Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Shannon and I grew up in Wyoming, which, despite its large size, is the least populated state in the U.S. It’s a beautiful place where nature is never far away and, in some ways, it seems like the furthest possible place from Paris, where I live now (actually, I live one short Métro stop outside of Paris).
Before heading off to university, I spent a year in the south of France, living with a French family who were kind enough to welcome me into their home. Even though I had studied French in school, my speaking abilities were limited, to say the least – they really had their work cut out for them!
After experiencing life à la française, I returned to the U.S., finished my university studies in Seattle, and began working in the business world. I missed France, though, and volunteered one evening at a fundraiser for a French-American organization. That’s where I met my future husband, who is French but was living in the U.S., who happened to also be a volunteer that night. Despite our different nationalities, it felt like I had known him for years.
We eventually moved to France, where we tied the knot, and for the past eleven years, Paris has been my home. When we arrived here, we were living on a shoestring budget, so I started to visit thrift shops and flea markets, which led me to some beautiful neighborhoods and streets in Paris that I probably would never have discovered otherwise. It was a wonderful way to discover this amazing city, and a great way to learn more about France.
Searching for vintage objects is part adventure, part treasure hunt, and part history lesson. I love it. A passion for vintage has connected me to my home away from home in ways I never would have imagined.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I love to spend time with my husband and our five-year-old son. I like to read, stitch, and explore Paris. I don’t drive a car, so I walk a lot – to the post office to ship orders for my shop, to the market for fresh fruits and vegetables, to pick up my son from school so he can eat lunch at home.
What would be the title of your memoir?
East of Cheyenne, West of Paris, to borrow a poetic phrase from Tamim Ansary; these two very different worlds have in so many ways shaped my life, and now I always find myself somewhere between the two.
Do you have any personal collections? How did they start?
Before moving to France, I sold most of my possessions in a garage sale. At that point I had worked in the corporate world for a while, and the morning of the sale, when I looked around at what those many hours of work had paid for, it seemed like a bit of a letdown, like I could have made better choices. It was a defining moment in my life, and a chance to start over. I tried to learn from that experience, and now I like to surround myself with objects that are unique, things that I love (keeping in mind the tastes of my husband and son, too, of course), and things that are ecologically respectful.
Many of the things I gratefully own now are vintage and I seem to have ended up with a few unintentional collections. I’m especially drawn to vintage fabrics and textiles, sewing notions, baskets and wooden boxes, and old dishes and kitchen objects.
What decade or style inspires you?
I like neutral colors and lots of white, which I find peaceful. I also love color, though in smaller doses, like on cushions or dishes, and a juxtaposition of the rustic and the elegant, which probably has something to do with where I grew up and where I live now.
I usually don’t focus very much on dates or time periods, but on how an object makes me feel, how it inspires me, the story that it tells, its color and texture and shape. As my shop name suggests, it’s so often the little details, or les petits détails, that win me over – a curve here, a chip of paint there. And I especially like cleaning up old objects, bringing them back to life, and figuring out new ways in which they can be useful.
What are the challenges of finding great vintage?
To me, great vintage objects are those made with les matières nobles, or materials that are of very good quality and often get better as they age — for example, nicely woven linen and natural wood with old paint. It can be hard to find them because they are no longer made, but this challenge is what makes it so much fun.
What’s the most interesting backstory of an object you’ve acquired?
One of the things I love so much about searching for vintage objects is that you never know what you are going to find and what it’s going to teach you. It seems like every time I go looking for vintage treasures, something interesting happens and I come home with a story to tell. And sometimes, the vintage treasures seem to come looking for me.
One day, while walking home from the grocery store, my husband and I found an armchair that someone had left on a Paris street corner for garbage pickup. It had a threadbare polyester green cover on it, but I could see from the feet peeking out underneath that it had been beautifully made. Upon further inspection, we discovered that it was a comfortable-looking antique leather club chair, so we carried it home (luckily it was just down the street from our apartment). The leather was pretty damaged, but the “bones” were wonderful, so we had it fixed up – for a modest sum — by a man who specialized in bringing old leather chairs back to life.
Now it wears a slipcover made from vintage fabric (after all, a little boy and a Siamese cat live here) and it sits in our living room, where we use it nearly every day. Saving such a beautiful and useful object from the trash brings me a lot of satisfaction. I know it’s not for everyone, though. When I tell these stories to my mom, who is not a vintage treasure hunter, she thinks I’m a bit out of my mind.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
First on my list would be going back in time to visit the studio of my late grandfather, who was an artist. He carved pieces of old, dried up but perfectly suited cottonwood tree trunks and then painted Western scenes on them. I always just took it for granted that he was an artist, without truly appreciating his gifts as much as I could have.
This time around, I would be more observant, looking closely at every work of art hanging on the walls, taking in every last detail, right down to the different brush strokes. I would also ask him all of the questions that I never thought to ask him when I was younger and that I can no longer ask him now. When did he start carving and painting? What inspired him? What was his favorite time of the day to paint? What kinds and colors of paints did he use? What did he use this tool for? And how about that one?
Was there an object that was particularly hard for you to give up?
When I started selling vintage objects, it was hard for me to part with each one of them. Fortunately, Etsy and my shop have taught me a lot about parting with objects and that it’s much more satisfying than holding on to them. I feel fortunate to be able to meet so many kind and creative people through Etsy who appreciate these things that I consider to be treasures.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I fall into creative ruts often and try to look at this as a positive. I can get so absorbed and single-minded doing something I love, so it’s good to step back sometimes and take in a broader view. Most of the time, all it takes to recharge my creative batteries is to take a walk, read a good book, or rearrange my workspace. This short time off enables me to have a fresh perspective.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’d like to be ten years wiser and ten years kinder (I have a feeling much of the rest is mostly out of my control). And if, in addition to that, my life looks a lot like it does now, that would be more than quite all right with me.