Monday, April 15, 2013


The Story:

My love of antiques was passed down to me from mother. Since a very young age I remember tagging along with her and my aunt to excitingly strange little shops filled with unique pieces of furniture, odds and ends of china, and mystery objects galore. At that time, the local mall would also host traveling antique shows with multiple dealers all in one place and that was a particular treat. Whether in a store or at the mall, shopping for antiques was always an exciting expedition. Many weekend hours were spent rummaging through cramped and musty little stores in search of the perfect whatnot or a wonderful addition to one of my mother’s prized collections.  As a child it was an extremely fascinating, treasure hunt adventure and I especially enjoyed asking what the strange objects were and hearing my mom and aunt tell nostalgic stories of their own childhood as they explained.

Heart of Ohio Antiques Center
Through the years, I have never lost my fascination with antiquing.  My mother and aunts, who are currently in their eighties, still love the pastime and now the excursions often include four generations of treasure hunters. My sister, my cousins, and I organize antique outings and sometimes our own children, who have been dragged along over the years and have developed their own love of the hunt, accompany us with their little ones in strollers. We have a long list of favorite stores and antique malls and my recent move to Pittsburgh has opened up a whole new area of exploration for my antique obsessed clan.

Our antique outings have taken on a life of their own. The itinerary usually includes a road trip, a stop for lunch, and dinner out that evening after the hunt. Dinner is always accompanied by a celebratory glass of wine and dessert, because eating and drinking also runs deep in our blood.  Our little group has encountered many interesting things on our trips over the years , including obscene looking salt and pepper shakers, overly solicitous shop owners, hideous lamps, and an occasional book-throwing ghost. My cousin Amy, who has taken on the role of researcher, is our resident source of information and we often refer questions to her about the history of certain objects. She is a virtual Wikipedia of pattern glass.The trips are filled with lots of conversation and laughter and we never feel like our outing is completely blessed unless we see pictures of Pinky and Blue Boy at some point during the day. (This is an inside joke because we always see pictures of Pinky and Blue Boy. They must have been mass-produced by the millions!) If one of us cant be present for a given outing, we often text pictures to the MIA antiquer of their favorite collectables so that they can take part in the expedition vicariously. Semper Fidelis; no antique lover left behind.
We each have our own special collections and treasures that we hunt. My mother collects vintage “Ribbon Doll” pictures... 
...and my sister accumulates vintage porcelain shoes. 

My Aunt Mary Jane collects vintage glass powder boxes.... 

...while my cousin Amy searches for antique glass cream and sugar sets.

My daughter Emily loves to hunt for gnomes and pink Depression glass, my niece Abby is a collector of Jadite, my niece Katy has an affinity for milk glass, and my cousin Vicki loves anything related to Abraham Lincoln.
Depression Glass
Milk Glass
Abraham Lincoln Memorabilia
Vintage gnome
 I myself have several collections including vintage wooden boxes, pencil boxes, antique mirrors, vintage aqua pottery, and my drug of choice: vintage silhouettes.

Vintage Wooden boxes
Antique pencil boxes
                                      Vintage Aqua pottery
We all get along swimmingly and the diversity of collections work out quite nicely with none of us stepping on each other’s toes with one exception; we all collect Early American Pattern Glass Compotes. This is the one point of contention.  The group as a whole owns well over two hundred and fifty compotes and we have virtually depleted the local stockpile. The site of one of those glistening pedestaled bowls sitting on a store shelf is enough to send even the oldest amongst us into an all-out frenzy. The “Clan Antiquing Rules” dictate that the first person to see a compote gets the first right of refusal, though there are a few among us who try to bend the unwritten rules a tad. The worst offenders are my mother and aunt who surreptitiously make their way out ahead of the pack in hopes of a first sighting. We have learned to never underestimate the elderly, for these two little ladies are as sneaky, clever, and cunning as twin Betty Whites.
Early American Pattern Glass Compotes
Every time I look at one of my vintage collections I think of this amazing group of women and all of the wonderful moments we have shared over the years trooping through dusty old shops in search of precious treasures. Likewise, I get to relive these memories when I visit my cohort’s homes and view their proudly displayed collections as well. My mother has a saying; ”Antiques have a way of saving a room.”She has always believed that any décor no matter what style or how worn or dated, can be improved and made more interesting with the addition of antique pieces and accessories. In her opinion antiques are the only things that you can buy for your home that will never go out of style. As a mother of four children and grandmother/great-grandmother of many more, she also feels like antique furnishings already carry the scars of many years of use and any additional scratches or wear and tear only add to their character. Her sentiment, in combination with the inherited love of antiquing she has passed down to me, has been a recurring source of inspiration in my own interior design.

