Natasha Francois enters the kitsch deluxe domain of Natalie Robinson.
It’s hard to know where to look in Natalie Robinson’s North Shore home: every conceivable surface is crammed with whimsical icons of kitsch from yesteryear.
Siamese cats with elongated necks rub shoulders with doe-eyed fawns while kewpie dolls vy for shelf space with squeaky children’s toys, pastel-coloured nallyware cannisters and mid-century table lamps.
Mass-market masterpieces of big-eyed children lock eyes with prancing ponies and pirouetting ballerinas, watched over by a crowd of anthropomorphic salt and pepper shakers.
The 32-year old’s decor seems to be stuck somewhere in the 1950s/ 60s but rather than being an ‘accurate’ period home, it’s like kitsch on steroids. Natalie likes to describe it as “a giant dollhouse” which begs the question, what does her partner make of her unapologetically girly aesthetic?
“I’ve asked him about whether he truly likes it and he always just says he likes what makes me happy…cheesy but sweet haha,” she replies.
“I am too much of a hoarder to go minimalist.. I just can’t do it so I gave up trying to be too pure about it. I just fill it with stuff I like – most happens to be vintage so I just say “vintage home” in that respect…. full of old crap haha “Kitsch Vintage Ecclectic” home is probably more accurate.”
Read on to see more of her eccentric home!
You seem to have quite a few different collections going. Can you give us a rundown of some of these?
I pretty much just collect what I love, I don’t really stick to any one thing which is pretty dangerous for the wallet! Currently I am actively collecting kitschy ornaments, pyrex, kitchenalia, kids art prints, retro dolls, wall plaques, vintage magazines, vintage clothing and accessories, retro linen/towels and vintage kids books. I also love 50s-60s furniture so pick up pieces for my house as I find them.
What are some of your favourite pieces in your collection?
I don’t think I could pick “all time” favourites but current obsessions hmmm I would have to say my Nally starburst canisters, “Strawberry Fields” pyrex dish, a weird blue fluffy poodle ornament, my floral axminster rug and a set of geisha glasses from the 60s that I was given by my grandmother.
How did these collections start?
I’ve been collecting “old stuff” on and off since I was a kid. My first proper collection started about 10 years ago – Japanese pose dolls from the 50s-60s. At last count I have probably close to 150 of them, most in storage as they are a retired collection I suppose. For those unfamiliar they are essentially the 60s big eyed girls come to life in doll form. They really appealed to me as they were all hand crafted and unique. The vintage fashions they wore was also a big draw card, I especially love the ones in mod outfits. I had to buy them all on eBay (this was before the shipping became prohibitive) as finding them in New Zealand was next to impossible.
Occasionally I see some of the cheaper dressing table types (big southern belle ladies, 70s) in my travels but they aren’t really my thing. I guess it was downhill from there – now my entire house is a hoard of vintage crap!
How would you describe your particular aesthetic?
Kitsch really is the most appropriate word! Childish, bright, cute, colourful, pastel, retro, quirky. I imagine those not familiar with this world would describe it as a bit weird and obsessive… or refer to it as stuff their grandmother would have loved. People are usually a bit shocked the first time they visit my home, I’ve heard “giant dollhouse” a few times. They love it or they hate it.
Favourite decades and why?
It would be a tie between the 50s and 60s. I really love both decades for the architecture, cars, sublime furniture, kitschy shit and the beautiful dresses of course. My home is probably more 60s because it’s easier to get my hands on items from that era.
Does your fascination for collecting vintage extend into your wardrobe and overall appearance too?
I have a reasonable vintage wardrobe but for the most part I am a comfort dresser, jeans and T-shirt. I like modern labels that have a vintage vibe – I have a pretty extensive novelty sweater collection that I wear year round. I spend a lot of time at home so the effort of hair, makeup and quite restrictive clothing is too much hassle for me. I definitely admire people who can manage to make it a daily ritual though!
Is your partner a collector too?
Not to the same extent as me but he wholeheartedly embraces my passion for it. I think before we met he was pretty clueless about vintage but now 6 years later I would say he’s pretty good at spotting a diamond in the rough. He actually found a very rare pyrex dish that I ended up selling to a US collector for $500, he gets props for that!
Would you say vintage is a way of life?
We purchased our 70s-era house 2 years ago and have spent that time renovating and gathering bits and pieces (a lot of them) to fill it. It probably seems a bit weird to not stick with a 70s theme but luckily the interior lends itself nicely to a more mid-century look. This has taken up a lot of our time so I guess it really has literally been a way of life. We also spend every spare moment op shopping, looking for treasures all over the place.
What are some of your favourite places to source bargains and treasure?
Trademe is my go to when looking for specific items, I search lots of obscure keywords which pays off. I have lots of overseas collector friends who I buy/trade with on instagram but I do find the shipping a big killer so it has to be something really special. I do twice weekly op shop missions all over Auckland, often visiting 10-15 shops. Some days I score big and others are a dud but the thrill of the hunt is strong. I don’t really have any honey holes, it’s just luck of the day.
What do your kids think of your home decorating style?
I have an 11-year-old daughter who is pretty neutral to it all. She doesn’t mind me decorating her room with cute ornaments and pictures as long as she has the final say. She’s developing her own style more and more so this may change as she becomes a teenager. She will either embrace vintage or absolutely hate it I think!
Any pieces you dream of finding? What are they?
A certain turquoise starburst pyrex dish, Lefton Miss Cutie Pie, a pink or mint green dinette set, 50s fibreglass lamps, the matching nally starburst spice set that match my canisters…. I have lots on my wishlist.
Who has a collection that you envy?
I don’t know too many collectors in person but a few of my favourites on instagram are @atomickats (her home is to die for), @ashtomaton (vintage toys), @restyledvintage (best NZ pyrex collection), @tootycatgirl (vintage cats cats cats!), @milbeetoy (vintage japan ornaments and toys), @theconnoisseurofcute (style queen). I could name dozens of people I idolise!
General thoughts on op shopping/ treasure hunting in NZ?
It can be rewarding if you put in the money, time and effort. It’s never going to be like what people in the US, Europe or even Australia have access to but there is still lots of goodies here waiting to be found. Avoid op shops in upmarket areas, they are a waste of time unless you have money to burn. Look for shops that are crowded, dusty and full of 90-year-old nanas who can’t work Eftpos.
So what do you think of Natalie’s kitsch wonderland? Let me know in the comments! xx