Writer, artist, and antiques aficionado Virginia Chamlee has an affinity for all things vintage; her 1920s Mediterranean-style home being no exception. In search of a fixer-upper in a convenient location—and harboring an aversion to any home she viewed as being too “cookie-cutter”—Chamlee stumbled upon the Riverside relic she now calls home. Drawn in by the old house’s charm and undeterred by the superficial and structural issues bound to emerge, Chamlee set out to make the house her home.
But owning a century-old abode is not for the faint of heart, as Chamlee has come to realize in her first years of homeownership.
“Old houses have a lot of charm,” Chamlee shares with a laugh. “But they’re a lot of work.”
For over a decade, Chamlee has collected vintage clothing, accessories, furniture, and art, with a keen eye for unique designs that have come to define her bold, unapologetic aesthetic. She’s added an abundance of color to the home’s interior, from a blushing-pink master bedroom to the kitchen’s black-and-white tile floors. Chamlee’s created a whimsical, yet refined spread by mixing vintage pieces with one-of-a-kind artworks mined from thrift stores and estate sales.
We asked Chamlee how she brought her Mid-century-meets-modern vision to fruition.
What was your initial reaction when you first viewed this home?
My initial reaction was great. I always sort of see something for what it can be, not what it looks like, and I wanted a project, so I loved it. My boyfriend hated it; really hated it.
Obviously you have this affinity and talent for thrifting and finding valuable items. What got you started digging through thrift stores?
It’s something I’ve grown up doing. My grandmother raised me and she owned a furniture store at the beach. She would buy a container of furniture and supplement that with accessories she’d get at estate sales, antique stores, and thrift stores. I probably hated it when I was really little, but I think as I got older, it was such a great, affordable way that I could get really nice things. Not just nice things, but unusual things that nobody else has.
What sort of consideration was there as far as balancing putting your own aesthetic and preserving the home’s original character?
The crazy thing about our house is that it had been added onto, which you can’t necessarily tell from the outside of the house. We discovered that, when we were redoing the kitchen and removed the fridge. There’s this tiny sort of secret hallway behind the fridge and on the wall it says, this was added onto in 1991. So one whole half of the house is actually new. I’ve tried to preserve as much as I can, but I’ve also done some crazy stuff just design-wise that can allow me to have my aesthetic without making the house look totally different.
What are some of the crazier design aspects in your opinion?
In the front room there’s a wallpapered wall in there that’s sort of a crazy floral, purple deal. I redid the closet myself basically. We got the IKEA Pax system and we painted those dark green and we put in some Gucci wallpaper on the back wall which is pink and it has cranes and stuff so that’s pretty wacky. I think it’s beautiful but it’s the kind of thing where the next homeowner may not love it as much as I do. The living room is dark green, practically black on the upper half and white on the lower half. But those are things if somebody doesn’t like them they can easily change them. Changing things with a can of paint is such a great way to change up the whole vibe of a room.
You seem to have an eclectic, vibrant style. Now that you’ve been thrifting and working in this space for so long, how do you think that your style has developed?
I look at pictures from when we first moved in and I think that it was crazy. I don’t regret those decisions I made because that was just where I was at the time but I’ve learned how to edit myself a little bit better, and I’ve just developed a better eye I think. I’ve definitely grown and sharpened my eye.
I read a quote of yours that stuck with me. You said: “When people don’t take you seriously, they tell you much more.” How do you think that that mentality has affected your design choices?
That’s a good question. I guess I don’t take myself too seriously when it comes to design. At the end of the day it’s just a house, and it’s your own house. So if somebody else doesn’t like it, I don’t really care. I can always change things. I can always change the paint, always remove things. That’s kind of the fun of it, I guess.
This article originally appeared as the Rad Pad feature in VOID Magazine’s February 2021 issue.