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Collector Close-Up: Kitsch & Caboodle

Collector Close-Up: Kitsch & Caboodle

Hunter-gatherer and crafter extraordinaire Laurie Romanaggi welcomes us to her wonderful world of whimsy.

Lived-In Style

There are those who set their sites on a single item to obsessively hunt, gather and display. And then there's Laurie Romanaggi, whose love of oddball this and campy that has propelled her not only to build interesting collections in all directions, but to retool and sell them as one-of-a-kind whimsical accents, too. Operating online as Magpie Ethel—"Magpies are birds that collect shiny things, as I do, and Ethel was my Grandmother," Laurie explains—she estimates that at last count several years ago, she was rounding about 277 collections. She shares the latest on her favorite keepers.

What do you collect? What don't I collect should be the question (I don't collect Pyrex or head vases)! I collect swim caps, swans, storks, goodies for all holidays, birthday candle boxes, false teeth, hot water bottles shaped like fish, shoe stretchers, bubble pipes, children's scissors, vintage dice, swim towels, Popeye items, vintage enamel floral pins, playing cards, child-size shoes, honeycomb items...the list goes on and on. I am also a sucker for anything that has great vintage packaging.

How do you decide if something will be for sale or is a keeper? If it is unusual or fits one of my collections it will live with me, and if it’s something I fall in love with, I will find a spot for it.

Can you name three favorites? Probably my vintage beach towels, my blow-mold Santas and my floral enamel pins. If you ask me next week the list will probably have changed.

What draws you to them? I just how they look together as a group. I love to display my vintage enamel pins all in one big display cubby. The impact is what it is about. I really like my vintage beach towels too as there are such a variety of them out there. I hang them from dowels as "art" at my beach house.

How long have you been collecting? Since I was a kid. As an adult it really has become much more of who I am and how I live and decorate. I started really embracing collecting as a lifestyle probably more than 25 years ago.

Do you ever collect new things? I just added a new one today! Vintage display cards with animal faces and google eyes. I am always finding something new to collect.

Is a collection ever complete? If I run out of display room for an item I will stop looking. I display my vintage dice in an old bubble gum machine. The machine is full, so I really don't need to look anymore.

Where do you find your goodies? Most of what I collect comes from estate sales. I also love flea markets, vintage shops and anywhere else I can hunt. I also buy things on Ebay and Etsy occasionally.

Kitschy kitchen shelves.
Photo & Cover Photo: Adam Albright

Do you have a prize find? I have a store display stork that I am very fond of. I also have a vintage store mannequin in a swimming position that hangs from my ceiling at the beach house. I like things that you rarely come across.

What will you pay? It depends on the items is and how unusual it is. I am spoiled by cheaper prices at estate sales. Swim caps, for example, I usually find for a couple of bucks or less. I will pay up to $25 for an unusual one.

Anything you wish you’d known when you started collecting? I wish I would have known how much certain collections have risen in value. I would had been in on the ground floor of Jadeite collecting.

Vintage swim cap collection on display.

How do you display your stuff? Display is half the fun for me. I display my vintage fish shaped hot water bottles on an old fish stringer. My vintage swim caps are on wig stands that are rather sculptural looking. Every single room in my house has at least one collection. It is how I decorate.

Anything need special cleaning or care? Just the occasional dusting. I rotate collections in and out a lot so I clean as I rotate.

Who do you follow for inspiration? I follow lots of people on Instagram of course and like to search hashtags on Instagram too. I also love magazines and am one of those people who saves issues.

PHOTOS Courtesy of Laurie Romanaggi

RESOURCES Follow Laurie on Instagram @magpieethel, here.