Cheaper than Chinet: Vintage Shopping for Home Entertaining

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Brooklyn antique shop Fork & Pencil put itself on the map with a policy of giving all its profits to charity. Despite this America-hating stance, the store is building up a quick following in Cobble Hill. Retro is still running strong (even the Gray Lady seems to have caught on, as of yesterday), and Fork & Pencil’s eclectic selection lends itself to outfitting an apartment or sprucing up for a shindig. The prices are closer to a thrift store than a design shop, putting most everything here in easy reach. We sat down with proprietor Alex Grabcheski to get some tips on how his shop can help a home entertainer.

So, if I’m planning a party … To start off, we have letterpress stationary for the invitations. We’re one of the largest sellers of Saturn Press cards, which are all hand-done in Swans Isle, Maine. We have custom-printable invitations, to remember life before Evite. For before the guests show, we also carry a selection of new cookbooks, like Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. And then we’ve got whatever you need to fill in the gaps. I had a woman buying up mismatched glasses. She was hosting a party and she wanted to fit each glass to a specific guest’s personality.

What’s big right now? Teacups. Who buys teacups? That was my first thought, but tea is really in now. Some older woman will bring in a tea collection she’s had for 30 years, and a 30-year-old will buy it. People don’t necessarily want the stripped-down modern Italian piece. They want something with a sense of history. We’re big supporters of green causes here, and antiques are the original recycling. It acts as a counterbalance to the Ikea ethos — disposable design, disposable culture. Even if it’s got a chip or a ding, they like that history, that connectivity.

What else do you offer for home entertaining? Champagne coupes are making a little comeback. You stack them up and the champagne flows through, just like in an old movie. We also carry pitchers, silver-plated ladles, a Lenox cake knife — heirloom-quality with a porcelain handle, just $15. We’re seeing a resurgence in things that I thought had gone out of style. And not out of irony. People are attracted to quality and the fineness of the detail. I’ve got an antique sap bucket inscribed by the guy who made it. You could fill it with ice and serve drinks or beer out of it. Or put a liner in it and use it as a planter. It looks a lot more interesting than just another pot. We have these great little gilded cups from the 30s to use for sorbet, or amuse-bouches. You can get a set of glass plates for $20. That’s cheaper than Chinet! You also carry more serious pieces … The cool thing is that we’re consignment, so we never know exactly what we’ll get. Antiques stores have a much stronger design element now. People used to look for cohesiveness, like a period room. Now, the object has to stand on its own. You start to look for pieces that speak to you. What’s great about our store is we amalgamate styles, because our stuff comes from every walk of life. I have a great English pine piece, circa 1860, done as faux bamboo. It’s a washstand, but it would make a great bar. It’s got a white marble top, and that’s a big look right now. I can’t believe it’s still here.

What makes Fork & Pencil unique? Some of the lines we carry we’re the only retail shop carrying them in the country. We support local artisans, from silversmiths to jewelry designers to hand-worked paper goods. My customers might also tell you it’s the edited selection. The quality of stuff is very high, we’re always surprising people. And because it’s consignment, the prices are really terrific.

Any suggestions for people who don’t want to show up empty-handed? Hostess gifts are big, especially this time of year. Say you get invited to the Hamptons — arrive with a set of antique wine glasses and a bottle of wine. Or pick up a frame or some stationery. If you want to really impress somebody, bring them a Waterford crystal bowl. We’ll even box it for you.