“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I’ve heard this quote attributed to a number of different sources, but few embody that spirit as much as a certain somebody I know: crafter extraordinaire and master collector Laurie Romanaggi.
Laurie exudes joy in everything she does and her passion for vintage has turned into an impressive one-woman crafting empire.
So whether it’s reveling in finding an over-sized Rudolph for her living room.
hosting an epic garage sale each year to the delight of her throngs of admirers
or hosting one of her highly anticipated holiday craft booths featuring her own vintage-inspired merriment,
Laurie always looks like she’s having a blast doing what she’s doing.
Talking to friends and customers everywhere she goes.
A quick heads up.
This weekend Laurie will be my favorite crafter/artist at Crafty Wonderland at the Oregon Convention Center which starts tonight and runs through late Sunday afternoon.
If you are one of her 25K plus Instagram followers, countless blog readers or thousands of customers who crowd her craft shows each year, I don’t really have to explain what it is that she does — and why she is so many shades of spectacular.
But if you aren’t one of the aforementioned groups, allow me to tell you a little bit about her and show you her incredible Portland home.
(And just a few of the items you can look forward to seeing at her show.)
A step back.
I first met Laurie at the Laurelhurst School Winter Bazaar about 6 years ago.
I was immediately drawn to her booth, the biggest and most wow-inducing attraction there.
Laurie is a visual artist who takes vintage items (mostly found at local estate sales) and either uses them to create something new or embellishes them to the point that each item looks both vintage and yet completely refreshed and modernized.
Her style is so unusual, equal parts sweet, whimsical and clever, and there are many in the craft-o-sphere who’ve since tried to replicate her inimitable style.
I’ve been going to her booth here every year since that first one, picking up a couple new pieces each year.
One of my favorite things to do at this time of the year is unwrap all my holiday decorations and find a place for them in my home.
These days many of my favorites have come from Laurie.
Look what she did with what was originally a ceramic planter/vase.
In addition to her various shows and garage sale, Laurie has an Etsy empire (with both vintage and crafted items) and the blog Magpie Ethel, a name that is a nod to both her proclivity to pick up the odd shiny piece while out estate sale-ing and an homage to her crafty grandmother.
I got to spend some more time with Laurie lately.
She invited me over her house to chat, and we sat at her kitchen table to enjoy twin bowls of Carrot Lemongrass Soup I’d brought with me.
She told me that growing up, her dad’s work required them to move around a lot, and the constantly changing nests meant they needed to keep possessions light (her one collection was of postmarks). Her family would come back often to Milwaukee (the sleepy suburb just outside Portland where her grandparents lived) and it was during these trips they she fell in love with the area.
Laurie then went to University of Oregon, and after marrying her college beau, Tom, they settled into the picturesque neighborhood of Eastmoreland.
This neighborhood is so pretty, and reminds me so much of the Chicago suburbs from whence my family came.
Settling into a 1930’s Tudor in the neighborhood and then raising two kids, this stay-at-home mom filled her days with countless hours in the classroom doing art projects as well as scouring estate sales around town. In no time this one-time graphic artist started crafting with all these wonderful little pieces of mid-century items she found in her junking travels.
Buttons. Pipe cleaners. Vintage ribbon and stickers. Wooden spun heads. Old fabric. Paper food containers with stunning graphics. Vintage letter tiles from old board games.
No vintage items were too small or too trivial to escape her attention.
The little cottage studio in the back of the house, once used for seasonal entertaining, soon became her sacred little space to put all her vintage finds and was transformed into a workshop for her crafting.
She started selling her creations at school craft shows and they were an instant hit.
Word spread of her growing business — as did her passion for estate sales and the unique items she’d come across, like this homemade owl costume from the 50’s.
Her vintage collections kept growing
and with time, her home became filled with unique collections of all kinds of mid-century memorabilia, collected piece by piece at local sales (often at bargain-basement prices).
She spotlights a different collection each Tuesday on her blog; she has showed already almost 300 different ones to date, including everything from vintage swimcaps to vintage Valentine hankies and concrete deer.
Look at this impressive array of vintage birthday cards on a bulletin board in her daughter’s room.
Because Laurie has a highly developed graphic sense and an unerring eye for beauty (and doesn’t discriminate against the less-than-pristine), her home is filled with so many treasures.
