In my cottage I have about 30 hand painted wooden fish that I got about 25 years ago on a vacation to Zijuatanejo, Mexico, a fishing village outside the major tourist town, Ixtapa. We’d go to the beach every day for about two weeks and kids walking on the sand would sell us stuff. They figured out that we were going to buy these hand-painted fish so they’d come back every day. I didn’t buy them all at once. I’d wait to see what they’d bring the next day so I’d buy a couple at a time. Sometimes the paint would barely be dry when they’d sell them!
If you examine the fish, you can identify the work of different artists. You can tell from the handiwork, the imagery, and the way the color has been used. There may be two or three from the same artist. It’s folk art—and yes, they’re catering to the tourist market—but the people who made them were artists.
Each fish has its own personality. Some are quite lyrical and sophisticated and others are rough. One has a water snake painted on it, another has a dancing rabbit. There’s a turtle, a lizard, a party scene, and even one with a Mohawk. They’re fairly complex pieces of work.
In my cottage, I hung the fish so that they look like they’re flying across the bathroom, over the entryway, and into the kitchen. It’s sort of a parade of fish heading in one direction. During twilight, because of the quality of the light, they look like they’re swimming in water. It was accidental but it creates a pretty dramatic effect.
I’ve always had an interest in craft—and the idea that a person spent the time to make something that is usually a labor of love but as far as [monetary] value is concerned will never reflect the time put into it. But it’s something they wanted to do because it was their skill and they could bring their art to it. I have to think it’s just as important as art.
My favorite color is leopard or plaid so you can tell I like busy. I’m not a minimalist at all and there are layers of collections in my cottage. When I knew I was going to have a cottage, I began to collect, mostly folk art and crafts, and sometimes these collections happened by accident: colored glass bottles, twig furniture, reclaimed windows, tapestry work, pillows. I see the cottage itself as a collection— the fish are one collection, but the sum of its parts makes it whole.
As a teenager growing up in London in the 1970s, I was really into glam rock. I was a Mark Bolan, T-Rex devotee and I lived and died for David Bowie. I was really into the glittery outfits at the time and the platform shoes that usually accompanied them.
About eight years ago I was going to a wedding and couldn’t find any shoes to wear. I thought, “What shoes have I worn in my life that I loved?” I remembered platform shoes. I started finding them on eBay and I’m a little obsessive so I kept getting more and more. I probably have at least 40 pairs from eBay, all from England. I’m a size 8 but when I first started buying them, I was so excited that I’d be like, “Oh, I’ll get this pair even though they’re a size 10 and I’ll squish something into them and make them fit.” I’ve become more particular but even so, a size 8 can mean different things or the size might have worn off because the shoes are 40 years old so I never quite know what I’ll wind up with. Only one in every five or six pairs fits well. And then it’s only one in every 10 or 12 pairs that I actually wear all the time because a lot of them aren’t exactly comfortable. Mostly, the shoes cost $30, $50, $80 so really I can buy three or four pairs and if only one pair works, it’s still a bargain when you think about what shoes cost today.
I wear platform shoes every day and I have daytime and nighttime favorites. They fall into wearability categories—12+ hours, 6 hours, 3 hours, or half hour—and part of that depends on the height of the heel, which can range from two to six inches. There are pairs I wear if I’m taking a taxi to and from an event and I’m only going to be there for 20-30 minutes. The six-inch heels fall into that category. Then there are ones I wear all day every day. Because I often cycle everywhere I tend to wear pairs with rubber heels because they’re sturdier than the ones with wooden heels, which can be very heavy.
Frequently the shoes fall apart when I first get them because they’re old and the glue is dried out so they require a trip to the cobbler. My favorite is a beat up pair of square-toed brogues made from leather cardboard, which I’ve already had mended a dozen times. They’re due to get mended again and I don’t know what will happen when I go to the cobbler and he tells me that he can’t fix them anymore. They’re all pretty fragile. One time I was about to go through security at the airport when the heel fell off my shoe. As a photographer, I always have duct tape on me so I taped my shoe back together and was like, “Hm, that’s quite a good look.” I started repairing them with duct tape because it was simply practical, but then it became beautiful, too.
When my platform shoes arrive in the mail, I can tell if they’ve been in someone’s attic since the 1970s. They’ll be wrapped up in newspaper from, like, 1977, or they might be in the original box or include the original receipt! Fabulous things like that, little snatches of history that arrive with the shoe. Once a man from whom I’d bought a pair of platforms said that the last—and only!—time he’d ever worn the shoes was on his wedding day.
I’ve been in bidding wars for platform shoes on eBay but when that happens, I almost have a heart attack. I purposefully haven’t gotten into one in a while because I get overly excited and I just don’t think it’s good for my health.
All toothpaste comes in the same kind of tube, no matter where it’s from, which is why I started collecting them. I liked seeing how the countries I travelled to thought they should name their toothpaste, what the branding and design should be, and then of course, the flavor of the toothpaste too. For example, French toothpaste tastes really good. German toothpaste tastes functional. Japanese toothpaste tastes really light and flowery. One of my favorites is from Argentina and the tube says it’s ten times as strong as any other toothpaste so you only need to use a little bit. I’ve tried them all except for the ones that seem sketchy, like this one tube I got from Russia.
