Q&A: Family Treasures with Ann Moncure-Williams and Mitch Williams.

 Q: Tell me briefly a little about yourselves. What are your interests or your hobbies?

Mitch: I had an antique store, located on the corner of Hanover & Strawberry St. in Richmond, VA, called Christopher Robin Antiques about 30 years ago. I loved armoires…people needed them in the Fan District, since the old homes had little closet space. I enjoy reading, music and outdoor activities such as kayaking.

Ann: I work in special education, was the former restaurant owner of Cuisine A-La-Carte and I’m also an artist. I love art projects, museums, going to galleries and yard sales. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt!

Remnant from an early 1800's quilt.

Q: What are your favorite blogs?

Ann: We don’t read a lot of blogs, but we do like magazines such as Southern Living, New Yorker and Coastal Living.

Folk art from a 1930's carnival...made from a barrel and paper-mache.

Q: Describe your style in two words:

Ann: Eclectic, wacky and unusual.

Mitch: Make you laugh.

Q: Where did most of your antique collection come from?

Mitch: We have a lot of pieces that came from our families. Both families are from the Richmond/Petersburg area. We’ve also been buying antiques for over 30 years. We just collect things that catch our eye…

Ann: My grandmother was part of the Tinsely Family and grew up in the Totomoi House, in Hanover County. My family also had a beautiful farmhouse in Richmond, VA, called Picquenocque, that was built in the late 1800’s. Some of our furniture came out of these homes and was passed down through the family. 

Iron sign from Picquenocque, the family farmhouse...

Q: Can you tell me about this amazing cupboard?

Late 1700's Welsh Cupboard....simply beautiful!

Mitch: This is a Welsh cupboard, dating back to the late 1700’s that is made of English oak. The pewter collection dates to the late 1800’s.

Ann: This cupboard belonged to my great aunt Dorothy Scarborough, who was a famous novelist who wrote “The Wind” in 1925. It was also made into a silent film. She was an avid collector and she also studied at Oxford. She also owned this antique jelly cupboard that she purchased in New England. It is made of poplar and pine and dates to the early 1800’s.

New England jelly cupboard, dating to the early 1800's

Q: What do you know about this trunk? It looks to be very old…

Ann: That trunk belonged to my great grandfather. It is said to be his traveling trunk from the Revolutionary War. It’s from the late 1700’s. This was a piece that came from Picquenocque.

Awesome hand forged ironwork on Ann's antique trunk!

Q: Do you have a favorite place to shop for unique treasures?

Ann: We like consignment shops such as Impulse and Revival. They have a unique selection of merchandise that changes frequently…not your everyday antique shop. We also love yard sales and estate sales. In the months of April through October, my Saturday morning ritual is going to yard sales and estate sales.

Antique trunk purchased in Richmond, VA.

Mitch: Another great place is Alexander’s Auctions. They have an antique auction every Thursday evening. You can preview the auction items online or at Alexander’s starting at 9am on Thursdays. They have a great selection of antique Persian rugs.

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.

Before & After: My Dining Room

When the Mr. and I purchased our home about 3.5 years ago, the dining room was the first room in the entire house that was entirely livable. The 1960’s pink shag carpeting had been pulled out to reveal the original oak hardwood floors underneath and the walls were repaired and painted a tomato-soup kind of color (the photos make the walls look kind of orange). We found an adorable vintage French crystal chandelier on Ebay for a song and shortly after the rest of furniture came into place, one piece at a time.

The chaos in all it's glory!

Most of the room’s furniture was comprised of hand-me-down pieces from my mother, including an antique oak sideboard (which I remember going to purchase with her in Northern VA when I was a youngster) and an oak pedestal table with ladder-back chairs.

As time went by, we found ourselves mostly eating and entertaining in our kitchen, so the dining room slowly became a storage space and recording area for the Mr.’s music demos and commercial jingles. Looks pretty sad, huh?? I’m almost embarrassed to show you guys these before photos… Shhh…if you listen closely, you hear some of the furniture from underneath the bubble wrap and boxes…saying “Help me, help me!”

Is this a place to eat or a place to store junk? I'm confused...

There is a season, turn, turn, turn…

Can I just say that I absolutely hate February? Can we say season depression? I LOVE warm weather, so I find being stuck in side during the blah winter months a total drag. There are only so many craft projects one woman can handle before her fingers become raw from using a hot glue gun or sewing needles!

