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Mary Randolph Carter on collecting and accessorizing | Home Front

May 08, 2014

Mary Randolph Carter is an author, photographer, designer and longtime creative director for Ralph Lauren. She is the author of "Never Stop to Think... Do I Have a Place for This," "A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of Misspent Life," "For the Love of Old," and the Junk books, a series of books on discovering and using flea market and antique finds to bring something new to interior design.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Good Day, Jura, and  all you kindred spirits who like me--can never say "No!" to the things we love and always find a place for them in our homes...because there's a place for them in our hearts!

Thrilled to have Mary Randolph Carter here today. I have followed Mary's career and her amazing knowledge of collecting, arranging and loving antiques and beautiful old things.Mary Randolph Carter is an author, photographer, designer and longtime creative director for Ralph Lauren. She is the author of "Never Stop to Think... Do I Have a Place for This," "A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of Misspent Life," "For the Love of Old," and the Junk books, a series of books on discovering and using flea market and antique finds to bring something new to interior design. I love that she is sick of people telling us we have too much stuff and we have to get rid of it. Ask her about things like loving your family history and collecting things that remind you of people and places. Let's get going.

Hi there! Now that I am finally through the winter doldrums, I am going to attack the beautiful sunroom in my new house. I have collected a decent amount of Mexican art (statues, paintings, vases) and need some ideas on how to best display them. I also will use decorative ceramic pots for the plants. I dream of a relaxing space which will take me back to that fateful spring break on the Yucatan, where I felt the touch of another man for the first time, but I fear a luscious turquoise or bold gold might just be too much for the space. I definitely don't want it to be plain though. Maybe some texture? I appreciate any display tips for my art and paint color suggestions. Gracias!

Oh my goodness, I feel like I'm in a scene from "Eat, Pray, Love!"  Let's go back to the Yucatan right away. Collecting is always associated with memory and you have some great ones! Hmmm...with a sunroom you start with the most valuable asset of all--beautiful light (and it's healthy, too!) The ceramic pots sound so exotic for your plants. For those Mexican art  treasures, perhaps find a wonderful hanging wooden shelf in a great color to display them. Not sure how many walls you have in a sunroom, but I love pedestals for showing off a special statue or clustering them all together on a little table--an altar to your love of these things. If you're talking about texture--find a great old raffia rug or several. I would keep the background colors simple so your plants and collections will stand out! Every wall in my house is white, but covered with painting and photos and maps and prints--all the things that I love! Thanks for asking!

What constitutes a collection?

Great question! There are as many answers to this as there are collectors. The best I've heard and agreed with is--a collection is at three of one item!!!! Get started now!!!!

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are collectors, but I'll take a stab and say--once you've got three of anything you're on your way!

Jura, I thought you and other chatters might be interested in this link: It's a 271 year-old encyclopedia of colors and paint--an early version of your Sherwin-Williams paint color fan. Fascinating, no?

Yes. I just looked at this. It is wonderful. Thanks for sharing the link. 

When is money a roadblock to owning something that you think you can't live without???

Oh that wretched word--Money! It has never stood in my way, well almost never. There have been things that were out of reach because of the price tag, but luckily I love things that are valuable because they mean something to me! So, if that beautiful old quilt is out of range, keep looking and you'll find one that fits your budget and have no regrets! Or sometimes, if it's just that special you might want to save up or have a tag sale of your old stuff and go for it! 

Oh that wretched subject--Money$$$$$ Thank goodeness there's so much great stuff out there that if you fall in love with something you can't (or shouldn't) afford, just wait a while and you 'll find something just as good (I promise!) that fits your pocketbook. There was once an amazing serape that I fell for at the Washington Flea years back (is it still there?) I left it behind and went on my way and sure enough there on another dealer's table just minutes away was another for $15 that was even more extraordinary. So lesson to be learned--love what you love, but don't be too impulsive. On the other hand, sometimes if it's worth it to you--save up or have a tag sale and go for it!!!

How has the Internet and Ebay changed collecting?

Let's face it...the Internet has changed our world at large, and certainly when it comes to hunting down things that we collectors have to have, can't live without--LOVE! So the good news is there's greater access to finding those things online and sharing the love of those things (just like we are!), but I will never never stop wanting to get in my truck and discover a yardsale at the side of the road and know there's something waiting there just for me. I love the physical HUNT! My heart starts beating faster and faster the closer I get to a flea market I love! One of the collectors in my book--Never Stop To Think...Do I Have A Place For This? swears by eBay and the like. He loves to search out collections of old handwritten recipe books, Diner menus (Love!), and vintage botanicals to use in the collages of his art work. Go ahead, Tom, but I'll be out walking in the rain and mud, heart palpitating for the next best thing I know I will find!!!!

The internet has changed the world at large, and in particular, Junking and Hunting for the things we love! My friend and fellow collector Tom Judd featured in my new book--Never Stop To Think...Do I Have A Place For This? (Rizzoli)--swears by the online hunt. He has found great luck finding handwritten recipes, Diner menus (love!), old botanical prints, and fragments of vintage wallpaper. He layers them into his beautiful collages and never looks back. Have fun, Tom, but I'll have more fun mucking around in the mud and rain at a good old fashioned outdoor flea market!!!!

"Deep" (usually high-end) queen-size mattresses are several inches higher than standard height ones, but most duvets are marketed as "full/queen." They often look skimpy on the standard-height mattress, and they don't even begin to cover the sides of the new style mattress. But king-size duvets are too big unless one has a rally high bed stand. What to do?

