Shop Talk: Ampersand Vintage Modern

I recently had the pleasure of meeting and catching up with Clytie Sadler who owns Ampersand Vintage Modern, a small Boston-based retail business specializing in mid-century modern, industrial, and vintage home furnishings. I've been admiring &VM's keen eye for finding fantastic vintage pieces lately, and have envied Facebook posts about their road trips to scour estate sales, flea markets and yard sales in search of these vintage gems.

As they approach their one-year anniversary this December, Ampersand Vintage Modern has a lot to celebrate. They established themselves with a huge inventory of items, have thrived through major changes (Clytie's great friend and vintage-loving co-founder Andy Crepeau is moving on to other life endeavors), and have planned A LOT of cool things for the coming year. I'm excited to see those plans unfold and am pleased to be a new friend.

Before I share our conversation with you, here are just SOME of our &VM favorites—from inventories past and present—to give you a sense of their wonderful finds:

( photos from Ampersand Vintage Modern)

When I visited Clytie's home (and &VM headquarters) last week to learn more about her business and see how she interprets vintage modern in her own living space, we had a good chat while her adorable dog Rex suggested we incorporate some fetch into the conversation.

O: Can you give us the back story of how Ampersand Vintage Modern came to be?
I started going out to look for vintage pieces with my Dad when I was about 6 or 7, accompanying him on road trips and going to auctions in barns in the Northeast. I'd even go with him to New York City where he sold his antiques at the Avenue of the America’s flea market and we’d sleep on a mattress in his VW bus that was placed on top of the goods, which was quite the adventure. I got my eye for the industrial vintage stuff from him—that's what he was into and that's what I grew up with. Later, I had met a landscape architect who influenced the mid century modern side of my taste. So, fast forward to Ampersand: I wanted to do what I love and left a really draining job to pursue this. My technology chops and background in database management and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) gave me a leg up in setting up an online store and maintaining the database. It took a couple of months to build the collection we launched with, set up the behind the scenes system/database and built the website—but with minimal overhead. I can turn over hundreds of products in very little time now that it has been established.

O: How do you find your pieces or sources? Do you research first, or do you sometimes allow a little chance exploration?
It's really just exploration. We get in the car and hit estate sales, auctions, spot things along the road, visit yard sales. Everything!

O: How far afield have you travelled to scope out a lead?
Hmm, how far have I gone on purpose to get something for our inventory or how far afield was I when I purchased something? (we laugh)

O: Well, how about both?
Well, the furthest I have been is Asheville, NC where I found the wonderful white iron bed frame you see in our archives. That piece actually sold the first day we went live with the shop online. I was on vacation in Montreal and bought several small kitchen items.

O: Do you have specific criteria in what you look for or do you let your vision and “gut” be your guide?
It really is gut. I use my instincts to curate the collection— I know what I like, it's what I grew up with for the most part, and I just bring that to our audience—our customers. Having said that, you really have to have an awareness of what’s trending but it should be balanced with your own outside the box thinking.

O: I saw that you take requests on your website, which is great. Do you see trends or patterns in what people are requesting? If so, what are some lately?

It actually varies a lot! One person will ask us to find a Bertoia chair and another may want a simple, rustic dining table. The requests are as varied as our selection. My favorite customer request came from a gentleman asking for a simple rustic armoire and a purple unicorn that talks and is house trained. Makes my day when people interact with me in fun ways.

O: Are you ever tempted to keep some of your finds and have you?
I'm actually really happy with what I have collected and live with right now, so no, I'm not really after anything new. If I DO find something I MUST have then I have a strict rule that it needs to swap with something else. I'm not into hoarding.

