Ode to Joy: Mary Randolph Carter’s New Book On Junk
The author and her latest book. © The Joy of Junk by Mary Randoph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2018. Photography © Carter Berg.
The author on the hunt at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.
How Mary Randolph Carter lives: “In our living room, the trap stake partition divides the sitting and work areas. The serape-covered sofa is camouflaged with a collection of pillows and our grand-dog Cora. A pair of 3-D carnival plaques flank an embroidered interpretation of Washington Crossing the Delaware inspired by Emanuel Leutze's famous painting.”
From the collection of actress Jane Ives, a personal installation of found things, mostly doll-related, arranged with great care by Jane to symbolically share her life’s journey.
Mary Randolph Carter, Ralph Lauren executive, author and high priestess of junk collecting, would seem to be the polar opposite of Marie Kondo. “Tidying up,” seeking and tossing out “stuff” (as if stuff was a bad thing) is an exercise Carter admits she made fun of at first. But there is something about Kondo’s philosophy Carter can get behind: Each item must spark joy.
In fact, that’s what Carter’s been saying throughout her four books on the subject of junk: American Junk, Garden Junk, Kitchen Junk and Big City Junk. In her recently released The Joy of Junk, Carter returns to her early junking roots (which sparked joy way before Kondo came on the scene) and explores her own acquisitions as well as those of other collectors. Some of her favorite joy-sparking finds will come along when Carter appears at The White Hart Speaker Series on Thursday, Nov. 15, where she and Hammertown’s Joan Osofsky will share a conversation about their passion for collecting.
Carter and her husband, Howard Berg, have weekended at their home in Millerton, New York for decades, and it was in Millerton that she became a devotee of junk shops.
“I’d always been hunting and foraging,” she says, “but I was a bit of a snob about thrift shops. For years I’d been going to antique shows, but it seemed like the things I was looking for, if I could find them, were unaffordable. Some of the joy of the hunt was disappearing. One day I was driving along Route 22 past a rummage shop that was open just one morning a week. I pulled in and came out with five bags of stuff for about $11.47. That was my junk conversion.”
Flea markets, junk shops, thrift stores and tag sales became her happy place, which she shared with the world. After a quartet of junk books that were about creating a personal style for the way you live, she's back to the basics in The Joy of Junk. Preparation is key, and she sets out what you need for a successful day at the flea market. A junker’s vest. A hat to keep the sun off your face. A small umbrella. A big watch. A fold-up rain poncho and muck boots, and a cooler in the car filled with bottled water and snacks. Wash ‘N Dry towelettes and, yes, aspirin. Junking is fun, but it can be intense.
Next, the reader is rewarded with fulsome photos of Carter’s Millerton home, the collections therein and the stories behind them. Carter then introduces us to her “disciples of junk.”
“I wanted to witness the whole junk concept with diverse collectors,” she says. Included among many are Mike Wolfe of “American Pickers,” design icon couple Bunny Williams and John Rosselli (Sharon, Conn. residents) and even a nine-year-old girl whose collecting obsession began with the metal tags the Met used to hand out upon admission.
At the heart of it all is a search for the stories and memories attached. When Carter asks each of the collectors “why do you do it?” the answer always comes back to: because it makes me smile. It’s fun. It’s joyful.
In the new book, Carter also shares her favorite junking haunts, and while many shops in the Rural Intelligence region have closed over the years, there are still enough to keep a junker occupied. She recommends Elephant’s Trunk in New Milford, Conn.; Hunter Bee and Millerton Antiques Center (go upstairs and take a right — it feels like a Paris flea market, she advises); and the Antique Warehouse in Hudson.
“I love the people who are entwined with the world of old,” she says. “They become your friends.” Although she’s not averse to the Etsys and eBays of the world, shopping online is just not the same as going into a field.
Like the rest of us, she’s sometimes “just hunting,” and sometimes looking for a specific something. A few weeks ago she was on the prowl for small woodland figurines, requested by her son’s bride for their October wedding tablescape. Carter found some and spray painted them gold, as per the bride’s preference. Right now she’s in a tug of war with her husband over their creaky porch chairs.
“They’re kind of wobbly,” Carter admits. “My husband asked why we can’t just go to Target and buy some porch furniture that no one will kill themselves on. We haven’t found anything yet.”
Nothing, anyway, that would properly spark joy in her Home Junk Home.
The White Hart Speaker Series: Mary Randolph Carter with Joan Osofsky of Hammertown
Presented in collaboration with The White Hart Inn and Scoville Memorial Library
Thursday, Nov. 15, 6-7:30 p.m.
Free, but RSVP requested. Registration here.
The White Hart, 15 Under Mountain Road, Salisbury, CT
© The Joy of Junk by Mary Randoph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2018
Photography © Carter Berg
Support Rural Intelligence
We have always kept Rural Intelligence free for all our readers but the reality is that we do need the support of readers like you. Did you like what you just read? Do you value the unique content Rural Intelligence provides? Please consider making a donation to support us. Even a small donation helps secure our future!Support Now