Looking for some other kind of project to focus on that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, I turned to the lonely dining room. I decided to repaint the top portion of the walls with Behr’s Organic Fields green (paint and primer in one folks – these red walls only took TWO COATS!!) and paint the bottom half white (to later include some lovely picture frame molding). The windows received new woven pull shades and I hung two large vintage black shutters on either side (which I do not have a photo of – but will try to post one later). I swapped rugs from another room in the house – took out a Persian rug and opted for a natural jute style rug with brown border. And the chairs…they definitely needed a refresh!

Ahhhh....much better! No more microphones and cables...

Painted Black Chairs

I love Annie Sloan’s chalk paint. It’s so unbelievably easy to use. However, I wanted a true black paint for these chairs and from what I read about Annie Sloan’s Graphite colored paint, it seemed to have more of a blue-ish undertone. So what did I do? I asked a few experts. Marion from Miss Mustard Seed recommended Sherwin Williams’ black satin enamel and Elizabeth from The Adventures of Elizabeth recommended Black Ink by Behr. Both talented ladies also recommended using a thin coat of satin poly to top it off to prevent smudging. (Thanks ladies for your help!!) I love the way the chairs turned out, even though it took one coat of tinted primer and two coats of black paint…not an easy task!

A cute antique cutlery tray that I found in Brandywine, PA

I purchased this adorable antique cutlery tray from one of my favorite places to visit in Brandywine, PA…Brandywine View Antiques. If you’re ever in the area, you MUST stop by this historic home-turned-shop. It’s a huge white Victorian-era house that sits high on a hilltop and usually has a huge array of antique and primitive furniture scattered all around on its wrap around porch.

My mom's old antique sideboard with my little mission rocking chair...

This is the antique oak sideboard that was one of the earliest antique pieces that my mother every purchased. I have always loved this sideboard; even oak pieces like this are not in high demand right now. Its overall condition is amazing and the natural wood grain is beautiful…which is why I’ve never painted it. The small antique arts and crafts rocking chair was a yard sale find and came out of a family owned restaurant in the Blacksburg, VA area and is one of my favorite chairs. The down pillow is made from an antique French grain sack that I have sewn and is one of many that can be found scattered around my home. I don’t know if anyone else would pair a French grain sack with mission style furniture, but I find their simplicity to compliment one another.

A silver champagne bucket with ironstone on an antique serving tray...

Happy Anniversary

The Mr. and I have never been into large anniversary presents. However, on our first anniversary, the Mr. surprised me with this small Eastlake chest of drawers. He found it at a consignment shop for $30, covered in dust and filth and buried under a pile of other small objects for sale. After we spent two days scraping the dirt off of her, we found this beautiful chocolate toned wood underneath! She lost her matching mirror a long time ago, but her skirted detail at the bottom is precious!! I had to replace her hardware with period correct pulls…but I HATE the brass finish…so if any of you DIYers out there have a tip for aging the brass finish, let me know!! The urns and the 1930’s framed lithograph came out of an estate sale.

An antique eastlake dresser with vintage cast iron urns...

So now, I have my dining room back and the furniture can breathe easy now that it’s de-cluttered. It’s a win-win situation…though the Mr. may not think so since he’s got to find another place for his music and recording gear!

Tell me what you think or if you have a great room re-do, let me know!

Check out some other before and afters here: Between Naps on the Porch!

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.

Furnishing the White House

Last fall, my husband had the exciting opportunity to become an extra in Steven Speilberg’s new film, Lincoln, based on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. This upcoming movie is based off of the book, ‘Team of Rivals,’ written by Doris Kearns Goodwin and the cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field as Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Speilberg and his crew set up shop in Richmond and Petersburg, VA for a good 6 months for filming and my husband worked on set for about 2 months, portraying a clerk in the House of Representatives. Every evening, I would ask the Mr. to describe in full detail every nuance of the movie sets…from the lighting, to the carpeting, to the furniture and crown molding! When the Mr. told me that they had a special warehouse that had antiques stacked upon antiques, I almost fainted! I know I definitely drooled on myself a little…just imagining all that beautiful civil war era, Virginia made furniture, just waiting for it’s time to shine on camera!

The Mr. with our friend Gregg, as extras in the movie...

Shopping or Addiction?

Shop-a-holic, Mary Todd Lincoln

It’s no secret that Mary Todd Lincoln had a true passion for decorating. Her good taste can be traced back to a privileged upbringing in Lexington, Kentucky, where she grew up within an elegant 14-room home with her father, her stepmother and her siblings. Quite the contrast from Abe’s pioneer-like childhood in a small cabin in Kentucky, wouldn’t you say?

