Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Confessions of a Shopaholic

I feel like I'm home whenever I'm shopping. I blame my family for that, but I still love them. I love that whenever we call each other the first words out of our mouths are not "Hello!" but, "Guess what I did?" With the excitement in our voice any normal person would have guessed we had cured cancer or won the lottery - but not my family. The sentence that follows is always, "I just bought..." Maybe the reason why I feel like I'm at home when I'm shopping is I feel like I'm with my people. This different breed of people are set apart from normal society. The shopaholics! I have been a bred shopaholic for generations, with special skills in thrift, antiques, and collectibles. My brave mother would take my sister and I to the antique shop, which was very daring since she started us at the ages of four and two. When I was four I found my first love. I remember when other kids were getting Lego sets for their birthday, I was getting antique tea sets and four poster beds. My aunt, my nearest relative, residing in Charlottesville VA, has recently become a shopaholic. She understands the whoosh of emotion when you find that deal, and you were the one to find it! The thrill of the hunt, to those who are not shopaholics I will compare it to say - pirates sailing up and down the ocean with a map. Pirates know where to find the buried treasure, but most of the time they have other pirates after it as well. The same goes for us and the deals we find in a store. You have to be calm but aggressive, clever, and always ready for the attack!

I myself have had many run ins with the competition. For example, I was shopping at a local antique shop called Class and Trash, and I was looking at a old hutch from across the room. Suddenly an old lady was eyeing my hutch! I continued through the store and came to the hutch. "Isn't this hutch great?" I said.
"I know! I have to get it. I know just were to put it!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I have already bought it." I said untruthfully. To some I'm sure this would seem like an outlandish thing to do to an old lady, but to us shoppers, it's just part of the game. No hard feelings - we all win some and we all lose some. I joked earlier that I feel that God blesses me with good deals. I do believe that, but I also believe that I'm always aware of deals, ever looking, and ever on the hunt.

First you have to know what you are looking at when you find a piece of furniture.

Things to look for:
- Good bones
- Shape and size
- The condition of the piece
- The finish
- Look for clues

Good Bones: The term is usually used when talking about a house. People will ask if the house has good bones. The same concept applies for furniture. What is it made out of? Is it sturdy? Are there pieces missing? Examine the pieces to see if all the bones are there and if they are all still good. When it came to the hutch the bones looked great. I saw that it was made out of walnut which is an expensive wood. That also helped me to know that it is an older piece.

Shape and Size: If the piece is too big, it's too big. Usually when you go out shopping you have places in your home that need to be filled. Measure them before you go out looking that way there is no guess work. The shape really starts to come in to play when it comes to your style. If you seem to side with a more traditional style, look for ball and claw legs. Or if you're more contemporary look for sleek and modern lines and silhouettes. When it comes to the shape, ask yourself, is it interesting? Do you like it the way it looks? Even if it is painted the most heinous orange, you can always refinish it.

The Condition of the Piece: Are there any cracks in the wood that would keep it from falling apart? Bubbles in the finish? Water damage? If the wood is warped or the metal is rusted and falling apart, even a good coat of paint won't heal a bad piece of furniture.

The Finish: This is my favorite part the - what ifs. What if I stripped all the paint off? I wonder what kind of wood is underneath? Maybe a glossy black with new hardware. No! White with a distressed French Country look. Maybe I can reupholster it. The sky is the limit when it come to refinishing your chosen piece. Of course you have to make sure that you can refinish it. Say if it has a formica top. You still have options - you can either replace it with a new custom piece of wood, or you can still paint it, but it will take more time. Over all - have fun!

Look for Clues:
This is the bonus round! When you are shopping, look under the table top for a plaque or a stamp, staples or engravings. These clues can help you find more about the story and the past of your new find. One of the desks that my mother still has in her house used to be an old hotel desk. She found it while living in L.A. We know it belonged to a hotel because of a stamp on the bottom side of the desk. It had been mostly worn away but we could make out "hotel" on the stamp. What a bonus!

It always feels like such an accomplishment when you find the table, dish or chair of your dreams. Now it's yours and it will be something you will use for years and years that you can pass on to you children and your children's children. Family heir looms don't have to start with you grandparents. By using these tips of what to look for is won't cost you all of your money either! Even YOU can become a shopaholic!


