styling a vintage cart

vintage metal cart in dining room

One of the perks of rooming with a vintage reseller is trying out a revolving array of furniture. As a dealer, he can choose what to keep temporarily or permanently and what to resell immediately (although this could also be true for anyone, thanks to Craigslist). Pieces in his home are for the most part transient—other than his great-aunt's cherished mid-century modern dining table and chairs—placeholders until something better comes along.

Since most of my own furniture either has been or is in the process of being sold off in preparation for going tiny, for the last eight months and counting I've been living primarily among things that aren't mine, for me a novelty since I've always been something of a nester with more furnishings than my housemates. But though it's always hard negotiating shared personal space, it's infinitely better crashing in the pad of someone with similar taste who owns things you can bear to look at each day.

As one example, in a corner between the galley kitchen and the dining area he'd placed a small mid-century modern rounded triangular table topped with a big lamp (pictured here). And then above the table we'd hung my black-and-white signed 1990s photography print of a pile of striped squash picked up at Eastmoreland's Neighborhood Garage Sale last year. The corner table looked okay but wasn't terribly useful, other than being a surface for a lamp; plus, the dining room felt too leggy.

But last month he switched out the table with a vintage pale-yellow, three-shelf rolling metal cart. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that? Carts are handy countertop extensions with vertical storage—moveable open-faced cabinets. (He'd actually found two similar metal rolling carts this spring at local thrift stores within a short time of each other, selling the white one and keeping the warmer yellow.) This cart is a huge improvement over the little table because now besides the lamp, there's a place for his cookbooks, his thriving pothos plant, and ripening summer fruit or winter squash stored on handmade thrifted pottery. The cart also better fits the space, transitioning neatly between the (cheap) kitchen cabinets and the dining room window and adding some contrast to all the nearby wood grains. Plus, its being on casters makes for easier floor cleaning. So though much of the apartment is still full of furniture refinishing projects, at least the dining room is tidy and visually restful.

vintage metal cart, styled

To style a kitchen cart for extra storage, round up the following pieces (secondhand whenever possible):

  • a vintage or industrial cart from a local thrift shop or Craigslist
  • big handmade pottery bowls and platters
  • a healthy living plant or vase of fresh flowers
  • fruit and vegetables needing ripening
  • a large art print or painting
  • a pile of favorite cookbooks (and why keep any other kind?)
  • a lamp (if needed)
  • items of different textures (e.g., pottery, metal, paper, fabric, stone, wood)
  • a random, fun decorative object (here: a vintage Mexican onyx bookend standing guard)

Hang the art (low). Then play around with the cart materials until you find a practical combination using a range of object heights. Vary the textures. Avoid clutter. Think about pops of color, which can even come from the cookbook covers and fresh produce. And use the natural power of odd numbers (without getting too obsessive). Cocktail bar carts, of course, are popular for dining rooms or living rooms. Some people use their kitchen carts to store big appliances like stand mixers, microwaves, or juicers. Similar styling principles apply. The best decorating is functional as well as visually appealing—with easy-to-clean surfaces and a dab of quirkiness. Now go find a cart!

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