You are so right. And on the other hand, I have one bedroom in my house with a double/full size bed and most companies do not make just Full size products - they are full/queen size quilts and comforters and duvets. So many of them look very big and bulky on a full size bed; while on a generous queen size mattress they look skimpy! I actually just bought a twin size John Robson coverlet for my full size bed to keep folded at the end of the bed - it seems just the right proportion. But back to your question, I would seek out companies that make the full traditional range of sizes Twin, Full, Queen and King. The true QUEEN size should be fine on your thick mattress. I think Company Store still makes the full line so check them out. 

Other than in a cubboard with glass doors, what is the best way to store Jadeite ware?

Oh, Boy, Jadeite ware, which is incredibly beautiful is not exactly in my collector's bag, but I can imagine it on a simple long shelf one right after the other. My mother had a collection of beautiful American glazed pots and displayed them on a long narrow shelf near the ceiling of her kitchen! Sometimes we want to protect our collections but they can get lost behind glass! 

I'm trying to convince my husband to go for leather couches. Would you recommend Restoration Hardware's leather sectionals? They are awfully pricey. Are there any cheaper alternatives. I'm willing to spend for quality.

Leather is a great choice for a sectional as it wears really really well and doesn't show stains as much as other upholstery fabrics. Other stores you might try are Room & Board, Thomasville, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Arhaus or  Bassett. 

Good morning: I am interested in adding brass to our decor as accent pieces - what are the best options for incorporating this? Does it matter that we do not currently have anything that is brass?

OH, you're so lucky, if you're starting on a new journey of collectin Brass! I once collected all these old brass trays. I think I shared them in my first American Junk book. Just looked them up--they were hammered brass wall plaques depicting scenes of skaters waltzing, ships at sea, fruits and flowers, Dutch children skating. I lined them all up on a wall in my rustic barn and loved the contrast. (PS I paid no more than a few bucks for each!) You are probably thinking of more serious brass, but keep in mind--there are no rules when it comes to the kind of collecting I love! And, NO, it doesn't matter if there's no brass in your home. Just start finding a place for I know you will!

Hey Carter... I have been a huge fan of yours for ages, ever since I found your first Junk book on a trip to Boston sometime last century. I have ordered the latest one, because I share the same philosophy about collecting. I love how fearless you are about collecting and displaying your finds. After many years, I have realized that I am more of a hunter than a collector, and it's the thrill of finding a piece that is the most exciting part, and now I have no compunction selling the things I find. After years of doing architectural salvage in the early 2000's in Baltimore and now haunting auctions, yard sales and thrift shops, I have learned so much from you and have spent many pleasurable hours reading your books and examining the gorgeous images! Thanks you so much! Meg, aka Pigtown*Design

Oh, Wow, Meg, Thanks so much! You sure made my day and Gee, reminded me just how long I have had this crazy PASSSION for not just the stuff, but the HUNT! Thanks so much for checking in! I know you'll get lost in Never Stop To Think...your philosophy, your kind of book!

Hi Mary, Can you recommend a wall color that would complement cream colored cabinets.

Are we in the kitchen? I'm guessing we are... If you have subtle-colored cream cabinets I think I would go for white walls or find some kind of interesting wall paper that picks up on the cream. You don't want to overpower them! 

I dislike cut flowers but have green plants in my house. Most of the rooms do not have enought light for greenery so I would like to add artificial flowers to the decor. What is your opinion of artificial flowers? I have seen some expensive ones that look real.

Oh my gosh, I have such a history with artificial flowers! I live in an apartment with not a lot of light, plus I have never had a green thumb for growing plants! There are some truly remarkable fakes out there--just use them sparingly and place them in a unique container. I have some great red Poppies I bought for a table in our living room in NYC. I plunked them into a yellow pottery pitcher, a gift from a friend in Spain. They are surrounded by piles of my favorite books and still are blooming (a little dusty!) after ten least! I also have a little pot of fake green herbs that sits in the center of our little wooden table in our cozy kitchen. Go for your own personal (unreal!) garden!

I am struggling to pick a paint color or even family for my hallway. It faces a courtyard on one side, so it has lots of natural light through the windows, but it also has dark wood trim and tan carpet. I generally like blues and grays but neither of these seem like a good match with all the warmth. Ideas, preferably for Benjamin Moore paints?

Here are a few ideas all by Benjamin Moore as you requested: Wedgewood Gray, Elephant Tusk, Golden Straw, Pale Moon or Alabaster.

Thank you so much for being on the chat! How refreshing to hear someone telling us to keep what we really love and cherish it. We really appreciate your spending an hour with us today. And thanks to everyone for the great questions. Enjoy this beautiful warm day. 

Thanks, Jura, and everyone for sharing your passion for collecting! I hope you will take a look at my latest book--Never Stop To Think...Do I Have A Place For This? It's filled with collectors (all characters) from all over--from D.C. (Doug DeLuca who collect model sailboats) and my sister Nell Thompson who lives in Virginia and has a crazy passion for Coral and so many more from coast to coast, who all have one thing in common--a love of the hunt and finding room for the things that make their homes warm, happy, fun and one-of-a-kind!  Join them, go out today and find something you can't live without and make your home and yourSELF Happy!

Happy hunting trails to all!  

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Mary Randolph Carter is an author, photographer, designer and longtime creative director for Ralph Lauren. She is the author of "Never Stop to Think... Do I Have a Place for This," "A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of Misspent Life," "For the Love of Old," and the Junk books, a series of books on discovering and using flea market and antique finds to bring something new to interior design.
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