Design Topic of the Week:
Decorating with Collections: “These are a few of my favorite things”

The best room designs always incorporate what I like to call “real” art and accessories and by “real” I mean actual items that have personal meaning to the inhabitants. Not that I am opposed to sprinkling in the occasional colorful accessory found by chance at Target or Home Goods, because I often reach in to that bag of tricks to fill out a design and add a pop of trendiness to my rooms. However, spaces that are completely decked out in those types of trendy "Not Real Art" finds tend to feel contrived, meaningless, and impersonal.

We all love to watch those “designed to sell” type shows where a stager comes in and removes every beloved item the homeowner possesses to create a neutral zone that appeals to the generic buyer. I will admit that I sit there with the rest of the television viewers across the country eating my bag of chips and marveling at the “OMG” reveal.  Although this concept is great for selling a house, it isn’t necessarily so great for living in it.  I think it is necessary to draw a line between overwhelmingly personal or taste specific and décor design that represents you personally.

I have never been one to plaster the walls of my home with family photographs but instead tend to use less literal expressions of my family and my interests as design elements in my rooms. For example, the pencil drawings of my children are actual artists renderings that were drawn by my brother-in-law, Paul Ziller, and given to me as a gift. They are not as literal as if I had framed the actual photographs of my kids but they have deeper meaning and uniqueness because they represent their uncle’s pride and love.

I don’t have any photographs of my mother hanging in my house either, but I do have a collection of embroidered and beaded fairy pictures that she made by hand. Every time I look at those pictures it conjures the memory of my mother sitting in her favorite chair painstakingly working on her art form. This less literal representation of my mother, holds more meaning for me than any photograph ever could. 


In a similar way, we have several pieces of ornate calligraphy that were made by my husband’s grandfather, Stephen A. Ziller Sr., who was an amazing engrossing artist and owner of Ziller of Kansas City. The framed works of detailed art would be wonderful conversation pieces in any design but we are fortunate to also have a deeply personal connection to them that enriches our home life on a daily basis.
Daniel Webster's Reply to Senator Hayne, as penned by Stephen A. Ziller Sr. and dated 1931
(Known to us as O.G. or the Original Grandpa)
and Calligraphy Flourish Bird 
dated 1928 by Harry S. Blanchard
who was O.G.'s original calligraphy teacher
Catholic Grace by Stephen A. Ziller Sr.

My children's names and First Communion Prayers penned by O.G.

Flourish Bird by O.G.
I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to come from a dynasty of family artists and craftsmen and that many people need to purchase artwork for their homes. My husband and I have several pieces that we have purchased over the years as well. We have three Frank McElwain Tall Stacks prints that adorn the walls of my husband’s office. The prints commemorate our memories of attending the Tall Stacks Festival on the riverfront in Cincinnati and taking a cruise in one of the majestic old riverboats. If you do purchase artwork for your home whether it is a signed print or a mass-produced picture from Home Goods, I suggest that you choose subject matter that has personal meaning to you. Perhaps you have traveled to France and you choose a rendering of the Eiffel Tower or perhaps the painting is a picture of your favorite type of flower. Whatever the inspiration and the price, just make sure it represents you in some way.

Some of the most interesting homes I have ever visited are accessorized with the owner’s personal collections and memorabilia arranged in an artful way that appeals to a broad audience of people. My own personal collections have become a staple of my interior design. Not only are they “my favorite things” but also they connect to my personal memories of fun times antiquing with my clan.

I have been collecting silhouettes for almost twenty years. Some of the silhouettes in my extensive collection of over two-hundred, are of friends and family members. Others are of perfect strangers who sat for a cutting at state fairs and festivals all over the country in the early and mid 1900's. Over the years I have purchased them during our antique outings and I have received many as gifts from loved ones. I am fascinated by the amount of personality that shows through in the simple black and white profiles. I truly believe they capture the shadow of a person's soul and I connect to each one personally.

I have found that the best way to display silhouettes is in structured collages. Below we see a large collage that I made on my kitchen wall. To accomplish this square outline, I carefully measured the amount of wall that would create the border and started placing the silhouettes around the edge of the border. Once I had the edge placed all the way around, I randomly started to fill in the inside. It took me seven hours and much trial and error to hang them all, but I think it was really worth the time. The result is a larger than life mosaic that is nostalgic with a clean contemporary quality.