When Mary moved into the White House with President Lincoln, she was appalled at the condition of the home. Back in those days, the White House was a public building where anyone could visit. Due to the high volume of people that came and went on a daily basis, the home’s contents were in disrepair. The President approached Congress for a total of $25,000 to renovate and decorate the White House. Imagine what kind of treasures you could snag for that kind of cash back in 1860!

The White House during the Lincoln Administration (photo: Library of Congress)

Mary traveled north to purchase many of the new objects for the home in New York and Philadelphia and sadly, ended up spending more than what was lent to the couple by $6,000. Mary’s shopping habit teetered on obsession (some say it fed her nerves and the objects replaced those that she had loved and lost throughout her lifetime). She bought it all…from drapes, china, sofas, cut glass, bedspreads and bolts and bolts of expensive fabric. It is said that the most expensive items that Mary purchased during her White House years were the wallpaper for the rooms and the carpeting. The hefty price tag for the carpet in the East Room was a whoppin’ $10,000!

The famous east room, with it's $10,000 wall to wall red and blue floral carpeting (photo: White House Historical Assoc)

Mary’s problem with over-spending haunted her throughout her life, but was especially worrisome to her husband during those years in the White House. President Lincoln didn’t want to receive the backlash about his wife’s extravagant taste while the entire country was falling apart during a war. Nor did he want the Democrats to use this as ammunition during his re-election campaign. But all the while, Mary kept spending and decorating, claiming that the First Family had to keep up appearances.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln Hand Painted Dinner Plate, circa 1861

Where are the Goods?

The saddest part about this story is what happened at the White House directly after Lincoln’s death. Desperate to have some sort of memorabilia from Lincoln’s time in office, the public roamed freely throughout the White House and ransacked it’s contents. Drapes were torn and furniture was stolen. By the time Mary Todd Lincoln had to leave this beautiful building, there was very little left that she could take with her to remember her time as First Lady.

The Lincoln Bedroom in 2007 (photo: Newsweek, Gary Fabiano)

Currently there is a room at the White House called the ‘Lincoln Bedroom’ that is made up of a hodge-podge of Victorian style furniture that was used by Lincoln’s administration. Lincoln in fact, never slept in this room and it is believed that none of the furniture was actually his. However, the room is in the style that Mary would have liked and probably resembles some of the items she would have purchased.

Note: For more information about Mary Todd Lincoln’s shopping addiction, check out Mr. Lincoln and New York (The Lincoln Institute).

Note: To learn more about the extraordinary relationship between Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, you must watch this amazing documentary by PBS – “Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln: A House Divided.”

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.

Antique Paper Dolls

Sometimes I don’t know what I enjoy more…the act of collecting and filling up my own home with treasures or meeting people and learning about their personal collections. Such is the case with my coworker, Ashby Conway. We started chatting one day about collecting and she began to tell me an amazing story about her little treasure.

Lost And Found

Ashby & her paper doll

Back in 2001, Ashby had an internship at Westminster Canterbury, a beautiful retirement community located in Richmond, VA. She would sit with the residents and record their life long memories onto cassette tape. During her time there, she met and became close friends with Lucy. Lucy was 95 years old and was a former teacher a very well known private school in town.

Look at the amazing costumes!

Handmade paper dolls that could almost be categorized as folk art

Sadly, in 2003, Lucy passed away. When Lucy’s daughter came to town to handle her mother’s belongings, she gave a special gift to Ashby. Lucy had a passion for collecting paper dolls. She had paper dolls of fashionable women, WWI soldiers, children, toys and holidays. Some of her paper dolls she had created herself with a heavy cardstock and colored pencil.

WWI soldiers, pilots and even scuba divers

Close to the Heart

I asked Ashby why she loved Lucy’s paper doll collection so much. She said that for her, the collection portrays a lost generation and offers a unique look at fashion styles from the first half of the last century. She also said it was the equivalent to an old letter – but in pictures and that, in a way, she could experience what Lucy lived through. Pretty special, huh?

Black and white paper doll that could be hand colored

To learn more about the history of paper dolls, check out the Original Paper Doll Artists Guild!

Do you have a unique collection that you’d like to share? If so, tell us about it!

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.

John Fechino’s Antique Music Collection

John Fechino is one of my favorite types of collectors. He has an amazing story for just about every single item in his special collection. He told me about some of his unique items over an email and I felt that this interview deserved more than a Q&A…this interview deserved a house call!

