Collecting: Real Retro 

Collector gathers things from the Space-Age heyday.

Kroll chalks up her innate collecting tendencies to her family — her grandparents collected porcelain and her parents collect a hodgepodge of items, including old medical items, baseball memorabilia and porcelain.

“My parents always took my brother and me along on their collecting trips,” Kroll says. “They let us start our own collections.”

In her teens, Kroll began collecting Girl Scout handbooks — she was a Girl Scout in the early ’70s. Today that collection has grown to include Girl Scout memorabilia, insignias and uniforms. But that was just the beginning.

Kroll’s interest in collecting peaked after taking a decorative arts class in college and then landing a job as an assistant curator at the Valentine Museum. Settling into her new, just-out-of-college apartment, Kroll began to seek old pieces of furniture. Old by her standard was the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

She started with a chrome and vinyl dinette set — easy to find, she says. Family members handed down a living room set from the ’40s — the “I Love Lucy” look. And Kroll added some tables from the ’50s with geometric, space-age designs (think “The Jetsons”).

The momentum began to build. “Once you have the dinette set, you have to have the ’50s dishes and on and on,” Kroll says with a grin.

Her living room wears her styles with pride. A luscious red chair from the ’40s sits opposite a green vinyl and chrome chair from the ’50s. An atomic age, missile-shaped lamp with spun fiberglass shade is mounted atop a geometric table from the ’40s. A boomerang coffee table from the ’50s sits in front of a red-and-gold leaf sofa from the ’90s.

On her mantle and in her dining room are Russel Wright dishes from the American Modern collection. Kroll collects pieces in chartreuse, granite and cedar green. She has about 30 so far.

“I don’t just collect them, I use them,” she says.

All of Kroll’s collections are functional. She owns more than 90 pieces of North Star dishware by Salem. An inexpensive pattern in the ’50s, North Star is characterized by aqua, gold and black atomic-age starbursts. During the holidays, she pulls out her Star Glow dishes by Royal China. Each piece is decorated with silver snowflakes.

“I like the joy of the hunt, and I like a good bargain,” Kroll says, noting that she peruses thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets to ferret out her next purchase. “I’m always waiting for just the right deal.”

One of her most prized possessions is her dining room set by Heywood-Wakefield. Manufactured between the 1930s and 1960s, the Heywood-Wakefield line features streamlined, geometric designs in warm golds and cool blondes. Her goal is to find a Heywood-Wakefield bedroom set.

Kroll’s collections stop short of obsessive. “I know when to cut myself off,” she says. “Then, I’ll go to the next.”

The next in this case is a collection of framed Paint by Numbers pictures. Kroll still isn’t sure that she wants to admit she collects these throwaway items. Out of the eight on her walls, Kroll has singled out two that she feels certain about. One is a picture of the Last Supper that she found at a North Side thrift store. The artist taped the history from the box onto the back of the painting. On a card, he wrote “This took me from November 1966 to March 1967 to complete.”

The other favorite is a red and blue parrot in a T-shaped frame. “It’s gaudy but it was a steal at $2,” Kroll says.



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