Name: Jennifer White
Location: McGregor, Iowa
Size: 800 square feet
Years lived in: 13, rented
Jennifer White's friends refer to her colorful, antique-filled loft as "the flamenco palace." We’re pretty sure the "flamenco" has to do with the prodigious amounts of ball fringe, and the "palace" with the richness of retro-ocity in every corner. The space is filled with vintage treasures and clearly expresses Jennifer's style and passion for collecting. It's a home that can’t help but lift your spirits the moment you enter.
Jennifer lives on the third floor of an 1800s brick storefront on the main street of McGregor, Iowa, a quaint small town along the Mississippi River. The first two floors of the building are home to Paper Moon Book Store and More, the funky shop Jennifer runs with her parents, Louise and Ken. As soon as you open the turquoise and green door to her loft, you’re hit with a delicious dose of Jennifer's glamorous style. The hallway to the upstairs is lined with vintage dresses and hats, hung as artwork on antique hooks. The kitchen is painted in cheery Okey Dokey Orange and includes a sitting area that makes a great spot for socializing when Jennifer entertains.
Everywhere you look throughout the open floor plan, Jennifer’s professional eye and love of 1940s and 1950s antiques is apparent. "Keep things alive longer" is a rule she lives by; Jennifer's parents, former antique dealers and volunteers at state historical sites, instilled a respect for preservation early on. And before joining her family in running Paper Moon, Jennifer worked as a paper conservator with the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The vast majority of her possessions—from furniture, to accessories, to bark-cloth draperies and ball fringe—are recycled, restored, or repurposed.
But that doesn’t mean Jennifer is stuck in the past. The loft's drafty windows were quickly replaced after she moved in. And last year, she and her parents invested in solar heat panels and air collectors for the building, which keep the shop running much more efficiently. Turning the building into a live/work space is also green. "When you have an old building," says Jennifer, "if you don’t utilize and upgrade every square inch of space, you actually lose money." For her, moving into the light-filled loft in this historic building was a win-win situation.
My style: My style is heavily influenced by 1940s and 1950s decor. Almost everything has been gleaned from antique shops, thrift stores, eBay, a few garbage dumps, and friendly cast-offs.
Inspiration: My parents were antique dealers when my brother and I were growing up, and we were always surrounded by beautiful things from many eras. And items would come and go. It seems entirely unnatural to me to buy anything I see in a catalog or chain store. The hunt is way too much fun, and the people I encounter are always entertaining.
Favorite Element: Hands down, my favorite element of my home is the space itself. I live on the top floor of a commercial three-story brick building that dates to the Civil War. The previous owners used this level as spare bedrooms and storage, so it had no insulation, no heating, no plumbing, and minimal electricity when my family purchased the building. There isn't a square corner to be found, and you really must embrace imperfection to love this place.
Biggest Challenge: The floors have been a big source of frustration. They are made of really soft wood, which I laboriously painted in floor enamel year after year. But with shrinking, expanding, chipping and wear, I finally opted for installing a floating floor. It was a big compromise to lose the original floor, but that surface was no longer functioning well.
What Friends Say: Some of my female friends are envious of the pronounced amount of pink and bright floral prints and patterns, which their husbands or boyfriends do not allow in their communal spaces. My home is very girly, and I hope it makes people smile.
Proudest DIY: Laying the floating floor in the kitchen with my dad. I wouldn't say it was impossible, but it wasn’t easy! Eventually we hired a professional team to finish the bedroom and living room (approximately 500 square feet), and the pros finished all of that a day!
Biggest Indulgence: Getting my early 1960s Flexsteel S-curve couch reupholstered. I've had this couch since I was a teenager, and I can't imagine my living quarters without it.
Best Advice: If you love retro, don't obsess about being literal. It can come off stale and over-produced. People who lived in the 1940s didn't have every stinking thing in their home from one year or era either. I have things from the 1890s through the 1970s in my apartment, and even (gasp!) some pieces from the 21st century. But my place still screams mid-century. My other advice is to repurpose, repurpose, repurpose. I've turned bedspreads into curtains, curtains into pillow covers, and pillow covers into pictures.
Dream Source: I would love to have professionally installed linoleum on every inch of floor space in my apartment. I'd even settle for new linoleum. But linoleum! Now that's dreamy (and green).
Appliances: Locally bought and minimal in terms of bells and whistles.
Hardware: Original, salvaged, or handmade
Furniture: All vintage except for one new chair and ottoman set made by Chicago Textile Corporation, which makes everything in Chicago.
Accessories: What accessories? These are collections! I collect pieces from Ceramics Arts Studio of Madison (see Wisconsin Pottery Association), 1940s airbrush paintings, hatboxes, bark cloth . . .
Lighting: Also salvaged or handmade
Rugs and Carpets: I have three cats, so I don't get to have a lot of rugs. The cats have allowed me a few Olson Rugs, which are great. Olson was green long ago; you could send in your surplus wool and get a discount on your rugs, and they would recycle the wool to make their products. Their rugs wear like iron. A great friend also made me some oilcloth rugs, which serve me better than anything I could have bought.
Tiles and Stone: The vintage Mexican tile on my kitchen counter was surplus from a friend's bathroom project, and she offered it to me at no cost. I didn't care what color it was; it was vintage Mexican tile, and I couldn't say no! The marble and slate on the windowsills were from a woodworker friend's business and a real bargain.
Window Treatments: Handmade bark cloth with vintage ball fringe.
Beds: An antique brass and iron frame that I've had since I was 12 years old.
Throughout: 1940s airbrush paintings. I wish I had more wall space.
In kitchen: Potosi Brewery poster
Paint: The local True Value.
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(Images: Therese Maring)