My earliest influences always lead back to my home growing up. My parents had pretty good style early on, and then I think they just got tired (being the baby, you tend to see them relax a bit and let some things go, this DID NOT include my mother’s paranoia about the world). I grew up with a father who loved art, and was always picking up interesting things from people he worked with. He had furniture from a house that Elvis and Priscilla lived in (the woman who owned the home they were renting owed him money, and let him choose items from the house to pay her debt), old books from the late poet Rod McKuen, and my favorite – a steel figure of a dragon that was once part of a giant chandelier in a hotel at the turn of the century (of course it’s mine now cause I am the only one of my siblings weird enough to like this stuff). My mother is of french descent and very annoyingly proud of it, so their decor always had that french influence. It included florentine tables and alabaster lamps, original artwork (I have my favorites but am still waiting on one special piece), heavy draperies, damask fabrics, and enough china and dishes to serve a good sized dinner party! Many of my current collections and obsessions began at home (and don’t even get me started on the shoe obsession, it’s hereditary)!
When I was married and began to travel, I met a woman named Margaret who owned the house that we visited each year in Cape Cod. Margaret (from my mother’s generation) seemed eccentric and worldly, but very down to earth. She frequented the local dump to recycle but also in search of old bricks and treasures to add to the pathway in her garden. She picked wildflowers, looked a bit unkept, and we spent many hours walking out amongst the tide pools on the bay side of the Cape, finding seashells and talking about life. She owned a split level home a few steps from the beach in Eastham, Massachusetts which became the place I first felt like my soul had awakened and I found myself. Convinced I had been born on the wrong coast, the Cape felt like home, and the east coast became a huge influence in my life. Margaret always had vintage furniture she had picked up from the roadside, found at the dump, or purchased for a song waiting in her basement to reupholster. I was enamored with this idea (my mother had taught me to sew at an early age, but this was a completely new thought, Californians were NOT doing anything of the kind) and I was eager to know how I too, could go about learning. She casually stated, “you just have to take a class somewhere, maybe at the local college or something” and that was all I needed to hear! I learned many lessons from her, as we spent 15 summers visiting the Cape, things that have truly shaped me. Margaret has left this life, but her style and influence will always be seen in any of our homes.
In 1994 we designed and built our dream home. I met a neighbor named Carole, who was 20 years older than me, but just as weird. My dad always called us “two peas in a pod” and we were for a while until we each moved away, but her influence is still felt daily. Carole had an amazing eye for finding the perfect peely chippy type furniture that I loved as well, and was a master at displaying her collections! Of course, when you live in a home with no small children, you can have darling little displays of fragile cuteness that doesn’t get moved or broken. Everywhere you looked there was something adorable, set just so, and the kicker was it was all super clean, NO DUST! She dusted continuously because of allergies and I always marveled at her attention to detail. I learned a lot from her and still appreciate that our life paths had crossed.
Since I was already hooked on the flea market look, loving vintage and refinishing furniture in one way or another, I began to look for designers who were doing something different and showing a livable vintage style. People like Mary Emmerling, Mary Randolph Carter and Rachel Ashwell were creating distinct looks in the late 80s and early 90s, and I was all about it. Back before the internet, it wasn’t as easy to stalk people (without seriously being an actual stalker) but I followed what I could and soaked up everything I was seeing. I bought and read every book, poured over magazines, and began to really look at how I wanted our home to feel.
Speaking of being a stalker, the other important influence I had was the New York designer Alexandra Stoddard. Ms. Stoddard writes self improvement books, starting with my favorite ‘Living a Beautiful Life’ and I believe I have read and/or own every book she has written. She is the epitome of style and grace. One summer on one of our side trips from the Cape, we visited the quaint town of Stonington, Connecticut in our travels. She had written about it and her adorable seaside cottage, and since we were passing through the area, I thought it might be fun to check out. Imagine my surprise when we actually stumbled upon her house and she was home, out front gardening! She was so gracious and spoke with us, took pictures with the kids, and even signed and gave me a book (the only one I didn’t own).
It might take getting older for you to really look back and see who has influenced you, but the beauty of it is when it’s genuine, you can bring that into your life and meld it with who you are and make it your own! Always bring it back to the notion of who you want to be, and the life you want to create, and add your own fabulous self into the mix for a winning combination every time! The life you live can be filled with beauty and style, no matter your budget.