This column is sponsored by Walter Stewart’s Market. And that’s great, because while antique sideboards are fine, antique lettuce is not.
The discount chain HomeGoods has a time and a place. If you’re looking for mercury glass pumpkins, a decorative sign for a wino pal, or a wobbly lamp, it’s an absolute necessity. I’ll never be mad at cheap housewares, at least not for as long as the trusty Ikea footstool purchased with my 1999 assistant’s salary sits squarely at my feet. I just don’t 100% understand why we’ve started feathering our nests with stuff that was essentially made to be thrown away.
Look, I’m not going to judge unsustainable decor choices, at least not publicly. You can redo your entire home each season with Wayfair’s latest if it tickles your fancy, and as long as an allergy to particle board doesn’t turn you to a life of crime, it’s your business. But there’s another way to scratch a furnishing itch that’s both more affordable and more interesting than an Amazon box on your porch: the fantastic secondary market New Canaan presents for sellers, buyers, aficionados, the always-looking (high fives to my Brothers and Sisters of Perpetual Design), and lovers of all things not-quite-new. Today, I’m going to share with you three favorite, readily available resources for accessing it and one that opens next month.
Modern Day Auctions
Because of an L.A. estate sale, my husband is the proud owner of two items formerly owned by Cannonball Run’s very own Dom DeLuise: a mandolin, and a tie with a naughty picture of a naked lady sewn in the lining. Estate sales elicit a satisfying combination of treasure hunting and elbow-that-clown-out-of-the-way competitive shopping. In Fairfield County, they allow you to tap into generations of good taste for an often-thrilling bargain. Understanding this, Kelly Daniel, the owner of Modern Day Auctions, took her referral-only business online in 2018, running 100 auctions annually in Fairfield and Westchester counties with the help of a now 17-person team.
For me, Kelly’s auctions have been a great resource over the years, not just for furniture and decorative objects (my collection of brass candlesticks is built entirely from her sales) but for inspiration. Noting how a real family living around the corner collected milk glass, LPs, or Christmas Nutcracker guys, I feel impelled to constantly hunt for little chapters to add to our house’s story. And because of the vagaries of the antique market and my own kooky, grandma-got-into-the-hallucinogenics taste, I can do it far more easily than I would at the big auction houses or buying brand new. Brand new seldom appeals to me anyhow, unless we’re talking about electronics, bedding, or seasons of The Crown.
Are you looking for bargains? Shop with classic styling in mind. It just so happens that many of the looks one associates with a Connecticut home, like a profusion of crystal decanters, gilt-edged mirrors, and oriental rugs, aren’t what most shoppers are super hot for right now. All the better for all of us who believe the world of interiors peaked with Bunny Mellon.
“People are saying that the ‘Greenwich Style’ is coming back, but I don’t see evidence of it yet. The market for oriental rugs and brown furniture is pretty soft right now”, says Kelly. We can attest to this, having bought a 200-year-old English sideboard from a neighbor for nickels on the dollar in 2017. But there are some great finds, regardless of your taste. “You can find some wonderful art people have had in their homes, stuff that might just need a new frame, and we’ve seen some great midcentury teak consoles sell for a few hundred dollars.”
A recent perusal of MDA’s online sales brought me to a gorgeous convex mirror, some well-crafted mahogany furniture, very distinguished engravings of clipper ships worthy of Ron Burgundy’s office, and some folding luggage racks, the kind that every guest room needs. Some bidding will get more competitive minutes before the auctions close; as I watch them, it seems that outdoor planters and anything with a Tiffany or Baccarat mark will always have a buyer, but with bone china, crystal, and silver plate, you’re more likely to score something handmade by a now-extinct artisan for a few bucks.
Facebook Tag Sales
Say what you will about Mark Zuckerberg and his downright creepy insistence on the Metaverse and its dead-eyed avatars, but one way Facebook isn’t a complete drain on our society is that it’s a great place to score a red lamp. Recently, convinced that a corner of our hallway was missing a little bit of joy, I searched “red lamp” on Facebook Marketplace, and 24 hours and $60 in cash later, I was bringing home a tomato-red, lacquered Horchow lamp that had languished in a Darien basement for years. I wiped it down, snagged a new William Morris shade off Etsy, and the entire thing was cheaper, not to mention less of a pumpkin spice headache, than a trip to Pottery Barn.