O: Is your shop exclusively online? Do you have in-person appointments or booths at shows and markets like SoWA or Davis Flea?
We do all of our business online. If it's a major piece and investment, I have no problem having someone come look at it. But yes, our plan is to branch out more and showcase our goods at upcoming shows and flea markets. We’ve actually participated in the Somerville Drill Hall Flea at the Armory a couple of times and hope to continue attending more in the future. Flea Markets are a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet and connect with our local customers or, as we like to call them, Amperfans. We also do quite a bit of consignment.

O: Do you ever get asked to do decor styling and is it something you’d want to do?
I have a really good eye for styling vignettes (arranging interesting objects)—I do this every day when I’m styling products for the online shop’s photos, but to go into a room and make that up for someone is not really my strength or something I'm interested in. I like to hunt things down and find treasures—that's what I love to do!

O: What can we look forward to from Ampersand Vintage Modern in 2013?

After planning our wedding this past year, I realized that all of the vintage props we used may be something others would like to have to decorate their event, so we are going to be building a wedding and event rental service as part of the business. Also, we're going to start selling a gorgeous collection of vintage jewelry very soon.

True story!
As I got up from the couch to look around at Clytie's collections and furniture, I spotted a familiar green color out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see a unique cabinet with an awesome vintage globe on it in her living room. It was immediately SO familiar. I pointed to it and said "Hey! Wait a minute!" We both paused for a few seconds and Clytie asked, "Oh, did I buy that from you?" "Yes! You did!" I replied. And laughed at what a small world it is. I remembered selling it at a garage sale we had a few years back. I just love how common interests are destined to bring friends together, and that furniture can weave its way in and out of our lives like a binding thread.

Moral of the story?
Shop vintage and keep its history and connections alive!

Wish List: Kostick Bronze Stars
I think the Danish teak credenza in our dining room needs some decorating love soon. It's a beautiful piece that anchors the dining room and is the first thing we bought when we moved in here. I've arranged all kinds of interesting objects on it for visual focus, and have never quite been satisfied with it. Here is a little glimpse of it all decked out for the Holidays one year:

So, my mind turns again to these fantastic bronze stars, designed by Massachusetts artist John Kostick, that I have eyed, touched and gazed at from across the store every time I go into Abodeon in Cambridge, MA. Inspired by a speech given by Buckminster Fuller at Brandeis University in 1962, Kostick, then a physics student there, "began experimenting with spatial structures that synthesize geometry and art."

Photo by Giro Studios

John still produces the star sculptures today, and they can be purchased
on Kosticks, at Abodeon, and at Design Within Reach. Below: John in his workshop.
(Photo by Phoenix Studios)

I think this triple arrangement will be perfect on our credenza!

Enjoy this really lovely interview:

A DWR Film: The Genius of John Kostick

We've Got You Covered
I used to be so against using wallpaper and saw it is a passé decorating medium—at least for the modern home. Maybe the perception came from seeing a lot of terrible examples. The granny-esque, yellowing florals and patterns only the 70's would understand. Do any of you recall moving into a newly purchased home where you spent either a lot of time or money—or both, scraping the past off your walls in a big mess so you could make them your own? That's how I saw it. I was an adamant painter-of-walls. However, I am coming around a bit. While I may never wallpaper every room, I am certainly falling for a lot of the beautiful, updated patterns that speak to my design sensibilities. Many are reminiscent of my favorite textile and graphic designs and often from the same designers to boot! And not only are there great wallpapers out there, but such cool wall decal solutions as well.

A nearly-completed renovation project here at ourhaus (that we can't wait to share with you!) opened the door to this wallpaper appreciation. It's in a 4' x 9' entry space that is clearly defined and separate from the rest of our (mostly) open plan living space. I was at a loss for just the right color palette for this entry for a really long time. Then I decided to use the "transition from outside to inside (and vice versa)" of the entry as inspiration. I had been eyeing some gorgeous papers sold through Anthropologie for a while that continued my obsession with birch trees. We ended up finding a more economical birch tree wallpaper for the project, as shown below. Here were my favorite birch options and many other wallpaper patterns that we are loving right now:

1 + 2 } The ever-popular Woods pattern in the Contemporary II line from Cole and Son. Also available at Anthropologie.