Although I usually recommend grouping collections together for large impact and less clutter, I couldn't resist sprinkling a few strays here and there. "Hello my name is Suzy, and I am a silhouette addict."

This large-scale reverse silhouette sits by himself on another kitchen wall

Reverse silhouette sitting on a table in my bedroom
Beatrix Sherman is one of the most acclaimed silhouette artists of the 20th century. Born January 10th, 1894 in Scranton PA, Beatrix went on in later years to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. She displayed her artistry at six World Fairs and cut silhouettes of several US Presidents and dignitaries, including President John F. Kennedy. My sister Holly came to visit me a few months ago and I was telling her about Beatrix Sherman and how much I wished I had one of her silhouettes for my collection but that I really couldn't afford to buy one. I had been following some of her silhouettes online and they were going for hundreds of dollars. At that instant my sister brought out a little bag containing a hostess gift she had bought for me. When I pulled the silhouette out of the bag we were both amazed that it was signed Beatrix Sherman. She had found the little silhouette at an antique show buried in a pile of other pictures and paid $4.00 for it. My sister and I have always shared a bit of ESP with one another but this kind of freaked both of us out. 
Beatrix Sherman silhouette on table in great room
Silhouettes of my Christmas caroling quartet stacked on a wall in the great room

Structured silhouette collage on basement wall
My new passion is large scale silhouettes. These life size versions were usually made in school classrooms in the 1950's through the 1970's. Teachers would tape a piece of paper to the chalk board and have the child sit in front of an overhead projector to create the shadow on the paper. The teacher would then trace the shadow and cut it out of the paper to create the large silhouette. They were often given by the students as Mother's Day gifts. I have grouped a few in my powder room for a little vintage flair. 

Another one of my favorite collections is vintage pencil boxes. As a child I always loved the first day of school and new school supplies. Each time I find a box for my collection it makes me smile when I think of the child who received it brand new at the start of the school year. The scribbled names of many of the former owners are still visible inside the lids of several boxes. Again, it's a personal connection. Collections of small items like this can look like clutter if sprinkled randomly around a room. A glass top coffee table keeps them contained and displays them well.

Ah yes, the contentious compotes! Compotes work well in almost every room. That is why everyone in my family collects them. They add sparkle and visual interest without creating a lot of visual weight. They fill surfaces and shelves but keep the room light and airy. As you can see in the pictures below I have mixed them with my collection of aqua pottery on the built-in shelving unit in my great room. Keeping like objects together on the shelves makes a bigger visual impact and helps to keep down the clutter.

Vintage pottery comes in virtually every color imaginable. Consider amping up the color in your room with a collection of pottery in one of your accent colors.

Pigwidgeon the cat particularly likes EAPG compotes and is almost as stealth in her tactics as my mother and aunt!
 I found an old wooden box stamped Dried Fruit Encino, California, among some of my father's belongings. I loved the dovetailed detail on the corners of the box and the stamped picture on the top. For some reason my father had saved it. Perhaps it's craftsmanship had made it too difficult to dispose of. It was this personal connection that inspired me to collect other wooden boxes. Stacking them neatly by graduated size creates a nifty pyramid effect. A thoughtful display that again increases the impact of the collection while reducing the clutter.

There is an old Art Deco hotel in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio that was formerly known as the Omni Netherland. In this grand hotel there is a regal ballroom named the Hall of Mirrors. I can remember attending a wedding reception there years ago and connecting to the ever changing artwork of the sparking and reflective mirrors. This inspired me to collect my own hall of antique mirrors.

When personalizing your own home, remember that it isn't necessary to be literal. A gallery of family photos isn't the only way to honor loved ones and precious memories. Sometimes displaying artwork that evokes fond remembrances can be more interesting and just as personal. Dig out sentimental heirlooms from storage, dust them off, and use them to enrich your life and decor. If you purchase design elements for your home do so thoughtfully. It isn't necessary to bankrupt yourself and it's perfectly acceptable to buy decorative items from discount stores. Just make sure you buy items that relate to you in a personal way and express your history and interests. Collections are a great way to make a big statement in your interior design. Plus they have the added benefit of connecting you to the adventures you had while collecting. Mother was right when she said, "Antiques save a room,"only I would add to her statement by saying "Antiques save a room and surrounding yourself with your favorite things makes your room worth saving!"

Thanks for stopping by! 

Dont forget to check out my Designerelish Crock Pot and Designerelish Pantry pages for more great design ideas to use in your own home.

Drop in next week when the design topic will be 
A Cinderella Story: Master Bath Renovation

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