The world does turn. And as I’ve written before in this space, many of the treasures found in flea markets ended up there because of obsolescence. Their original function is no longer necessary in daily life. So that leaves it to us to find a new role for these collectibles. We can still use them at home, but in a new way.
Ashtrays: I remember when just about everyone I knew smoked, and they needed a place to drop the ashes for their Marlboros, Winstons, Larks, or Menthol Kools. In a column a while back, I mentioned how I struggled with finding a decorative use for vintage ashtrays. Well, I have finally learned that ashtrays of yesteryear have found a new use — as dog bowls! And ashtrays that once graced tables in grand hotels around the world also can be used as wall décor when hung in groups. Some people have plates on walls — so why not display antique ashtrays from iconic resorts such as The Ritz in Paris or the Westin Palace in Madrid? Anyone with any other ideas, please contact me. I’m always anxious to hear all suggestions.
Louis Vuitton steamer trunks (or any kind of trunk, for that matter): Ocean voyages are not what they used to be, back when movie stars, socialites and royalty packed trunks for a trip across the ocean. Nowadays, folks don’t pack for a summer’s stay in Lake Placid or the south of France. Tourists just don’t check in for enough days to need change after change of clothes. Louis Vuitton’s famous trunks are often sold at auction to be enjoyed as coffee or end tables. I’ve also seen a few stand-up trunks — the kind with drawers — that could be used as a wardrobe in a master bedroom or as a centerpiece in an oversized closet.
Antique ceiling fans: These once were everywhere, hung from ceilings in local drugs stores — along with the flypaper to catch those bothersome insects — long before air-conditioning took over. Today, they may not be used for circulating air as they once were. But I still like to use them when I’m creating an old-fashioned decorating look, sometimes with lighting attached. Re-conditioning may be required if these are salvaged from an architectural relics warehouse.
Telephone booths: It sometimes surprises people to learn that London’s iconic vintage telephone booths — bright red with the royal crest — are highly collectible. I often purchase them for use on the grounds of the resorts our firm decorates. Those of you who will visit the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in upper Michigan this summer will find one outside the golf course, next to the Jockey Club.
Palm Beacher Carleton Varney is president of Dorothy Draper & Co., an international design firm with offices in New York, West Palm Beach, London and White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Visit CarletonVarney.com or email him at [email protected]