3 } The birch paper we chose, as styled here by Leclair Decor in Ottawa.

4 } Detail of our chosen paper. It is simply "Birch" from the Eco Chic book. Shown in grey, black, off-white and metallic silver. Available from most wallcovering stores online.

You likely know Orla Kiely, the Irish fashion designer based in London. She started out with hats and has significantly expanded her cheery, retro-mod line into clothing, bags and housewares. These wallpapers are so fun and so great for accenting a wall.

1 } Acorn Spot wallpaper in Sea Blue & Poppy    2 } Multi Stem wallpaper in Seagreen

Minikani lab is run by Paris-based designers Cécile Figuette and Frédéric Bonnin. I'm particularly fond of the black line sketch designs, as if someone painstakingly drew a design on their walls with a Sharpie.

1 } Mosaic    2 } Cloudy    3 } Copenhague    4 } Peacocks

I'm talking about Marimekko again, I know. I will just never tire of their designs! And by popular request, they brought back their wallpaper. And popular, it is. It is sold out almost everywhere online right now as I write this post. Restock, please!

1 } Frekvenessi    2 } Aarni    3 } Unikko    4 } Lumimarja

Where do I begin about this multi-talented artist and designer? Julia Rothman's work spans advertising and branding, books, tattoos for tattly, ceramics, notebooks and stationery, clothing—the list goes on! Her illustrations can be seen on housewares at Urban Outfitters, Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie, just to name a few. And then there's her wonderful wallpaper, too. Whew!

1 } Blue Daydream in a powder room designed by Incorporated    2 } Silver Pieces
3 } Gray Amaze    4 } Sunshine Daydream installed in a bathroom
styled by Emily Henderson    note } also check out the way this Daydream bird
series was installed on a nursery ceiling here!)

As I mentioned earlier, another type of graphic wallcovering that I love and find so clever is wall decals. Aren't you glad these popped on the scene years ago? They are ESPECIALLY wonderful if you rent, because most of them are removable and repositionable with no risk of damaging the wall. Paul Hardy, co-owner of Urbanwalls, reminded me that decals provide a very economical design punch to your walls without the major commitment. You can go bold with a repeated pattern, or use one or two large designs as an artful focal point. All of their decals come in a choice of 24 colors. That's a lot of design flexibility to play with in conjunction with the paint color on your walls.

Here are some of my favorite picks from the Urbanwalls collection designed by Danielle Hardy—and a special discount code offered to ourhaus readers!

Enjoy 20% off your order in the Urbanwalls store with the code: ourhaus. (Offer expires on 12/12/12)

(Offer expires on 12/12/12)
1 } Large Flower    2 } Triangles designed in conjunction with simplygrove   3 } Trees 
4 } Circle Shapes    5 } House Rules    6 } Chalk Frame

About Us

Christopher Scott and Jodi Vautrin are the husband and wife team behind Ourhaus, where they chronicle their adventures in home improvement, decorating and travel. After purchasing a unique loft space just a few miles north of Boston, they began photographing and writing about their projects and it blossomed into a creative outlet and platform.

When they’re not home improving, Jodi spends her days as a freelance creative director & designer with a focus on user interface and interactive design, and is an entrepreneur at heart. She serves on the board of AIGA Boston as Vice President of Emerging Ideas & Events.

In his professional life, Christopher is the Technology Director for a multi-service ad agency based in Harvard Square. In his private life, he enjoys tinkering in all its forms, whether it's rebuilding the Ourhaus home network (again), fooling himself into thinking he knows how to fix home appliances, or trying to unravel the mysteries of the guitar. He also flies planes, performs open heart surgery and sings at bar mitzvahs (though not all at the same time).

They share their “haus” with their adorable, highly food-motivated chocolate lab, Lucy.