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