In our fifth installment of Everything But the Kitsch-en Sink, Natasha enters the technicolour world of Emily Twirls.
Despite the decade’s reputation for conformity and kitsch, the 1950s was a wildly innovative time.
With few buildings to design during World War II, architects and industrial designers such as Eero Saarinen and Joseph Eichler turned their attention to furniture that embraced new forms and materials.
By the postwar years, pent-up demand drove furniture sales, and a new aesthetic — pared down and emphatically non-traditional — was embraced with open arms by the public.
Dubbed ‘mid century modernism’, it was an aesthetic that was imbued with a distinctly American joie de vivre.
Biomorphic design – in which free-form shapes mimicked biological organisms – reigned supreme and resulted in furniture which reveled in organic, curved smooth surfaces, and design moulded into the shapes of kidneys, boomerangs, egg-like ovals and starbursts.
This era also spawned curiosities such as the Moss Lamp. These outrageous Plexiglas marvels are distinctive for their spinning figurines and spun glass shades and are highly sought-after by collectors today.
American Emily Rodriguez is one such collector who is obsessed with these unique lamps – although she’s never found one in the wild. She and her husband love nothing more than trawling thrift stores, antique malls and fleamarkets for anything atomic, biomorphic, futuristic UFO lamps, Heywood-Wakefield furniture and more.
If you follow her on Instagram, where she goes by the moniker ‘Emily Twirls’ you’ll discover that Moss Lamps are not the only thing that spin her wheels….
Her feed is also full of delicious slo’ mo twirls in crisp vintage dresses. But it’s often been the objects in the background of these videos that have captured my imagination. Her collection is insanely good that sometimes I can’t bear to look!
Those of us living in the antipodes can only dream of unearthing such atomic splendour which in many cases never made its way to our neck of the woods so the next best thing is poring over homes such as Emily’s.
Whether its the abundance of whimsical chalkware figurines that adorn her walls, the envy-inducing selection of fibre-glass lamps, Eames-era mirror- shadow boxes or her hoard of close to 300 Lucite box purses, Ridriguez’s home epitomises the verve, imagination and the pure zaniness of mid-century design.
Your house/ style is to die for! I’m so jealous pouring over your Instagram feed!! It’s such a killer! You have so many wonderful things that are super hard to find in New Zealand. Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where you’re based, what you do for a job etc?
Originally I was born and raised in Vancouver, Washington. Not the Vancouver B.C. as many often think or assume when I say Vancouver. It’s actually a suburb of Portland.
I moved to San Diego, California in 2007 to dance professionally for San Diego City Ballet.
During this time I worked for Barnes and Noble bookstores where I eventually met my husband and married in 2015.
As for life I don’t do anything significant I manage big box retail as does my husband. What it does give us is quality time off that we spend together picking, thrifting, antiquing, etc.
You seem to have quite a few different collections going. Can you give us a rundown of some of these?
My original obsession is with Lucite purses of the 1950s. The first time I cast my eye on one these I was enamored.
For years both me and my husband scoured the southwest United States for these jewels. No trip was too far and price was always negotiable. Although I no longer purchase as many as I used to, I have accumulated a collection of these rarities nearing the 300 number.
My best Lucite purse find happened in Mexico City, Mexico: Me and my husband went to a late night flea market– I’m talking flashlights and 11pm– and I found the legendary “Smile” purse in black by Maxim for $5 American dollars. I was hyperventilating when I found this gem as it was in a toy box and I caught a glimpse of something shining that drew me in.
Next too that I have to say anything atomic mid century. For me late 50s early 60s sums it up at its height.
The lamps are my current long withstanding obsession that I share with my husband. Our most prized lamp is probably the pair of matching Moss Lamps in my vanity room. They are rare, original, and they twirl!
Finding Moss Lamps with original undamaged shades is next to impossible these days but we found this pair in middle of nowhere upstate New York in a town called Binghamtom. Me and my husband go everywhere possible looking for atomic 50s rarities.
How did these collections start?
A random walk down a quaint Antique Mall in Escondido, California is where it all started. I found my first Lucite Purse and my husband found his first Heywood Wakefield piece and the rest is history.
We definitely started with a hankering for mid-century modern but that eventually morphed into 50s kitsch and atomic.
How would you describe your particular aesthetic?
We love anything biomorphic and space age! If it has a fun shape or some kitschiness the better. But we definitely go for the atomic look.
Favourite decades and why?
Late 50s and early 60s. Sums up the space age and astronauts! The cars, tables, curtains, jewelry, planters, etc. You name it the inspiration was everywhere and we were looking towards the future and the imaginations ran wild.
Does your fascination for collecting vintage extend into your wardrobe and overall appearance too?
Um yes! The hair, costume jewelry, corset, Springolators, etc. The closer I can get to the look the better. I have lots of clothes period appropriate. But I do own a lot of repro as well.
Honestly I am the laziest vintage clothes shopper. Finding vintage clothes is a *****! Its easier looking for lamps and furniture. Vintage clothes can take 10-15 minutes or longer at a shop, lamps and furniture 3-5 minutes in and out.
I am littered with so many thrift shops in my area I cant hit them all up in one day but if I focus I can get to 45-48 of them. It’s high velocity for me!
Would you say vintage is a way of life?
It doesn’t have to be. If you want to be obsessed like me and husband..then yes. But so many people enjoy the look of vintage items and don’t go the full 9 yards.
We love meeting people that have the same drive and appreciation for the decade but lots of cool people can still appreciate it.
What are some of your favourite places to find treasure?
My local DAV in Chula Vista! Hands down the best thrift store on the planet. Chula Vista, National City, Spring Valley, Lemon Grove were all suburbs in the 50s and 60s of San Diego.
The cities were all in full expansion and there are trailer parks 55+ every two miles. This may sound morbid but if there is a thrift shop around old peeps- just wait it out and the gems arrive.
Any pieces you dream of finding? What are they?
I have never found a Moss lamp at a thrift store or flea market. I have found Majestic’s, Reglor’s, Alfred Shaheens, Lucite purses, Carlo of Hollywood paintings, etc. But never a Moss lamp!
Any notable recent scores?
In the last two weeks it has to be a Atomic Plaster lamp from WOS antiques.
Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to create a vintage home?
A vintage home does not have to cost you a lot of money. I pick in an area surrounded with mid-century flippers, eBay resellers, and collectors. Yet I still bring home the loot…me and my husband live under the motto “earlybird catches the worm” I know its cheesey but honest.
As for style that may evolve and you have to lend yourself to that…style is organic incorporate what you love. It doesn’t have to be just 50’s or 60’s…the majority of homes in the 50’s had family heirlooms from times gone by.
As I tell my friends I am an old lady in 1988 that managed to purchase some of my favorite items from the last four decades.
Can’t get enough of Emily Twirls? Follow her on Instagram here!
Tell me in the comments: what is your best op-shop/ thrift shop score?