While there’s less consistency to the Facebook experience, local tag sale sites, overseen by volunteer moderators, are excellent places to seek out anything you might not want to buy new: kids’ bedroom furniture, this glossy lucite bar cart, a seemingly uncontrollable number of Hunter wellies, and a microwave for your college kid’s dorm room. It’s also a satisfying place to offload your unwanted stuff, as long as you’re willing to be reasonable with the price. We’ll happily give away used curtains and closet shelving in our house, but we expect the going rate for last year’s iPhone or a Patagonia jacket. Every time, no matter what, I get a small thrill knowing that something that was of no more use to me is on its way to a brand-new life. It’s the suburban equivalent, I guess, of putting your old couch on the street in New York and watching college kids haul it away before some guy pees on it.
The New Canaan Thrift Shop
My fondness for the town’s charity thrift shop is fed by a family legend. In the late 1950s, on summer break from medical school in Boston, my father-in-law worked as a waiter at a Westport country club. His work uniform included a white button-down shirt; at the time, having the shirt cleaned cost 50 cents. A coworker pointed out that the New Canaan Thrift Shop sold white button-downs for 25 cents. So he’d donate his dirty shirts to the New Canaan Thrift Shop and pick them up the following week, sparkling clean, for a quarter apiece.
Discrepancies have crept into the story over time. Perhaps in (rightful) defense of Andrew’s dad’s good name, nobody in the family will now confirm that he ever did this. Maybe it was the coworker all along? Knowing my father-in-law’s love of a good bargain, and his canny ability to outwit anyone in any room, I will forever believe the better story. The New Canaan Thrift Shop, perhaps hip to a mild, decades-old grift, no longer launders garments for you. But they still do a bustling business in the historic little house (with a spooky past!) on Locust Avenue. Shoppers can find great deals on housewares, including loads of monogrammed antique crystal and glassware, infants’ and children’s clothes, puzzles, games, and, curiously enough, Cabbage Patch Kids. At some point in the 80s, shoppers would have beat each other up for one of these, and now they perch on thrift shop shelves, waiting for a new generation to discover them.
It’s all cyclical. In 35 years, you’ll find an Xbox X on that same shelf.
On a recent afternoon trip, I scored a set of twelve matching Christmas napkins (yes, I will launder them myself) for $3 and a framed Japanese silk wall hanging for $5. The Thrift Shop is staffed entirely by volunteers. Because every donation supports the Visiting Nurse and Hospice, now a part of Waveny LifeCare Network, donating and buying wares there feels like a neighborly way to be sustainably thrifty.
Opening Soon: The Swap Shop at the Transfer Station
One student at the fantastic “Through Your Looking Glass” show from STAR and The Glass House (on view through the 29th at the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society) points to the alarming abuses of the fast fashion industry with her work: 10 million tons of clothing go into American landfills every year. Yikes. When it comes to items like appliances, furniture, electronics, and rugs, the landfill statistic packs an even more offensive wallop: 37 million tons of durable goods were dumped in landfills in 2018.
To stanch the local tide of landfill-bound discards, Planet New Canaan is doing something about it. Opening in mid-November, The New Canaan Swap Shop will be our town’s as-needed repository for used but functional household goods. Think of it as the “leave a penny, take a penny” system, writ large. Open only to permitholders at the New Canaan Transfer Station, the Swap Shop will be a resource for anyone looking to part with functional housewares or pick them up free of charge. PNC’s Katie Owsley filled me in on the specifics. “People will be able to drop off small housewares, small appliances, decorative objects, holiday decor, vases, artwork, prints, and books”, she says. They won’t take clothing or soft goods, like bedding, but Person to Person, the Open Door shelter, and the Thrift Shop accept all of these items.
This will be a huge help for folks who are cleaning out their basements and want to get rid of something that same day, rather than posting to a tag sale site and waiting for someone to claim and pay for it. I’m thinking of the dozen unloved copper Moscow Mule cups in my kitchen cabinet that, at some point, I desperately had to own, despite hating vodka. Surely someone else would make better use of such a set, but the hassle of meeting a stranger in a Wendy’s parking lot to sell them for $20 seems excessive.
Katie notes that the Swap Shop was made possible by plenty of help from various town parties. Tiger Mann and Don Smith have been instrumental in getting it going, she noted, as have the Board of Selectmen. In addition, volunteers from the National Charity League and the Planet New Canaan Youth Board helped to paint the space, and the team from Darien, who implemented a swap shop there years ago, provided valuable guidance.
It’s heartwarming to see passionate volunteers accomplish something that benefits every resident in a small town like ours. You’ll be able to see what the Swap Shop has in stock by following PNC on Facebook and Instagram. Just don’t expect to find my precious red lamp there anytime soon. That, you can pry from my cold, dead fingers or, more likely, find on Modern Day Auctions sometime down the road, alongside 25 unpolished brass candlesticks.