not sure why – lol – it just seemed better somehow than a piece of wood covered in fabric) then topped the foam with a piece of fabric from my stash that fit the color scheme of the silk flowers. I mounted the new fabric-covered insert into the back of the case and used the decorative mounting screws to hold it in place.

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage

There is one more step I’d like to take with this, which would elevate it back into the realm of being useful as well as lovely. But I don’t have all those elements gathered just yet, and I don’t want to describe it in case that might jinx my success when I do attempt it… so for now it’s just “ars gratia artis” (“art for art’s sake”) sitting atop my little cookbook storage cabinet. I love how the faded fabric and muted tones of the silk flowers suggest a bygone era, just like the radio set itself.

Philco radio set | Vintage Floral Cottage


Posted in DIY | Leave a comment

My new source for fresh flowers

Do you ever want to just kick yourself for letting your preconceived notions get in the way of discovering something new? I swear I could start a whole new blog category just for these types of forehead-smacking moments.

So recently I was reading Courtney’s advice for acquiring inexpensive fresh flowers. It’s seriously like she read my mind. I mean, her blog is FULL of fresh flowers all the time, and I had even considered asking her, where do you get all the amazing fresh flowers? And more importantly, how can you possibly afford them? And within a week of my wondering, this post pops up hinting that Trader Joe’s has a decent fresh-flower market.

Trader Joe’s??

Now I knew of Trader Joe’s before I read Courtney’s post… There’s one on my to-and-from-work route. It’s been there for at least two years, probably longer. One of those over-priced health food markets, is what I assumed it was, passing by it every day but never stopping in, because why on earth would I set foot in a health food market, the absolute least likely place to ever find Diet Coke on sale?

Well I decided to finally stop in solely to check out the flowers, and I’m so glad I did! Now I don’t pretend that I’m suddenly in “TJ’s” target market… Although they would love me if I was, it’s definitely a store for foodies and honestly that’s just not me.

Trader Joe's Flowers | Vintage Floral Cottage

But their fresh flower market is indeed wonderful – and inexpensive! I picked up two nice-sized bouquets of purple daisies, deep purple alstroemeria, and green mini-hydrangeas for just $3.99 each, plus two bunches of ready-to-bloom yellow daffodils for just $1.49 per bunch.

At my usual grocery store, the $3.99 bouquets would easily be $8.99 or more. I’ve never seen them have bunches of daffodils, so I can’t compare, but they were definitely a no-brainer.

Trader Joe's daffodils |Vintage Floral Cottage

As for the other groceries, the store is largely devoted to their own painstakingly sourced house brand, natural instead of artificial ingredients, and probably a weird vegetable or two. I promise to check it out more thoroughly on next week’s fresh flower run!

Posted in Decorating | Leave a comment

Your social painting: why would you NOT keep it?

A gal on Twitter whom I’ve followed for some time, who is a loving mom and an extremely creative homemaker (among many other accomplishments), recently posed this question:

Painting Tweet 1 | VFC Style

Having attended one social painting class (and having kept my painting, and having hung it in my house), I couldn’t help but feel there was a bit of friendly ribbing going on here. Especially with the word art in quotation marks. Why is it “art” and not just art? Because it isn’t really art? Why not?

But it was her follow-up comment that really got me thinking:

Social painting tweet |


Here was my immediate, unfiltered response:

“Well, you probably have your KIDS’ random mediocre art hanging all over your house – so why is yours any less worthy?”

Now please understand, that’s not an attack on her kids – or anyone’s kids. I proudly displayed my daughter’s projects and pictures on the fridge and elsewhere, all throughout her childhood.

Kids’ art is precious. It is pure, free, raw creative expression, and its innocence is precisely why we celebrate it.

But it also shows, for the most part, a complete lack of technical perfection. It lacks an understanding of the principles of design. It’s random. And as art, it’s mediocre – at best – except for the beautiful fact of who created it. Which again, is what makes it completely worthy of being put on display!

So why does our kids’ art deserve to be posted on the fridge, despite its imperfections, but not our own? What is it about being an adult that makes you think your art – lacking the same perfection as that created by your children – is any less precious? Any less worthy?

Pumpkin painting | VFC Style

The results of my efforts at a social painting class, Fall 2016.

One of the problems in our society is that for so many of us, our creative self-expression gets squeezed out of our being by the time we get through our mandatory formal education. We are trained to seek perfection, correctness in our methods, and skill in our results. This follows us throughout our lives, where we are expected to achieve some standard of perfection in all pursuits: professional, athletic, creative, and on and on.

And for some reason, we feel ashamed when our work does not show the level of perfection we think it should have now that we are adults. Seriously – how many times have you shown something you made to someone else, but actually apologized for its imperfections before letting them see it?

And perhaps worse, how many times have you denied yourself an opportunity to express your creativity because you just knew it wasn’t going “turn out right”?

