Honoring the Past

TV flea-mar­ket per­son­al­ity Bob Richter shares the deeper mean­ing be­hind his work.

Flea Market Décor - - Expert Advice - BY KATHRYN DRURY WAG­NER

WITTY AND KNOWL­EDGE­ABLE, BOB RICHTER has be­come one of the most rec­og­niz­able stars of the flea-mar­ket-de­sign world. Fans know him from the PBS se­ries Mar­ket War­riors, and three sea­sons of Flea Mar­ket Minute (on Youtube and via The Huff­in­g­ton Post). You may have also seen him on the Hall­mark Chan­nel, CBS and FOX. And then there was his suc­cess­ful book, A Very Vin­tage Christ­mas. Well, you may be hear­ing it here first: Bob has an­other book in the works, Vin­tage Liv­ing To­day, slated for re­lease in spring 2019. We were thrilled to interview this cre­ative ex­pert.

Flea Mar­ket Dé­cor: You’ve said that flea-mar­ket shop­pers should buy what they love. But can you give some rec­om­men­da­tions for how to make it all fit to­gether? We need some guid­ing prin­ci­ples, Bob!

Bob Richter: I love this ques­tion! Yes, buy what you love, but have a place in mind for it. If you don’t have a place for it and aren’t will­ing to re­move some­thing to make room for it, it’s prob­a­bly best to walk away and let some­one else take it home and love it. I ac­tu­ally got to a point where I had five stor­age units. That’s when I re­al­ized I had to stop buy­ing and start sell­ing. No mat­ter how in­ex­pen­sive some­thing is, it’s not a bar­gain if you have to pay to store it. And it’s not be­ing loved and en­joyed if you have it locked away

“My job is to not only hunt, gather and dec­o­rate with vin­tage ob­jects—but also to learn from them and pass that knowl­edge on to oth­ers.”

some­where. Now I have more of a balance; I get to a point where I’m ready to let go of ob­jects I’ve owned and loved for a long time. That’s typ­i­cally how col­lec­tors be­come deal­ers.

FMD: When is too much just too much, from the view­point of an in­te­rior de­signer?

BR: More is more, right? Yes, that was the motto of my de­sign hero, Tony Du­quette. But some­times more just be­comes too much and starts get­ting in the way of your life. I live with a lot of ob­jects, but ev­ery­thing must have a place, and there must be lots of room for en­ter­tain­ing. If you feel you can’t have peo­ple over be­cause of all of your stuff, you might need to do a ma­jor edit. I ask my­self and clients all the time: “Do you love it?” If the an­swer isn’t an au­to­matic “Yes,” then you re­al­ize quickly which pieces can go.

FMD: Some of our read­ers have im­pres­sive col­lec­tions of one or two types of things. Any sug­ges­tions for deal­ing with that? Turn one room into a shrine?

BR: If it makes you happy to dec­o­rate this way and it fits in your life­style, go for it. I, on the other hand, like spread­ing my col­lec­tions around. I feel in­di­vid­ual ob­jects are hard to see when too many are grouped to­gether. Also, as a col­lec­tor, I’m more about styles

(like Art Deco), gen­res (like art pot­tery) and col­ors than I am about a col­lec­tion of, let’s say, salt and pep­per shak­ers. That said, I do have a num­ber of cute vin­tage s & p’s, and they are scat­tered all over my kitchen. And my bath­room is filled with World War II items. Places like bath­rooms and kitchens are good places for col­lec­tions. They are fre­quently vis­ited places in the home, so col­lec­tions can be en­joyed. Peo­ple typ­i­cally take a long time in my bath­room, and it’s not be­cause of na­ture calling; it’s be­cause they want to see ev­ery­thing in there!

FMD: Are you al­ways tweak­ing your own place?

BR: Oh, my gosh, I move ob­jects around my house ev­ery day. It’s just my process. I love do­ing it, and it gets my cre­ative juices flowing. When I was a kid, I would of­ten “re­fresh” our home be­fore my mom got home from work. She was not al­ways on the same page, but she gave me a lot of room to ex­press my­self. I feel like ob­jects are my paints, and the room is a can­vas. You’re only a painter if you’re paint­ing, and you’re only a dec­o­ra­tor if you’re dec­o­rat­ing. So, while I do it for clients reg­u­larly, I do it for my­self daily! Also, I learned from the best: my Nana. She owned and ran our fam­ily in­te­rior de­sign busi­ness from 1936 to 2005. She had the best taste, and she taught me ev­ery­thing I know about color. That re­ally is how I dec­o­rate. I let color be my guide, then shape, then form. She also taught me the eas­i­est way to change up a room was to switch out the fab­rics like drapes, slip­cov­ers and pil­lows.

