Fashion isn’t just for wearing. It can serve as pretty clever home decor too. By Samantha Cummings
Fashion can be our greatest storyteller. Pieces are passed down from generation to generation as tangible memoirs of loved ones, lifetime milestones and significant events. But too often it ends up in a storage box in the garage. Something magical happens when you dust it off and integrate it into your home, using fashion as decor.
Designer labels find a place on the wall
Clothes have mesmerized Monica Negri since childhood, when she would flip through the pages of Vogue in awe. Having worked at stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nordstrom, owned a vintage thrift store, worked as a private chef, and then found her way back to the fashion world as a style consultant, Monica is positive this is where she is meant to be.
But she has learned that with a love of fashion comes a crammed closet and pieces easily forgotten in over-stuffed drawers.
“When I go to ladies’ homes, there are very few people who are enjoying their things,” says Monica, the owner of wardrobe consulting firm Ten Outfits. “I like everything out. If you can’t see it, you forget. I’m always like, ‘Get your stuff out on display!’ Make something pretty with it. Make it cool to look at and it will remind you, ‘I need to wear it.’”
In the corner of her master bedroom stands what Monica calls her “accessory tree”. A metal planter holds two bare Eucalyptus tree branches, each covered in large, bold, and bright colored necklaces. A blue fedora sits on top, serving as a year round tree topper.
“All of a sudden I was looking over into the wash and I just saw it laying there,” recalls Monica. “It snapped off in a storm or something. I was looking at it and thought, ‘You know, that might be cool hanging all my stuff.’ Three pieces of jewelry has obviously turned into a problem.” The once bare accessory tree is now blooming with dozen of necklaces.
Glass platters and metal trays house a collection of plastic bangles, bracelets and rings. Towel hooks from Anthropologie are repurposed to hang daintier necklaces.
Monica is all about making an impact, but not just through her statement necklaces. Throughout her home, located in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills, she has found a way to create this visual impact by “doing the same thing in massive amounts.”
Upon exiting the master bedroom, a narrow hallway leading to the main area of the home is decorated with a row of Manolo Blahnik prints, a brand of shoes highly revered by shoe enthusiasts like Monica. Each print was copied from her Manolo Blahnik book, then framed.
On the opposite wall hangs a shadow box filled with designer labels Monica would collect from unsold clothing pieces when she owned Timeless – a high-end vintage store located in Palo Alto about 15 years ago. Many of the collections no longer exist, adding to the sentimentality you can hear in Monica’s voice as she reminisces about the once beautiful designs sold in San Francisco’s Union Square.
Among the collection hangs a Ransonhoff’s label, known for its appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo, starring Kim Novak. A Don Loper label reminds Monica of a favorite I Love Lucy episode, where Lucille Ball will do anything for a Don Loper dress, leading her into all sorts of trouble as usual. Modern designer labels such as Missoni, Christian Dior and Oscar de La Renta are mixed in with the vintage greats.
The past on display
Every morning, as Joan Calcagno dresses for her day, she is reminded of the line of stylish women who came before her. As you enter the master bedroom and look to your right, you can sneak a glimpse of Joan’s clothes closet – not so much a walk-in closet as an alcove. A semi-wall serves as the only divider between her closet and bed. And with no doors to the closet space, Joan toyed with how to treat the space.
“Part of it is practical,” says Joan, a writer with 3 Story Magazine. “I was thinking, ‘Do I want to look at my clothes?’ No. Did I want to put up vintage drapes? No, too heavy. Then I thought, ‘I have all these clothes, I can just hang them up’.”
As an avid vintage shopper and collector since college, ‘these clothes’ include her mother’s prom dress, aunt’s wedding dress, a turquoise Jantzen bathing suit, and a bright red sundress. Not only do they serve as intermittent closet doors, they double as a way for Joan to display her vintage collection, made mostly of family heirlooms. It’s almost as if Joan’s closet is her own family museum.
“You know how some people put up old family photos?” says Joan. “It’s kind of like that. There’s a nostalgia aspect to it.”
Each garment is on a hanger, which hangs from a suspended ledge above the closest, giving Joan freedom to interchange pieces as she pleases. Right now, her summer items are still on display, but she plans on switching some out to create more of a fall look.
One piece that has a permanent spot on display is her mother’s 1947 prom dress, still in mint condition. Made of off-white colored chiffon material, a black lace overlay covering the top portion and a taffeta under dress, it looks like a dress you would see on the pages of Vogue.
“My mom has always been stylish,” says Joan. “She just kept a lot of the iconic, really cool things.”
Carmella Calcagno, now in her 80’s, still resides in Tucson and must be proud to see her daughter giving life to her old wardrobe. Coming from such a line of fashion-forward women, Joan couldn’t resist.
In addition to her mother’s prom dress, the displaying of her late aunt’s wedding dress is a way Joan memorializes her other fashion influence growing up. Across the closet hangs a pair of her father’s bowties, her mother’s white gloves, and a purse that was given to her aunt by a conscientious friend, who received the gift from “a married man.” Joan laughs as she remembers her aunt relaying the story to her many years ago.
Framed photos of Joan’s mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and a high school photo of herself, are scattered among and in between her jewelry collection displayed on a long white dresser. The photographs almost serve as evidence to the vintage collection’s former life, proving Carmella’s effortless style, where she is shown wearing an over-sized black hat and long-sleeved dress.
Although Joan doesn’t wear her vintage finds like she used to, she can’t let go of that on-rush, nostalgic feeling she gets every time she sets foot in a thrift store. “If you live long enough, your own stuff becomes vintage,” she jokes.
Nostalgia in a box
When Tucson furniture maker and designer Scott Baker lost his mother two years ago, he discovered, in going through her belongings, that she had kept some of his ‘firsts’ from childhood.
“They were key things: my first Oxford shirt, my first pair of shoes, my first pair of swim shorts,” says Scott.
The swim shorts – red and white double-knit houndstooth – were made by his mother, and so held even more nostalgia for him. So when he and his wife, interior designer Mary Ann Hesseldenz, were looking for some poolside art for the back yard of their Foothills house, they decided to use the shorts.
They date from 1971, when Scott was three years old, and are “so dinky they can fit in the palm of my hand,” says Mary Ann. They now sit in a box frame on a table on their back patio.
“Everyone loves them,” says Scott. “They’re definitely a conversation piece.”
Papering the walls with fashion
Sarra Costello, co-owner of The Compass, an American cuisine restaurant located in Carlsbad, California, refused to take sole credit for the unique and fun design of the women’s restroom.
“I got together with a bottle of wine and we came up with the idea,” she says.
Sarra, who has a deep love for vintage ads and magazines, wanted a way to see them all at once, rather than having to flip through her magazine collection to get her fix.
With The Compass’ women’s restroom walls as her template, Sarra created the one-of-a-kind wallpaper using pages from more than a hundred vintage magazines from the early 1800s to 1950s.
The project required five days of backbreaking work, particle board, glue, a foam brush, scissors and, once again, wine.
The reactions of women who use the ladies’ room have been overwhelming, says Sarra. Many who enter often ask where to find the unique wall art.
But sorry boys, you aren’t so lucky. “Men pee all over everything, so I wanted it to be cleaned easily,” laughs Sarra. This means sleek slate grey tile from floor to ceiling in the gents’ bathroom – in other words, easy to wipe.