Her fan base grew exponentially with both her Magpie Ethel blog and her Instagram account and she still keeps her followers enthralled with photos of her collections, her creations and new estate sale finds.
Part of what makes Laurie so mammothly talented is the visionary ways she thinks to repurpose items and breathe new life into old things.
Where some would see only muffin liners, Laurie sees a skirt for a wee little lady.
Most people would fail to see another use for a bag of old Pipe cleaners, but in Laurie’s world they become a must-wear scarf.
This chair, unloved at a local sale
got some new love in the form of a change of vintage fabric and a scrubbing and now has an important job in the bathroom — holding necessary supplies.
Here’s another interesting thing she did; she converted old soap dispensers into light fixtures.
And old moth vaporizer cans, grouped pleasingly together, make delicious eye candy perched up high on a shelf.
There are so many delights scattered throughout her house, including those of many photos of people she’s never met, like this Cleveland High School prom queen who now colorized, smiles gracefully from the wall leading up to her bedroom.
Upstairs were more vintage curiosities, like this long cabinet of tiny treasures.
And in her bedroom, a dazzling array of more vintage goodness.
Nowhere, though, is there more to look at than in her studio.
When I first walked in I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of the vintage items in here, covering nearly every square inch of the room.
As Laurie walked me around though, everything seemed to make sense; there was an organization to it all and because so many pieces are grouped together, a pattern emerged.
Trust me, it’s unlikely you’ve ever been anywhere in your life with so many rare and one-of-a-kind pieces.
Some are so tiny
and others so big they hang from the ceiling.
As a lover of 50’s design, color combinations and graphics, I was in absolute heaven in her studio.
Year-round Laurie makes available her creations for each holiday (with hundreds of her creations being snapped up within minutes of being available on Etsy).
Sure enough, in the studio there was crafting material for almost every conceivable holiday.
And then some.
Another visit to Laurie’s home this week rewarded me with an even more impressive display.
Her gargantuan vintage holiday collection was finally retrieved from her attic and basement and I got to see her house in full-blown holiday mode.
Take a look at her kitchen.
Decorations were everywhere. Alongside the window sills.
Inside, underneath and atop built-in cupboards.
In the windows, like this darling wreath featuring ornaments from her grandparents
and more merry was found alongside and atop her oven.
In the dining room, where Pilgrims and vintage Thanksgiving candles stood just weeks before, a giant Santa gathering had converged.
And the living room was filled with hundreds of tiny treasures about to be loaded up for the Crafty Wonderland Show.
But there was still so much more to see.
Look at the Santa wall!
And as Laurie explained to me, her collection is still growing.
In Laurie’s magical home, there’s always room for one more fun irresistible piece.
Laurie’s house is so famous in her neighborhood because she decorates it inside and out for every holiday.
Having driven or walked by, people will occasionally just swing by with gifts that they think she might appreciate, like these Santas that were delivered to her by a stranger who wanted to see that her grandparents decorations ended up in a loving new home.
These days Laurie’s reach is so widespread that she gets texted or contacted often with tips as to where she might find new treasures — and she has people she pays to shop for her in other parts of the country.
I found it so touching to spend time with Laurie; not only is she as generous as the day is long, her joy for her items and her creations are such that it’s infectious.
Not only that, she makes me want to re-think how I look at older items, and like her, figure out new uses for older things. In doing so, I’d be avoiding buying something new (which is probably not as well made or attractive) and adding instant character and charm.
Having spent some time chatting with some of her avid fans at her shows, I can see that her careful custodial care of the little pieces she comes across –and her clever showcasing of them in her crafting –resonates with so many women around here. They love nostalgia and beautifully made vintage items and Laurie delivers both.
It’s like a sisterhood of traveling pants kind-of-thing, and consequently so many women feel a kinship with her and what she’s doing (spend five minutes with her and you’ll see what I’m talking about).
Like the items she makes, Laurie, collector and crafter extraordinaire, is truly one-of-a kind.
If you can, check out her booth this weekend, and do a little shopping (it’ll be even bigger than the Laurelhurst one seen here).
After all, buying local is a nice way to go, and unless you have a shopping elf of your own
those presents you need to buy aren’t coming to your doorstop.