Thrifting by design
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10:36 p.m.
As a kid growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, Selena Cate frequently went “thrifting” with her socially conscious parents concerned about not over-using Mother Earth. Virtually everything in their house was second-hand. By the time she was in high school, she rebelled and took to the mall.
But over time, the 40-year-old mom of two and home-based entrepreneur has re-discovered the virtues of buying used stuff.
Not only can you save a ton of money, very often older objects made before the era of cheap imports are higher quality, she said, in materials, construction and design.
Drawing on the skills she learned from her parents, Cate has completely outfitted her Sebastopol home with second-hand finds, everything from the furnishings and wall decor to the 1960s designer dishes, the Finnish glasses and Danish flatware.
But unlike the heavy and dark antiques favored by her parents, Cate, like many younger gen X-ers and millenials, has fallen for mid-century modern. Hers is a generation that came of age in the 1990s and beyond. To them, the ‘50s and ‘60 are cool.
This is frequently the stuff coming out of estate sales now — the parents of baby boomers who were furnishing their homes after World War II, said Susan Gardner, who has watched tastes change dramatically in the more than 20 years she has been running estate sales in Sonoma County.
“The gen X- and Y-ers don't want crystal, china and antiques,” said Gardner, noting that what many are attracted to, instead, are Scandinavian designs, teak furnishings and shelving units, Melamine dishware, hanging globe and ceramic lamps, Dansk dishes, anything with stainless steel and plain lines.
“Eight years ago,” she said, “this stuff went begging.”
A lot of the younger buyers just want “the look.” But Cate is among those who can discern real quality designers from the era, like Charles and Ray Eames, Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman and Russel Wright, who made mass-produced items for the home with quality and style.
From estate sales, rummage sales and flea markets, she's collected items her parents could never have afforded new, like Heath ceramic plates, Finnish Iittala ice glass and a Drexel Heritage cabinet she found for $50 at the Salvation Army thrift complex on Lytton Springs Road outside Healdsburg.
Her 1970s Sebastopol home, with lots of exposed wood and glass, is an homage to the “Mad Men” era … without the ashtrays.
Her prized find is the focal point of her living room — a long, low-slung sofa with an attached hi-fi cabinet she bought for $50. Hanging over it is a cool aluminum arc lamp she found for $100. At her feet is a sheepskin rug she got for $12. The modern teak coffee table was free at a yard sale. The owner was so happy to have it gone he offered to load it in the car for her. Presiding over the room is a Gemma Tacoggogna papier mache figure that she bought from an estate sale of items that once belonged to legendary ceramicist Edith Heath.
“I just turned 40. I look at the ‘60s and ‘70s stuff as very nostalgic,” said Cate, who has thrifted pretty much everything, from all her baby gear to her entire wardrobe, using the newspaper to chart her course of sales to hit, starting often before dawn and packing provisions so she doesn't have to stop. The early-bird catches the juiciest worms in thrifting.
For the past five years, she has traded tips and shares photos of weekend finds on a blog called ApronThrift Girl. Up to 1,500 fellow thrifters from around the country and as far away as Australia and England also post links to their finds, creating a sense of community among like-minded souls who thrill to the hunt.
“When I started writing a blog, I just loved (the store) Anthropologie, even though it wasn't in my budget. I would dream of everything in there and what I'd buy if I had lots of money,” she recalls.
But a book by modern philosopher Eckhart Tolle prompted her to rethink her consumption.
“I was buying just to make myself feel better,” she said.
Cate now has a completely different perspective on her stuff. While she enjoys the blue Italian Bitossi pottery, the Lyon Cortez Aztec-style flatware and Blenko glass, she knows she could sell any of it in a pinch on eBay or at her new corner at The Antique Society collective in Sebastopol.
“Instead of renting to own,” she said with a laugh, “I think of it as getting paid to rent it.”
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at email@example.com or 521-5204.
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