She did this with the sea­sons. Bold col­ors in the win­ter, and whites and soft col­ors in the sum­mer. I don’t do it on the scale that she did, but I def­i­nitely fol­low this model. For clients, how­ever, I have to let their life­style be the guide. With kids and pets, busy sched­ules and fi­nan­cial lim­i­ta­tions, chang­ing by the sea­sons isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble in a big way, but there are lit­tle ways that can be sim­ple and in­ex­pen­sive. This might just be switching out throw pil­lows and flow­ers or plants.

FMD: Tell us about the im­pe­tus for your up­com­ing book, Vin­tage Liv­ing To­day.

BR: My job is to not only hunt, gather and dec­o­rate with vin­tage ob­jects—but also to learn from them and pass that knowl­edge on to oth­ers. Beau­ti­ful vin­tage ob­jects are his­tory lessons and re­minders of val­ues, ac­tiv­i­ties and in­ter­ests that de­serve to be re­vived. For

ex­am­ple, I have a large col­lec­tion of vin­tage china that I use on a daily ba­sis. (A fa­vorite set is “Riviera” by Homer Laughlin.) But I make my cof­fee in a mod­ern electric drip cof­fee maker. This is Vin­tage Liv­ing To­day—honoring the past, us­ing ob­jects from it, and adding in mod­ern el­e­ments that make life eas­ier and more com­fort­able.

FMD: Tell us a good flea-mar­ket story.

BR: My fa­vorite flea-mar­ket find is a paint­ing that hangs proudly in my hall­way. I found it at a New York City flea mar­ket early one morn­ing. I was drawn to it, and when I looked closer, I knew why. It was done by my brother! My brother was a very tal­ented artist who passed away when he was 27. I was only 15 at the time so I didn’t have a chance to own any of his work. Sure enough, all these years later, there is this piece at the flea mar­ket. Bet­ter still, my brother in­cluded him­self as one of the images in the paint­ing, so I not only have a work by him—but of him. Clearly, it was meant to be.

FMD: Why is flea mar­ket­ing so im­por­tant right now?

BR: In this world, it seems so many peo­ple are an­gry with each other be­cause they have op­po­site be­liefs or pol­i­tics.

While these things might not change, I’d ar­gue that we have a lot more in com­mon than we think. If you don’t be­lieve me, go to a flea mar­ket or an­tiques shop with some­one and see how much you have in com­mon. I hear it all the time, “My grand­mother had one of these!” or “My Dad al­ways wore one of these.” Vin­tage ob­jects are truly con­duits for com­fort, con­nec­tion and con­ti­nu­ity. They make us smile and re­mem­ber good times and peo­ple, and we share those memories with oth­ers, who then share their own memories. And fi­nally we live with them to­day in a way that’s rel­e­vant in our world, like Grandma’s mix­ing bowl, or one like it, that now holds ap­ples on the kitchen ta­ble.

FMD: Any ad­vice for styling fur­ni­ture that is cur­rently less en vogue, such as the Vic­to­rian and heav­ier wood pieces? Is there any hope for them?

BR: I am very much a purist when it comes to vin­tage. In fact, I am of­ten con­cerned about the re­pur­pos­ing craze be­cause I think it po­ten­tially ru­ins beau­ti­ful ob­jects and takes away the char­ac­ter that age gives them. How­ever, there are cer­tain pieces that don’t have aes­thetic, his­tor­i­cal or fi­nan­cial value. Those are the pieces I say go ahead and re­pur­pose. My friend Eleanor re­cently painted some very heavy old Vic­to­rian chairs turquoise, and they look great. I also like us­ing old side­boards and dressers as bases for sinks or as pot­ting ta­bles. If it’s not com­fort­able (most Vic­to­rian fur­ni­ture was de­signed not to be com­fort­able), I don’t want it in my home. The thing about the vin­tage ob­jects and fur­ni­ture I love is that they were well-de­signed and com­fort­able in 1940, so they should nat­u­rally be both of those things in 2018 as well.

FMD: And ob­jects should have mean­ing, yes? BR: I’ve been in the vin­tage/an­tiques world my whole life, and one thing I’ve learned for cer­tain is that stuff out­lives us, but we live on if peo­ple re­mem­ber us. Cer­tain TV shows would have you be­lieve that if your grand­mother’s china isn’t worth some big fi­nan­cial num­ber, it is worth­less. I couldn’t dis­agree more. Your grand­mother’s china has great value if it has good memories for you. You should use it and share it. And when you do, share sto­ries about your grand­mother. That is how we live on.

BOB LIVES IN AN 1854 HOME but ref­er­ences many eras with his fur­nish­ings and art­work.


VIN­TAGE LIFE­STYLE EX­PERT Bob Richter is a life­long col­lec­tor who grew up surrounded by his fam­ily’s de­sign busi­ness.

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