There is something about bare walls in your home that just makes you feel naked. Anyone who has seen the price of art knows - it might make you want to keep your walls in the buff. I have an idea that may help set the tone for your room by adding personality, like a drag queen in a department store. I call it insta-art.

Supplies Needed:
- Picture frames - any size you wish
- Matt board (some picture frames come with matt boards in them)
- Scissors
- An old book or two
- Tape

The fun part is looking through all the photos in your book of choice and trying to decide which one will look best on your bare wall.  Start by taking the matt board and placing it on the pictures you think you might like.  This helps get the general picture of what it will look like when it's in the frame.

After you have selected the perfect picture, cut it out to the right size and place it in the frame behind the matt.

Tape the picture to the matt to secure it so your pictures don't slide around.

Put the back on the frame and there you go! Insta-Art! Now you have a whole gallery dressing every room.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Breakfast at Tiffany's"

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is one of our favorite movies. It's a story of a girl searching to find herself.  I love the transformation that happens to Holly Golightly and her home. One thing that I love most about her is she loves her circumstances. Yes, there wasn't much to her home - a telephone,a bed, and a cat without a name, but I love that even though she seems to not have much at all, this movie is thought of as glamorous.  Why? is Holly's attitude.  Her glamour was in the little things, like, the goblet she drinks her milk out of, her vanity, her clothes, etc. I love this approach at life - that you can invest in the things you love. That these small things makes all the difference.  She was in no way rich, and believe me, neither am I.

Here is my "Breakfast at Brockman's." These are some of the small things in life that make me happy. The picture above is a mixture of items that I have collected recently.  An issue of Architectural Digest,  vintage 1940's silverware (a set of 8 for $16.00 at a local thrift antique shop), bone china tea cups (a set of 12 for $10.00 at Second Debut in Carytown, Richmond, VA), and our  crystal goblets (can you believe it a set of 10 for $5.00 at a local thrift store - Fantastic Thrift).

As I was reading an issue of House Beautiful, one designer described our style perfectly when he said, "I like to think of my life as living like Marie Antoinette in a t-shirt."

I believe these two women (Holly Golightly and Marie Antoinette) understand that the small things can make all the difference.  Crystal goblets with breakfast, and china with you PB&J. Now, most of us don't have lots of money to go spend, I understand. So what can we do?  Where can we go?  Invest in a cheap set of goblets at the dollar store.  If they break, it was a dollar - who cares?  Buy an old set of dishes you find at a yard sale that doesn't come with a full set.  If your kids break one - It doesn't matter!  I think all these little things, like chips and cracks in a plate add to the beauty and the memories you build. I like to think of them not as imperfections, but as story worth telling every Christmas and birthday. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's Time to Get to Work

To anyone who seems to find themselves in less than undesirable living standards, with the desire to have more, and with the inevitable problem that everyone faces, aka - money - I know your pain.  I had found myself in my new bedroom - or dining room - whichever you prefer, and with roommates who didn't realize that they lived worse than some homeless people.  Even a homeless man knows when to clean his shopping cart out once in a while.  I was standing at a crossroads and my choices were to take the path that lead me to stay in those circumstances, or to take the path that would lead me to upgrade and shoot for more.  I hope that this blog serves as a road map guiding you to upgrading and enjoying your circumstances more fully.  The purpose of this blog is to share with you truly what The House of Brockman is, and how we were able to build up from a dining room bedroom and lawn chairs to antiques, chandeliers, and four poster beds, without braking the bank. 

I feel that God has consistently blessed me with two things in my life: good parking spots, and finding good deals.  I will be sharing these deals with you on a weekly segment called "Once Upon a Deal."  This segment will take you through the story of buying a piece of furniture, how to refinish it, and ultimately using it in your home.  Another purpose of this blog is to share with you tricks of the trade for planning different events from parties to weddings.  Thrown into the mix will be posts on home design, trends, and of course - renovating our 112 year old row house, which we have named Little Pea Cottage.  And because all of these things are so wrapped up into our lives, you will be hearing all about us and how our family is growing. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Along Came Emily

On any given night, at a certain residence in Newport News Virginia, there was guaranteed anywhere from four to twenty people there watching a movie, singing songs, playing games, eating Taco Bell, or all of the above. It was not unheard of for someone to say (at 10:00 at night), "Hey let's go to the beach!" And of course everyone would follow suit, pack into cars and drive out to the beach.  This was my exciting life - living on the edge!  My name is Emily and I grew up in a very straight edge home in Suburbia, Virginia.  Staying out late and doing silly things with my friends was living it up for me and I wanted to do as much of it as possible.  This was also a great coping technique for me as I was trying to over come a recent a broken heart and trying to get over a two and a half year relationship. 

