“Once upon a time there was a girl who loved too many things,” begins Mary Randolph Carter’s new coffee table book “Never Stop to Think ... Do I Have a Place for This?," a celebration of eclectic collectors and their homes. Carter is knowingly talking about herself, and her lifelong passion for thrift store paintings and religious icons, among other items. A senior vice president and creative director for Ralph Lauren, Carter is also the author of "A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life," and the Junk books, a series of how-to guides for junk lovers.
She lives with her husband in a two-bedroom pre-war apartment on the Upper East Side, where the couple has been for 40 years, and has a country house in Millerton, N.Y. In the book, she profiles collectors from across the U.S. who see beauty and sentiment in everything from flea market finds to antiques.
Here, she explains what collecting says about you, how she rarely pays more than $25 for paintings, and strategies to be a collector even in a small apartment.
What makes us want to collect?
One thing is having a home of your own, whether it’s a college dorm room or an apartment. You have an opportunity to create your environment. The collectors in the book all have this need to find things that give their homes creativity and unique style. ... Memory and nostalgia for things often drive a collection. I collect “Infants of Prague,” [see below] an icon from my Catholic childhood. My grandmother made chocolate pudding in Pyrex dishes, and I see them and can’t resist them. I think those collections that evoke childhood make us feel good and grounded, and our homes unique.
What does a collection add to a home?
I believe if you find something that speaks to you, find a place for it. If paintings and photographs fill up your walls, use the backs of doors. Use bookshelves for more than books, include your treasures on them. And don’t stash small things away, put them out and enjoy them.
When I was small I loved playing with dolls and started collecting things for my dollhouse to decorate it. My parents were an inspiration also. We grew up in a old house in Richmond, Va., and after a fire we lost everything. They started recreating our home with pieces collected. Then I moved to New York after college, and while I brought pieces from home, I discovered the plethora of thrift shops here.
Recently in New Orleans I saw an Infant of Prague icon that must have come from an old church. It was 2.5 feet tall and must have weighed 50 pounds. I wrapped it in a towel and carried it [on the plane]. It’s now the hulk of my Prague collection!