A COLLECTOR’S HAVEN
Though it may be unassuming from the outside, Christina Gerstner’s home is filled with beautiful treasures and new curiosities that lie around every corner. Gerstner has curated dozens of collections over the years—each infusing her home with color, nostalgia and meaning.
From the oversized, historic map of Lynchburg in the front hallway to the family portraits framing the dining room curio, Gerstner’s home provides endless visual delights and conversation pieces. Stemming from her mother’s love of antiquing and vintage shopping—something they did together while Gerstner was growing up—her home today has evolved into an artistic showcase for the distinctive items she’s gathered over a lifetime spent collecting.
After marrying her husband Josh in 2006, they moved to Lynchburg for his work as a data analyst; Gerstner taught at a Montessori school until the birth of their son, Orion. About eight years ago they purchased their current home, and in the time since, they’ve completely renovated the kitchen, updated the den and changed the paint throughout.
But more than anything it’s Gerstner’s unique and eye-catching displays of vintage wares that put the home in a class of its own. Whether her floor-to-ceiling collection of historic, panoramic yard photos or her colorful, embroidered maps of the United States, Gerstner’s passion for collecting has now spilled over into a small business that keeps her quite busy selling items online. Her personal collections and Etsy shop, “The White Pepper Vintage,” have even garnered her attention and features in Country Living, Apartment Therapy and HuffPost.
The reason behind it all is pretty simple according to Gerstner: “It’s what I love,” she says. “I focus on what I’m drawn to and what I love.”
A Collector’s Haven
Her decorating style is decidedly vintage.
“When I try to go outside of that niche, such as a rustic or minimal style, I just can’t do it; I get bored,” Gerstner says. “I realized it’s just not me.”
Though current trends lean more towards neutral and gray colors, Gerstner says she has to have florals: “I have always, always loved anything floral or embroidered—I would wear stuff like that when I was a kid.” And, she also has to have lots of color— yellow in particular.
“It’s always been my favorite,” she says. “It makes an appearance everywhere in our house.” Indeed, one of her most prized discoveries includes a pair of tufted yellow chairs that she picked up at an estate sale.
In their front room, Gerstner has a wall of shelves filled with books and tchotchkes—“I’m wild about vintage books!” she says; some she has organized by color (all red or all yellow) and some in rainbow sets (a few of each color to span the spectrum), and some she has organized topically such as copies of Nancy Drew that she read as a girl, Hardy Boy titles that her husband read and books all about New England and Maine where she grew up.
“I try to bring in things that are meaningful to me,” she says, referring to the books. “I’m just delighted when I find another to add to the collection.”
Gerstner’s collections span all categories of vintage: baskets, silhouettes, furniture, linens, artwork, and even kitchen wares. In fact, most of her daily dishes and food storage containers are vintage finds or inherited from family relatives, such as her husband’s grandmother named Rosie.
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How to Incorporate Vintage Items with Other Décor
1) “Books are always a good place to start,” says Gerstner. Books have very low price points, so affordability makes them easy to pick up, plus they add instant character. You can organize them by color to increase visual interest or topically—just select a place, author or topic that appeals to you already.
2) Add in furniture here or there as you discover inter-esting pieces. Gerstner has incorporated wooden mail sorter catalogues to use as shelving and desks, a butcher block for their kitchen island, chairs for the living room and a tufted blue bench in the dining room. By working in vintage pieces with more current pieces such as couches or book shelves, she’s adding
unique and purposeful statement pieces.
3) “Wall art is a great option as well,” Gerstner says. It’s an easy collection to start because there tends to be an abundance of choices; prices are reasonable, and you can easily switch items in and out as your collection grows. Plus, the variety of framing and mat options available today provide nearly endless possibilities.
4) Follow your heart. Gerstner’s home is a testament to the items she personally loves and feels naturally drawn to; because of that, her daily surroundings are filled with what she truly enjoys. Try doing the same, no matter your home style, and you’ll find yourself pleased with the result.
To bring it all together, she prioritizes color and style all while looking for a cohesive feel within each collection as a whole.
She also tries to make a “collection personal to [their family] and meaningful” whenever possible. And she’s found many creative ways to utilize family heirlooms, whether placing a grandmother’s afghan out for display or showcasing a photo of her mom as a young girl.
Gerstner’s background with the Montessori philosophy has also influenced her approach to decorating. “One of the things that Dr. Montessori loved, and one of the hallmarks of her philosophy, was creating a beautiful environment for children,” Gerstner says. “Focus is always placed on a peaceful, calm, accessible environment.”
Sharing Her Finds With the World
Gerstner officially started her online shop at the end of 2011 thinking it would be a good option for offloading some of her extra items; plus, she had recently left her teaching job after the birth of her son, so she “figured it would give me something to do [and] let me make a little bit of money.” To her surprise, the shop more than took off, with national and international buyers alike, and she hit her 5,000th sale this past December.
“I had no idea it would ‘be something’,” she says of the Etsy shop. “Now, the more I list, the more I sell; I can slow down as needed or spend 40 or more hours a week on it.”
The process is time-intensive, including the buying, cleaning, photographing, editing, posting, packaging and shipping of each item, but Gerstner says she is addicted to the hunt, always picking up new items, so she has to keep the shop going or be at risk of overflowing her already bursting inventory, which, as of this time, is tallied at over 1,000 items in her basement; her Etsy shop typically has anywhere from 250-400 of those items for sale.
As to where she finds all of these treasures, she says it’s a mix of estate sales, antique shops and thrifting—all over the country!
“I’ll go visit family, and I can fit a coffee table in the car top carrier,” Gerstner says of traveling with their CRV. And, she adds with a laugh, “We pack light on clothes to save space for my stuff; my husband is very tolerant; he knows this is my ‘jobby’…it’s something that I really like doing.”
Deciding what to buy is relatively simple, she says, “I basically try to sell a lot of what I love and just hope that there are other people out there who love it too.”
See more of Christina’s discoveries on Facebook at The White Pepper and follow her on Instagram @TheWhitePepperVintage.
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Why You Should Start a Collection
1) It’s Pure Fun. A huge part of the appeal for Gerstner is the hunt itself. Once you start a collection, “It’s fun to go out looking for a companion piece,” she says. “You find one [item], and then you have to hunt for another; there’s a lot of fun in that—and it can be fun to bring them into your home.”
2) You’ll Make Unique Discoveries.
As Gerstner’s experience has shown, you never know what you will find. “Unique items are much more interesting to me,” Gerstner says, referring to items that have a story and can’t be found in a generic big box store. Some of her best finds include embroidered maps, vintage bracelets and jewelry plus her beloved yellow chairs.
3) It Can Be a Family Affair. Gerstner’s mom got her started in vintage shopping and collecting, and it became something they enjoyed doing together over the years. Today, Gerstner enjoys staying on the lookout for items her family may appreciate— usually something music-related for her husband and owl items for her son. Gifts are even more memorable when you can find a surprise addition for a loved one’s collection.