According to my husband, Gary Karpinski, if you ever hear a big boom in South St. Louis, Missouri, it will mean that I have tried, and failed, to wedge another flea market treasure into our home. Our house is chock-full of knickknacks, thingamajigs, bric-a-brac and tchotchkes. My car stops at all flea markets and antique malls, where I hope to score more treasures. And what is my dream vacation? To go to either the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts or the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California. Or both.
When you enter our house, your eyes will dart everywhere as you try to soak in all the eye candy, the pops of color, the textures and patterns in the pillows, quilts, rugs and whimsical artwork made by either our favorite artists, our friends, or me. After the initial surprise of so many gems in each room, you will begin to see individual items that delight you, and a smile will appear on your face.
Our house is a small bungalow in a lovely neighborhood called St. Louis Hills. We moved to this house in 1996, when our daughter, Anna, was just 4. She is now 30. That means that I have had 26 years to fill this house to the brim with treasures. I live with my husband and our two boy kitties, Dexter and Findlay.
When it came to decorating, I knew that my taste was not in sync with my budget (illustrators are not known to make big money) and that I would need to find a creative way to furnish and enhance our house. It was not hard for me to figure out how to do that. I could rely on my favorite passions: junking and collecting.
My dad got me started junking when I was a teenager. I accompanied him to auctions, where he would buy boxes of stuff, not knowing what was in them. Sorting through the boxes he purchased made me so excited. Who knew what treasures would be in them?
So as an adult, I started going to estate sales, flea markets and antique shops to find the unique, the quirky and the beautiful for my house, at prices I could afford.
I am very sentimental, and my house is filled with items scavenged from the homes of my friends and family members. I knew I could do something with what they considered castoffs. So, I blended those items with my own family treasures and mementos. I remembered when I was a child, my grandmother always set the table with bright colorful dishes that matched in color value but not as place settings. I would have a blue bowl with a yellow plate (and an orange glass) on which to eat my Thanksgiving dinner. I loved those dishes. It turned out that those dishes were Fiestaware, which I asked for and was given for my first apartment. I have added to the original collection over the years. We still eat our meals off them today.
Our house is filled with artwork … mine, Anna’s, my students’, my friends’ and pieces we see on Etsy or purchase at art fairs. Luckily, Gary and I share the same quirky taste in decorative objects and framed pieces. On our mantel, for example, sit portraits of our cats that I collaged onto vintage book backs and clamped to old clipboards, which sit behind baby blocks with each cat’s initials.
Images of houses, birds, donuts, anthropomorphic animals and family photos hang in groupings over our sofa and adorn the walls on either side of the stairs. My idea of a beautiful room — or house — is one filled to the brim and overflowing with treasures.
I have a large cupboard in my studio stacked to the brim with fabric. And, of course, there is Marimekko fabric on these shelves, some of which I have had since my honeymoon in Chicago 46 years ago. I have a hard time using it since it is so beautiful. I just like to gaze at it and dream of what I might make.
I have been an illustration teacher at Washington University in St. Louis for over 25 years. I tell my students that I believe that all artists express their creativity not just through their artwork but also in everything they do in life … the way they dress, the way they decorate their homes, their hobbies and interests, and even their world views. I stress that they are reflections of their creative minds and they should celebrate that. They should be who they are, regardless of whether society (or their family) understands their desire to own sheets from Pillowfort at Target, collect tiny Maileg mice or hula dancer lamps, or dress in vintage clothes (who looks better than Mrs. Maisel?).
You will find that you will have a big smile on your face just like I do, living in my creative world.