Design Superstar Kristan Cunningham’s Expert Advice On Vintage Decor!

Mar 22, 2013 | Home Style


Kristan Cunningham, the interior design superstar who I have followed religiously since she first appeared on on HGTV’s Design on a Dime, is talking with us today about finding, buying and living with vintage decor!

Kristan and her husband Scott just opened up glamorous and accessible vintage furniture shop and design firm in Downtown LA- Hammer & Spear– and I’m so in love with the whole place!  Everything is both exceptionally selected and incredibly priced…. & when does that happen?!   Just entering Hammer & Spear is a design education in a user-friendly way… but after talking with Kristan, vintage furniture has an even more exalted place in my heart.

You are about to learn so much from Kristan (as I did!) about shopping for vintage furniture, interior design with vintage pieces, and both styling and feeling connected to your home!!!

Hammer _And_spear

I am such a super-fan on yours Kristan! I love your new store,  Hammer & Spear! And because I’d like the whole world more engaged in living with vintage furniture, I wonder if you can share a secret of getting someone who is more modern and traditional to see the merit in excellent vintage?

Kristan: It’s a great question because I’ve encountered clients who are resistant to the thought of vintage because it’s “old” or “used” in their mind.  They watch Mad Men and they love the styling and the pieces they see, but they can’t wrap their head around buying “old things.”  It doesn’t make sense at first.

Vintage furniture is eco-friendly, for starters.  And I always explain that furniture was crafted exceptionally well in the 60’s and 70’s and even the 80’s and once it’s covered in new fabric an older sofa is a better piece for a better price than what you can find new.  It’s also absolutely unique.  And, at the shop, we have Adrian Pearsal,  Macassar, these excellent pieces with new upholstery and we are not charging a fortune. These originals are so much better than the pieces that modern furniture stores carry that are just like them- like the Baughman room divider we have right now.  There’s something to be said about the classics.

I usually encourage my design clients who are resistant to try living with a piece for a short while to see how it feels. In the end, they wind up reaching for more and more eclectic pieces.

kristan and scott

(Scott & Kristan at their new furniture store & design firm  Hammer & Spear)

Speaking of eclectic, how do you create such a calm and grounded space as you have at Hammer & Spear, even though it’s a store? Most vintage furniture stores don’t have this very clean and elegant appeal.

Kristan: We are very very specific in what we select for the store.    We only buy what we love, but we shop with restraint.  Scott is a wonderful editor and buyer; he can find really choose what we love and what our clients will love as well.

The idea is to stay within a strict color palette of neutrals.  If you don’t consider yourself to have a big design sensibility and you are shopping for your home, stay within a color palette of neutrals and rely on layers of texture to create interest.  You will have a more unified home that works.

Is this how you’ve designed your own home, with a retrained palette and layering of textures and scale? This, by the way, is a worth-its-weight-in-gold design tip! 

Kristan: Scott and I actually started collecting together and creating a home in a tiny apartment together 16 years ago.  We have an eye that we have developed together.  We actually always thought that having a store would be our retirement plan for later in life, but the right time was now.  One day, we had a stylist friend over and she was begging us to sell her a rug from our house.  She couldn’t understand why we weren’t selling things out of our home.  We realized after being asked about selling things from our home that this was the time and space for the shop and the design firm, and Hammer and Spear was born.  We are honored to be a part of the vibrant Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles.

So, we really only buy things for the store that we would have in our home.  Its how Hammer and Spear began.


(via Kristan Cunningham…check out her personal site  HERE!)

Are there things you won’t part with?

Kristan: My beakers.  I won’t sell them.  I style them in so many different ways.  I’ve filled them with colored water for parties; they held single hydrangeas for years.  I just won’t ever sell them.

This may sound like a funny question, but do you think furniture has “vibes”?

Kristan: I have an emotional response to everything piece that is in my shop and in my home, so yes, absolutely.

So, for the beginner looking to play around and collect vintage, how do you find a diamond in the rough? How do you find them?

Kristan: Scott and I are up at 3am at sales and markets.  That’s how we find these pieces. We just love it.

clam bowl

(Kristan Cunningham)

Now, if you are not an expert flea marketer, here’s a valuable rule of thumb exercise as you are walking through the markets.  When you are standing at a table full of dusty crap but one pretty bowl is in the middle, laser-focus in on that one bowl or whatever object it is that attracted you to the table full of dusty crap in the first place.  Pick up the bowl.  Hold it somewhere else, away from the table.  You need to see it in a new context. Context is everything!  When you change the context that you are seeing the piece in, away from the table full of junk, you will really come to understand it in a new way and see if its valuable to you in your home.

kc_4437low res

(Kristan and  Scott both live & work in the blooming Arts District in Downtown LA. )

In Feng Shui the connection between you and your environment is called “Tao.”  It’s so awesome that you feel so passionately about the connection between home and life- it’s a powerful connection.

Kristan: Yes, I do!  No matter where you live, if you play around with the puzzle pieces of your furniture enough, eventually you will get it right and find something special in every corner.  You might rearrange your bedroom three times until you finally get it right and then there’s a slice of light that hits your pillow in the morning. And, suddenly your life feels better because of that slice of light.  Who we are and how we live and what makes us happy are all related.

Your house is the loudest exclamation about who you are.  When people invest in interior design they usually want to make a statement with their homes.  But, it still has to be authentic to who you are.  Authenticity is the most powerful design statement.  Even though I’m a designer, I feel that my client’s homes should look like they came together without my help; their homes  should really reflect who they are as people.

Any parting advice for budding design enthusiasts and DIY decorators out there about to shop for their furniture?

Kristan: Pay attention to what you love and bring it into your home! I am a budget designer and I believe people should live within their means and cut corners, save money and do their research.  But once and a while its worth saving your money to splurge on the things you covet.   Own the real deal.  You are paying tribute to an artist’s work, their imagination and energy.  There’s nothing like the classics. You will experience the difference.

Thank you so much Kristan!!!  This is an absolute wealth of incredible information… and I know I’ll see you back at your store soon!

Hammer And Spear is located at 255 S Santa Fe Ave. #101, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Follow them on Facebook right HERE.  xoxo Dana


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