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Chinoiserie Chic • Mid Century Modern • Palm Beach Regency Vintage Sales & Rentals


At home with . . . Stan Williams

LeAnn Stephenson

In the Summer of 1971 my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. After giving it some thought, for something like an entire day, and pondering the options I figured were available to me: teaching little kids, raising little kids, dancing on Lawrence Welk, becoming a "lady of the evening" (which I was told had something to do with kissing boys, and was quickly removed from my list), or becoming a nurse. I didn't really, deep down in my heart, want to be any of those things. My Mom suggested that I think about what I really enjoyed doing most, and how I wanted people to see me when I was grown. So, finally, I realized what I wanted to be, a garbage collector . . . or a French maid. (I thought the uniform was groovy!) You see, I was tragically in love with our trash collector guy, Jim, at the time. I would sit out on the curb in front of our house when it was "trash-pick-up-day" and wait for hours to get my, "Hey, what's up kid?" and a glimpse of his Pearl Drops-polished smile. It wasn't just the filthy overalls or aromatic scent that accompanied Jim that won me over. He used to give me gifts from his earlier pick ups, stuff like discarded porcelain figurines, old cigar boxes, and one time he even presented me with a beautiful cut glass lamp. The remaining summer months of 1971 were spent rummaging through every yard sale and church bizarre I could convince my Mom to take me to. Which really wasn't that hard of a sell, because at least the prospect of these sales kept me out of the neighbors trash.

I tell that story to tell you this one. . . . newly-found friend and author of The Find, Stan Williams, had similar beginnings. Only his experiences were shared by his Mom and Aunt Diana and were located in the town of Independence, Missouri and the suburbs of Kansas City. The search for treasures in dark, musty garages, the "crack-of-dawn" trips the the flea market, the exploration and excavation of thrift stores throughout the years, have all been a story in the making - actually a book in the making - The Find, to be precise. The back and forth e-mailing that Stan and I have been doing in preparation for this interview, has been such a wonderful experience for me. I am grateful and flattered that he has taken time out of his busy schedule to share his story with us.

A photo of Stan from his book atop a desk I bought for $10 in 1984. His dad later refinished it for him. He says it now lives with his sister in Independence, Mo. and jokes that the photo is also almost a year and a half old and shows him before he grew a pornstar 'stache!

This Christmas tree is one of Stan's most precious finds. He found it at the flea market at the Santa Monica Airport with one of his best friends. He loves it so much that he keeps it up all year long, and it even has working lights.

The wrought iron chair was given to Stan by Deb Kelt, who is married to Charles Hancock of Austin. She literally found it on the street. He loves it because it always reminds him of Deb. Stan's Mom took a scrap of velvet and fashioned a new seat cover. Underneath the chair are rolls of paper used to make cigarettes from a shut-down paper factory in Rijeka, Croatia.

So, our trip begins and off we go to the Big Apple to drop in on The Elegant Thrifter, aka Stan Williams. NYC is a city filled with a myriad of cultural icons, fashion experts, financial tycoons, creative artists and visionaries. Stan is one of those people, an outspoken advocate for New York City's Housing Works and supporter to their efforts of raising $10 million a year for homeless and low-income people living with HIV/AIDS. The Find is full of wonderful stories, spot-on advice, elegantly photographed by Jim Franco and Bob Greenspan and is filled with practical sidebars from some of today’s most clever style makers, including Simon Doonan, John Derian, and Real Simple’s Kristin van Ogtrop – all of whom are pronounced diehard devotees of New York City’s Housing Works. I simply can't gush enough about this book, it's truly amazing and I highly recommend it. But, beware, after looking through it, you'll be itching to get to the nearest thrift store in search of your own treasures.

In a photo from The Find, prop stylist Joe Maer, uses a blue and white theme for a romantic affair.

If I had not become an writer and editor, I would
have been a . . .

If I were not a writer/editor, I would have been a French teacher. I am very much a francophile and learned -- oddly at a very early age in the Independence, Mo., public school system -- the appreciation for anything and everything French. No influence from my family. In fact, I was the first to ever get a passport! I always dreamed of far away places, and France presented me an exoticism so far away from what I knew. I love the country, and, to me, the language is the most beautiful in the world.

When I was a child I wanted to be . . .

When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. I was always fascinated by words and asking people nosey questions. So I guess that fit my interest.

A photo from The Find in which events designer Michelle Rago uses gigantic peonies to set the theme for a romantic wedding setting.

I'm listening to . . .

I'm listening to Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, Arnold Turboust (one of my favorite French artists from the 80s who is now a FaceBook pal.) and 1980s French Pop.

I’m reading . . .

I'm reading so much right now. I am obsessed with The New Yorker magazine and have been for years. Right now, I'm taking a whimsical break to read the David Sedaris When You are Engulfed in Flames. I spent a month plowing through all the works by Robert Maxwell, and try to read a French best seller at least once a month. AND The Four Agreements is always on my desk for a quick boost.