One night in particular sticks out in my mind.  This was the night I met a strange kid from California named Chris Brockman.  When I met him he was setting up his "bedroom" in the dining room of my friend's town house.  He had a couple bags with clothes in them and the mattress that was previously used for seating was his bed.  I introduced myself and we started talking.  As I got to know him a little better that night I started thinking to my self, "Wow.  This guy is so ridiculous.  There is no way I could ever date him." 

Now when I say ridiculous I don't mean this in a negative way.  I mean this in a "seriously-and-totally-different-from-me-and-anyone-else-that-I-have-ever-met-in-my-whole-life" kind of way.  Despite our differences we became fast friends and started spending most of our time together.  He taught me many things that my east coast brain had never comprehended before - such as a love for sunglasses!  We spent hours driving around in a 1998 Geo Metro, singing to the radio, going to the beach, shopping, and just having so much fun!

After a few months of spending everyday with this guy I started to realize that I may actually like him more than just as a friend!  I remember coming home one night and writing in my journal, "No!  I can't like him!  I cannot like Chris Brockman!  He is too ridiculous and just so Californian!"  By that point I had already planned on serving a mission for a year and a half for our church (see the previous post for details of what serving a mission is like).  There was no way I was going to start dating a guy and then leave him for 18 months.  When we both discovered our feelings for each other were mutual, Chris told me he wanted me to go on a mission.  He told me it would help me grow and I would learn a lot from going.   

So it was decided I was going to be a missionary.  A few months later I left and I loved being a missionary!  A couple months out I realized how much I missed that ridiculous Californian and how much I actually loved him.  Apparently, Chris felt the same way as I did, and at the same time.  We both wrote each other spilling our hearts and guts out.  The letters crossed paths and I felt so relieved Chris felt the same way that I did.  We corresponded through emails and letters almost every week while I was away. The first time I saw Chris after I got back home, it was like no time had passed.  We were back to being best friends and joking and laughing just as we always had.  Six weeks after being home, Chris proposed and we were married three months later.

Monday, October 22, 2012

In the Begining There Was One

One thought: "Get the hell out of here.  Working a dead end job, driving four hours a day for a $10.00/hour job; and gas is just about $5.00/gallon.  Something has to change.  I can't stand this life anymore!"  Who knew that, that one idea would come to change my life to where I'm at today.  I am happily married (most of the time), a first time home owner, with a daughter on the way.  My name is Chris Brockman, and this is the story of how to find and build a home in the most unlikely of places. 


I grew up in California in a small town of 250,000 people (by California standards that is rather small).   If anyone reading this has heard of Modesto, California you know why I needed to get out.  I was 22 years old when I knew that my life needed to change.  I had recently returned home from a two year missionary service for my church in the lovely Commonwealth of Virginia.  I met many people who found their way into my heart and later became a huge part of where I am today; although at the time, I wasn't aware.  I was suffering from a depression which I will call PTMD - Post Traumatic Missionary Disorder.  Imagine a world without television, movies, family, cell phones, computers, pop culture, or anything that puts you up to speed with where the world is today.  Not to mention, 90% of all conversations had mention of Jesus Christ at least once.  For a 19 and 20 year old kid, this was not an easy task.  I was daunted by the idea of going home to a world where all the previous mentioned items were so readily available, and where I had to focus on myself and actually growing up, after two years of focusing all time and energy on others and their happiness.

I had a great friend in Virginia named Chris who offered me an escape route from California.  A one way plane ticket and a mattress on the floor.  To an unsatisfied 22 year old, the plan didn't sound too bad.  Two packed bags, $150, and 2 weeks later I found myself on the doorstep of my good friend Chris' town house.  What he had failed to tell me was that my "bedroom" was actually the dining room, which had in fact flooded just one week prior.  When he gave me the grand tour I found my "bedroom" to have gorgeous exposed sub-flooring and a hole in the ceiling the size of Manhattan.  There were lawn chairs for seating, and the mattress I was to sleep on was being used as a couch and there was trash EVERYWHERE.  It was definitely the bachelor pad of your dreams.  It wasn't much, but I knew it was home, and it was time to get to work!