Interview: Lara Spencer from 'Good Morning America' Shares Decorating Tips in Her Book 'I Brake for Yard Sales'

5.2.2012

By Max Berlinger

The lifestyle expert talks to us about finding diamonds in the rough, how to navigate an auction or estate sale, giving antiques a makeover, and how cultivate endless style with limited resources.

What about people who don’t have knowledge about reupholstering, or painting, or other crafty things like that?

I’m no Martha Stewart, but painting a piece of furniture sounds a lot harder than it actually is. If you’re buying a vintage piece for next to nothing, then go ahead and spend money on a handyman artisan to repaint or reupholster it…because less of what youre paying for retail, youre getting a custom-made piece. That’s exactly what big time decorators do. They buy things, have their workshop fix them up, and put them in their shops for ten times of what they paid.

Upholstery can be daunting to people, that it costs several hundreds of dollars—and it sometimes can—but even if you’re paying a hundred dollars at the thrift store, then a few hundred on reupholstering, you’re still only paying half of what you’d pay at a retail store—but you’re getting something custom.

What are some of the shops in New York and Los Angeles that you frequent?

In LA, there’s no better way to spend a sunny Sunday morning then at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. It happens once a month, and I like to make a day of it. You really need to take the time to go through twice, because you will see different things on your second lap around. I love the Long Beach Flea Market, too. It’s not as big or as intimidating and the prices are better than at the Rose Bowl. I also love the Council Thrift Shops, run by the National Council of Jewish Women. There are about five or six in the LA area and some very generous people donate there. I’ve found unbelievable antiques, accessories, coffee-table books, and upholstery pieces. The best part of the charity thrift stops is that you can feel good going to it, because everything you spend goes to a good cause.

In New York, the Housing Works thrift shops are a must—if you see one, you must go. Generous people constantly donate incredible items, so it’s new, vintage, and chic. It’s an ever-evolving treasure hunt, every dime spent goes to a terrific cause. I justify it to my husband by saying that I’m a philanthropist.  The Brooklyn Flea is terrific—totally eclectic mix of designer items and crafts.  If you want to escape the city, my absolute favorite Sunday morning on the East Coast is the Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in New Milford, Connecticut, about an hour north of NYC.

Online, I use EstateSales.net and CraigsList.org to find estate sales and yard sales on the weekend.

When you’re pulling from these different resources, what suggestions do you have for making it fit together in a cohesive way?

Being cohesive doesn’t mean that all the furniture has to be the same style or from the same era, it should compliment the other pieces in the room. Like, in my house, I mix 19th-century English antiques with mid-century wire chairs, but there’s a thread running through the room in terms of color. The trick to assembling a home with an eclectic mix of pieces is by using fabric that works together and choosing one or two colors that run through the entire house.  Rooms won’t feel choppy and like they don’t relate with each other. Every room should flow into the next. It’s easier to do than it sounds—you can do it with chartreuse pillows in one room, and then the next room, the statement wall has a painting with chartreuse in it.

I love a house that has different feels and different looks. Great designers will tell you that symmetry and scale are everything, and it’s true. As you’re looking at a room, it should feel restful to your eyes. You can do that by using pairs of things, or make sure that your coffee table isn’t tiny next to a big, cozy sofa. Make sure all the sizes feel right together. Listen, hats off to people go to school for this, and the great decorators of the world—I’m not saying that I could do what they do—But I was taught, I approach interior decorating by trusting my gut, my intuition, and my personal style. Don’t worry about what’s in or what’s out, worry about what’s right for you.

This is a way to create heirlooms for your family. Every single piece your house can have a story. Where you bought it, what you paid for it, and how you transformed it.

Is there anything that you would tell someone to never go for it, if they saw it?

I have a pretty open mind, but use discretion when buying upholstered pieces. It’s OK for them to have some age, or to be vintage, but I don’t recommend picking up a sofa on a curb. I would say if a piece feels rickety—especially a chair—or a big buffet, if one of the legs feels broken, then you could it could cost serious money to fix it—and that’s not even guaranteeing that it can be fixed. When I’m looking for seating, I actually sit in it, to make sure it’s comfortable—it’s not a bargain if no one wants to sit in it.

I love all these places for lighting. I think lamps are a really easy way to get a good bang for your buck in terms of creating a unique space. Lamp lighting is so much better than overheard lighting. Keep your overhead lights turned off, and buy pairs of table lamps. I always buy the pair, if it’s available—never break up a pair. Somewhere down the road, you’ll have a chance to use the other, and you’ll regret it if you don’t have it. Just be sure to check the wiring. It’s inexpensive to rewire it, maybe 10 to 20 dollars maximum, old lamps are great—unless they burn your house down.

I Brake for Yard Sales is currently available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and IndieBound.org

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