Better with age
From the clothing in her eBay store to the decor in her Ukie Village home, Nicole Hughes is all about midcentury style.
“I dream of a midcentury-modern ranch,” 34-year-old Nicole Hughes says as she reaches into her Heywood-Wakefield cabinet and pulls out an ashtray-size porcelain dish. The dish shows a painted image of her ideal home, which was built in her grandmother’s neighborhood in the mid-twentieth century and auctioned off to raise money for a church. “I don’t get to live [there], so I live here,” she says.
Here is a Victorian-era two-story house in Ukrainian Village, where she resides with her husband, Sean, and their son, William. While the shell of the place is Victorian, Hughes infuses the interior with a more recent version of vintage.
“My dream couch,” she begins, the eight or so Bakelite bracelets clacking on her arm as she points to the living-room furniture. “I shopped for it forever and couldn’t find it, so I put up a wanted ad on Craigslist for a supermodern vintage curved, open-on-one side, preferably aqua or black couch, and someone [in Pilsen] responded with pictures after a couple of days.”
Since purchasing the property ten years ago, Hughes and her husband have moved back and forth between the front house—now painted light pink with a blue door and a white picket fence—and the coach house where they currently reside (they now rent out the front house).
“The pink house was shitty [inside], so we couldn’t screw it up,” she says. “I painted the walls in every goofy color and probably had 45 holes in the wall of the bathroom.” By the time they settled into the nicer coach house, she’d gotten a lot of childhood-based decorating ideas out of her system and had a firm handle on her aesthetic: 100 percent vintage.
Given Hughes’s profession, the aesthetic isn’t surprising. She spends her days culling through thrift stores, flea markets and people’s homes on the hunt for vintage clothing—specifically, larger size items from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s—which she sells on eBay. At any given time, she has between 100 and 200 pieces for sale, with several hundred more stored in her basement and bedroom.
But back to the house: The cabinet showcases glistening Paul McCobb china (she rotates her displays frequently), floral ’50s-era curtains dress the windows, and there’s an original bubble lamp behind the couch. Besides a few essentials, such as a mattress and a new coffeepot, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything new on display.
If it sounds slightly fantastical, that’s because it is. Not only is the color palette bright and happy—the living-room and dining-room walls are light and dark green, the kitchen is coated in a sunflower yellow, and the bathroom features deep red walls—but there’s also a running theme of Disneyland paraphernalia. Vintage Disneyland objects, including a full tea set, fill a two-layer glass cabinet, and a map of the Southern California amusement park from the ’60s hangs framed in the living room.
Some of what appears to be kitsch at first glance is there for sentimental reasons. For instance, she went on a streak collecting porcelain maple leaves that creep up her kitchen walls because they’re the same kind her grandmother hung in her Door County, Wisconsin, cabin. The painting above the piano features a famous Hawaiian singer, Hilo Hattie, who happened to be her husband’s great aunt; Hattie’s sheet music rests on the piano.
On occasion, mostly because of the nature of her work, Hughes says she’ll stumble on pieces that she’ll buy, but for the most part, she’s hunting for something particular. For instance, she scoured eBay to find the French Deco lighting fixture in her bathroom and spent her entire lighting budget on the one piece.
“The further you get into the sickness that is collecting, the pickier you get,” she says.