Most people have a brand of toothpaste that they consistently use. I don’t have a standard toothpaste and I like that this collection forces me to try something new. Whenever I travel, I purposefully don’t pack toothpaste so I need to buy it from the place I’m visiting. When I get home, I use the leftover from the trip. And when the tube is almost finished, I say, “Gee, I better go somewhere!” Then I hang the tube on the wall in my bathroom with a binder clip and a nail. Once it goes up on the wall, I usually don’t use it anymore. There are over 300 tubes hanging in my bathroom since I began collecting in the mid-1980s. Luckily the collection doesn’t take up too much space.
The tube of toothpaste that started my collection was this Finnish one, Fluorihammastahna. I thought it was funny because the name was as long as the tube. I have tiny tubes of toothpaste from airplanes and from hotels in Japan. I have a fake tube of American Girl toothpaste. I have candy from Papabubble that was made to look like toothpaste. There’s one that has a cap in the middle and different tubes on each end—for brushing your teeth in the morning and at night with two types of toothpaste. I have toothpaste from Paul Smith in a metal tube that has one of the nicest designs. The tube that traveled the furthest distance is from Kyrgyzstan—a friend brought it back when we were working on a project designing the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgystan. In my collection the good ones are almost empty but a number of them are full. In some of the oldest ones the paste has turned hard. Other times the caps have blown off.
The most common brand on my wall is Colgate—in plastic and metal tubes—but the Colgate tubes all look different. I traveled to Mexico and went into a pharmacy to get some Mexican toothpaste. I asked, “Do you have any Mexican toothpaste?” They said, “Yeah, right over there!” I went to where they pointed but I couldn’t see any Mexican toothpaste so I asked again, “Where is it?” and he said, “Right there! Colgate!”
I collect these tubes of toothpaste because it’s easy to do, it’s fun, and I’m a product designer so the design part is interesting—more so than, say, collecting thimbles. I don’t have a burning desire to travel somewhere just to get that specific tube. And it’s not like I tried to get a collection. It just started to happen and it got out of control. Plus, I have a big enough wall. I just add some more nails and I keep collecting. It’s not a big deal—it’s only toothpaste!
I started collecting Murano glass about 15 years ago. We’d recently bought a beach house in Malibu and I was looking for turquoise pieces for my home. A friend had given me a beautiful piece of turquoise Murano glass. That’s when I fell in love with it.
One of my best friends, Bill, is an antique dealer in Los Angeles with a store called Villa Melrose near The Grove. Years ago, he had acquired a massive collection of Murano glass from an estate sale. Going to his shop felt like walking into a candy store. It was from the pieces at his store that I began amassing my collection of glass from the 1940s, 50s and 60s—dishes, vases, ashtrays, scones, and fruit. I don’t even know how many pieces I have at this point, but I know it’s in the hundreds.
I first saw this kind of glass in the 1960s. My aunt had a whole collection of Murano glass clowns, probably about 20 of them on a shelf. As I kid, I remember being so creeped out whenever I’d see them. It’s personal taste, I guess, but that’s not my style. And for as long as could remember, my mom had this bowl of Murano fruit on a table in our living room in the house where I grew up. I never really thought much about the fruit until I started collecting. I went to visit her in Texas and admired them. She gave them to me and I began looking for Murano fruit more seriously after that—both the solid, paperweight style and the more delicate, hollow version.
Each one of my houses is filled with Murano and it makes me happy every day to walk through whichever house I’m in and see the pieces. My favorite piece in Palm Springs is part of this pale pink collection from the 1950s. It’s bigger than a vase—it’s like a planter—and it’s just beautiful. My favorite in Los Angeles is a huge lavender lamp. Usually they are more valuable in pairs but sometimes you’ll get an oversized one like this with incredible detail.
Another piece I love is a Murano chandelier that originally came from the Bullocks Wilshire department store off of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Bill bought all seven of the chandeliers when they were dismantling the store. I have one on my kitchen in Palm Springs and we just bought the last one, which we’ll use in the new addition we’re building in Los Angeles. The chandelier is white with gold running through it and we call it the octopus because it has these eight curved arms coming out from the center. It must be at least six feet wide. It’s massive.
They still make Murano glass but it’s not like it was in the 1940s, 50s, or 60s. That’s why it’s important when you collect Murano to not take the stickers off the bottom of the piece. Because the pieces aren’t signed, the teeny gold sticker proves its authenticity and age. Today, Murano is more mass-produced and it’s getting harder to find pieces like the ones I’ve been collecting. I try to add to my collection whenever I travel—a little memory of the place—and I’m always looking for the crazy array of colors. That’s what’s most important to me. Black, bronze, white, maroon, red, green, blue, pink—in all different shades. I’m especially drawn to the ones with gold or silver running through them or the ones that are ombre. It’s eye candy for sure.
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