A photos from the book showing the home office of David Jimenez showcasing a Knoll Barcelona chair at a chrome-and-glass Parsons table.

My artistic hereos or muses are . . .

Dolly Parton is my artistic hero. She is who she is, and she created herself. I am always inspired by her.

A photo of Stan's Dolly Rama party where he and his mother made a "Tablecloth of Many Colors." They used vintage and thrift pieces to set an "Urban Granny" table.

I would describe my style as . . .

My home style is urban grandma chic. I like clean contemporary lines, but also homey touches.

My favorite color is . . .

My favorite color is's rich, regal and warm.

If money were no object . . .

If money were no object, I would move to Paris, loaf and LIVE!

I’m creatively moved by . . .

I am creatively moved by people who just decide to do something, and go for it. It's inspiring to me, and life is too short to waste doing something that isn't fulfilling, or spending all your time planning and never getting around to it.

Another photo from the book of a chair that Alex Bandon, multimedia editor for This Old House, reworked for her neighbor with a some primer and bright red paint.

I received my education and training from . . .

I have a journalism degree from the University of Missouri -- Columbia and studied for one year at University of Bordeaux, France.

A photo from the book in which Heather Chadduck of Cottage Living sets a table with black-and-white plates, residential numbers and French accounting ledger placemats, displaying her fascination for anything numbered.

A perfect day would include . . .

A perfect day for me would start out with a fabulous Pilate's class, followed by a garage sale trek through Santa Monica. Next, a 40-minute power nap before heading off to the airport to board flight on Air France to Paris -- first class of course!

My favorite place in my home is . . .

My favorite place in my home is my dining room floor where I always tend to work on projects -- in the middle of everything!

One of the seven Housing Works thrift stores in New York.

I collect . . .

I collect too much. I love vintage handbags, cocktail ephemera and vintage cookbooks.

My favorite collection is . . .

My favorite collection is my Dolly Parton memorabilia that I've collected for more than 30 years -- albums, photos, programs, ephemera, T-shirts, and the list goes on.

I chose this profession because . . .

I think I chose this profession because I'm somewhat shy, and also nosey. I like getting to know people and telling their stories. It was hard for me to be a hard-nosed fashion reporter because, I genuinely liked everybody, so sometimes I wasn't tough enough. I really enjoy the kind of writing I'm doing now -- writing about things that speak to me personally.

A photo from the book of a collaboration piece crafted by designer John Bartlett and framer John Etsy.

My biggest influences are . . .

My biggest influences are varied. I dedicated my book to my mom and dad. They are hardworking people who taught me respect for everybody. My mom used to always have craft projects around the house, from making Christmas ornaments to pouring candles. And my dad is THE ultimate handy man. He can work wonders on old furniture. And he demonstrated to me that hard work always pays off.My high school journalism teacher Ron Clemons taught me how to be a good writer. He was also one of the first to recognize my skills. Even though I had great professors at the university, he taught me the most that I retained. My favorite saying of his ...and I think this is good for a journalist to remember..."Nobody cares about your opinion. Stick to the facts." I approach every project as a journalist would and try to keep everything as real and authentic as possible. And then there was my high school French teacher who instilled in me the love of France, and the French language. I am influenced by Dolly Parton's story of making herself out of nothing into a huge star. She is kind, talented and smart -- and she's hokey. I'm a sucker for home-spun hokiness, but I also appreciate loftier ideas. From a design perspective, I'm always entranced by Wendy Goodman's Tony Duquette book and haven't been able to stop looking at it for the past year. It has inspired my making paper mache volcano vases for a friend's wedding tabletop. I'm also inspired by John Derian. He's another person who took a creative hobby and turned it into a thriving business. He is a lovely person, and it shows in his work.

I’m spiritually moved by . . .

I am spiritually moved by the power of prayer.

My advice to someone just starting out in this field would be . . .

My advice to anyone starting out in this career is to only do what you love. Always set your goals high, and don't worry about what other people think of you. That's hard for a creative person, though, because we are pleasers and want to be liked. I read in Seth Godin's book Small is the New Big that creative people aren't afraid of failure, but they are afraid of being criticized. I think that rings true.

I’m emotionally moved by . . .

I'm emotionally moved every time I take a plane and land in my home town of Kansas City, Mo., or in Charles de Gaulle in Paris. Both feel like I'm coming home, and I always feel energized. I'm also moved by old bluegrass gospel music, the sea, a heart-felt compliment and objects crafted by hand -- whether it's an old fashioned pineapple upside down cake, a decoupaged plate or a crocheted art piece. I guess I'm moved by things where I feel at home...or when someone touches me with an authentic gesture, either in words or actions.

Stan was interviewed by Amanda Tice from at his books launch party at Ports 1961 at the Meat Packing District, New York City. You view the interview here.