A True Love for the Arts

John’s passion for the music and arts was inspired from his childhood, growing up in a family full of musicians, singers and artists. When he was a young child, his father had a box of 78’s that included favorite tunes such as Jo Stafford’s hit “Shrimp Boats” and the Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford’s duet which was their take on the Hank William’s tune  “Hey Good Lookin’”. Though John’s Dad was a hifi  enthusiast who built his own stereo system (the kind of system with exposed tubes that glowed when the set was warmed up) and speakers, it was the times that his Dad played those lo-fi 78s that John remembers most fondly.

When John was around 12 years old, his Dad got a bonus that he shared with everyone in the family. Each child got $50 to spend however they wanted. For years John had wanted to purchase a wind up phonograph after seeing on the Captain Kangaroo morning television show. So after scouring the newspaper classifieds, John finally spotted a 1917 Edison record player listed for $35 dollars that came with a cabinet full of records. This old music machine would spawn a lifetime of music appreciation and collecting.

Love at first sight...John's 1917 Edison record player

John would add his second antique phonograph to his collection at age 14. To thank John for helping plant the lawn in their newly built home, his parents bought him a 1912 Victor phonograph tabletop model that played 78s that he had spotted while out raiding antique shops with his mom.

John's 1912 Victor phonograph

Just before John entered James Madison University, he finally purchased a modern stereo system of his own, one that didn’t need to be cranked and could actually play new records. While he still played his 78s, now he was able to purchase modern recordings. At the mall from stores like Gary’s (who’s got the “Good Time Sound” according to their slogan). When John was living in Harrisonburg, he frequented a used record store called The Record Museum.  John still purchases vinyl today and will always try to find record shops whenever he travels.

You Spin Me Right Round Baby

John’s collection does not feature this 1984 hit single from Dead or Alive, but what he does have is pretty amazing! Some of his other antique phonographs are almost like sculptural works of art!

One of my favorite phonographs in his collection is this 1903 Edison Standard Phonograph cylinder record player. This was another special find while John was attending college.

1903 Edison Standard Phonograph

Another special gem is this beautiful mid-century modern buffet. Wait! That’s not a buffet! It’s a gorgeous console record player called a Huldra that featured a Tandberg radio and a Garrard turntable. Simply slide the wooden panel back to reveal a radio, record player and shelving space for your favorite vinyl! Can you say SUPER COOL! Kinda makes me want to wear a gold lame cocktail dress and sip on a martini!

Is that a piece of mid-century modern furniture?

Yes! But the Huldra also plays music!

More Than Machines

There’s more than meets the eye to John’s music collection. If the talking machines weren’t cool enough for you, how about a fantastic record collection of predominately jazz and vocalists from the 1950’s. John had all my favorites such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald (whom he wrote a letter to in 1990 and got response from!), Tony Bennett and other big names. But to sit with John and look through his vinyl collection, you start to realize that it’s not just about the music of this era, it’s about the album artwork as well.

Just a few highlights from John's unique album collection...LOVE the cover designs!

From unique color combinations, odd lighting and stylized illustrations, these albums could easily hang on your wall as small masterpieces and compliment any mid century décor. As we thumbed through records by other artists such as Kay Star, Julie London, Chris Conner and Margaret Whiting, John introduced me to Alex Steinweiss. As a graphic artist, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know about this designer, especially since he is attributed for inventing the album cover. Not only was Steinweiss the first art director for Columbia records, he also invented the modern album jacket.

John’s record collection also comes in many shapes and sizes. The bulk of his collection is made up of 78’s and 33 1/3 albums. Other special records to note include his collection of 7-inch  Berliner  and Zonophone records which were produced as early as1895. These single-sided records made out of shellac were obtained from a 90 year-old woman’s home near Farmville, VA. My personal favorite records, or shall I say recordings, are these very early wax cylinder recordings made for Edison phonographs. These early recordings very fragile and would quickly wear out, so years later they produced them in plastic. Though the sound of the actual recording was not very clear, I still fell in love with its’ quirkiness.

An early wax cylinder recordings made for Edison phonographs...Look at that beautiful label!

After spending hours immersed in a real history lesson with John in the development of recorded sound in America, I walked away wanting my own antique “talking machine.” Can you imagine how divine it would be to play an early Billie Holiday recording on a Victor Victrola, with your farmhouse window open on a cool summer night, sipping a sweet tea? Heavenly.

Be sure to check out John’s blog at http://1cor2.blogspot.com/

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.