I like to say I paid cash for a Papa Bear Chair. If you buy one new it can put you back nineteen to twenty thousand. Buy one vintage, ten thousand. I was able to pay cash: $34.50.
My wife and I are mid-century furniture enthusiasts and this was a ‘coup de grace’, greatest chair known to man. It was designed in the early fifties by Hans Wegner and it’s an icon of that period in Danish design.
We found this in the most unlikely of places, St. Vincent De Paul, in the heart of blue collar Bremerton, WA. We’ve always been driven and moved by art, gardens and architecture but have mostly had very little money to fuel these obsessions. We got the idea that we could own and enjoy the material essence of beauty without having to pay too much for it – coining the phrase “shoestring abundance” to describe our life philosophy.
Our daily excursions to St. Vinny’s were brought about when my wife and I were providing care to her grandmother with dementia. It was only a few blocks from our house and was something we could easily do together. That’s when we really got into shopping for furniture and it just became our daily thing and they came to know us at St. Vinny’s. We had this mindset that we don’t have to be limited. That we can find anything even though interior design is so stratified by income level.
There have been all sorts of great marketing ideas. But for St. Vinny’s it’s about being completely honest. Everything is on a cement floor. It stands on it’s own and it is what it is. You pay the price marked, no dickering and that money you give to them immediately goes into the second half of the store which is a food bank. In this time of ‘Green’ and ‘helping others’, I think it’s the best thing we got going.
The day I found the chair I was just going through the store and then decided I’d just kinda look in the secure area in the back and see if there’s something I wanted. There’s a woman there. A great lady but really prickly and kinda gruff and she would say, you know, ‘Get out’a here’ or that day she just looked at me and said “what do you want?” And I just said, “That chair!” And she said, ‘Okay, $34.50’ And so I tried to act like it was no big deal and said ‘okay, great!’. She said, ‘Don’t say I said you could have it. We’ll move it out and you just act cool.’
So they brought it out and I brought it home and showed my wife. It was all very exciting, except for one thing! It had been re-covered at some point in something we call Eddie Bauer plaid, which is ok on a jacket, terrible on a chair, kind of a taupe and green. I mean it just was really bad to look at even though it was in good condition and would have lasted a long time. But we couldn’t have it. We live in the land of Eddie Bauer but we just can’t have it on a chair. We were lucky enough to find an upholsterer right up the road that did a fantastic job.
Our first furniture purchase at St Vinny’s was a piece by the same designer, Hans Wegner. It was a ten foot long, teak, drop leaf table. We purchased it for $24.50. I drive up in my ’84 Volvo and it just slides right in like it’s made for it. I said, ‘you know it’s amazing, those Scandinavians. They build the car to fit the furniture.’ And the guy said – ‘It is amazing. IKEA right?’ And I said, yup, it’s IKEA, and so we drove off. That started our love affair with Danish furniture and we still got it going.”
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 to serve impoverished people living in the slums of Paris, France (source:Wikipedia). Eric and his wife are now working on a book called “Shoestring Abundance”, trying to encourage everyone to realize that you can find quality at thrift store prices. It’s all about knowing what to look for.