This is what happens when your creative self-expression is stifled over a period of time – you call your painting a piece of “random mediocre art,” and you hide it away, destroy it, or at the very least, apologize for it. I do it to myself! I’ve blogged about it with comments like “I’m a trained monkey when it comes to painting” or “I don’t have the artistic gene.”

Painted hook rack | VFC Style

Hand-painted hook rack – flowers arranged and painted by yours truly… imperfectly.

Why do I do this? Why does anyone do this? Because it’s part of that figurative baggage we carry as grown-ups: the notion that somehow, our creative work is not good enough because it isn’t perfect.

Now I don’t think that my friend on Twitter intended to suggest that she is afraid to express herself creatively. Her blog is filled with her many successes in decorating, home making, crafting, cooking, and more. But I know there are people who are afraid of this very thing, and it saddens me to think that this level of self-censorship exists to the extent that it keeps people from displaying their own creative efforts. It saddens me that a person would rather purchase a mass-produced piece of wall art at a big-box decor store, rather than take a chance and create their own piece.

One thing that my love of all things antique and vintage has reinforced for me is that there is value in imperfection. I love things that are vintage, precisely because of the fading, the dings, the dents, the chipping paint, the worn edges. These elements tell the story, and give the piece its sense of history.

I think that this appreciation and reverence for imperfection needs to extend to our own creative efforts. We need to celebrate our creativity, make things we feel like making, take pride in them, and stop apologizing when they don’t look like they were done by a master.

Because honestly, only a few people get to be masters of any endeavor. That doesn’t mean the rest of us should extinguish – or even apologize for – our creative, imperfect light.

Posted in Thinkiness | Leave a comment

Collecting old lady plates

Do you see what these are?

Old lady plates | VFC Style

Old lady plates | VFC Style
These are beautiful hand-painted decorative plates which I swore I would never collect. Or at least, I swore for a long time that I was too young for them, because, you see, the only people I know who collected them were “old ladies”: my grandmothers, my great-aunt, and other elderly female relatives and neighbors all had them.

And I, although I loved both dishes and roses, I knew I was too young… too hip… and too cheap… to spend my money on things that were purely decorative. So for about 25 years I called them “old lady plates” and I ignored them as I scoured the antique malls hunting for other more worthy treasures.

Until this one.

Old lady plates | VFC Style

This one was on an auction table about a year ago, nestled in among many other household items. I had a hunch it was not going to bring any money. My reasoning was that this was an “old lady plate,” and old ladies get to a point where they stop collecting and begin to downsize. So the women at this auction, by and large old ladies, were probably not in the market for this type of piece. As for any dealers who might be there to purchase inventory for their shops, my hunch was that this was simply not the type of thing that was selling these days.

Old lady plates | VFC Style

Old lady plates | VFC Style

As the auction got underway, the image – those gorgeous roses – meanwhile began to work its magic on me. So much so that by the time the auctioneer got around to that table and this piece, I knew I had to have it. He started the bidding too high for me, as happens often, but my hunch proved correct: no one was bidding. So he battled his way down trying to get a starting bid, until he got to a point where I believed he was going to say “pass it,” due to lack of interest. At that moment I called out my ridiculously low bid, just as I had heard others do on other slow-moving items.

Old lady plates | VFC Style

“Dollar bill!”

Was that really me, yelling out above the din of all these farmers and their side conversations? Why yes, yes it was.

Finally, with a starting bid to work from, the auctioneer took off in search of a counter-bid. But I was alone in my interest in this sweet plate, and he didn’t spend too much time trying to get someone to bid against me. The hammer fell and it was mine, and I couldn’t help but grin as the ringman handed me my prize.

Old lady plates | VFC Style

It was not lost on me that I had joined the ranks of the old ladies, at the price of a dollar. The moment was a bit magic, and festooned with beautiful roses.

Old lady plates | VFC Style

Posted in Dishes | Leave a comment

Kids upcycled play room activity table

I’ve never been shy about grabbing something useful off the curb… and neither has Greg. The two of us make a rather unbeatable team at this, and we seem to recognize the value in the same types of things. Case in point: a nice piece of furniture, like this low-slung coffee table that we picked last Fall. Well-made, a handy pull-out drawer, and solid if a bit out-dated.

Curb find coffee table | VFC Style

Perfect for an upcycle project! My vision for this piece was based on its height – it stood only about 14 inches off the floor, on beautiful curvy legs, and had a solid expanse of top. I envisioned it as a piece for a kids’ room, and I thought, “It’ll make a great play surface, but they’re going to write all over it.” And that’s when it hit me!

Chalk board coffee table | VFC Style


Yep, I masked off that center section of the top, painted the table base with a light blue hue called “Little Whale” from the Tones for Tots line of Fusion Mineral Paint, and then painted the center section with chalkboard paint. I lightly distressed the blue base, and sealed it with satin-finish poly sealer. It made the perfect activity table, especially if those activities revolved around chalk!

Chalk board coffee table | VFC Style

Chalk board coffee table | VFC Style

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment