With her stomping cowboy boots, men’s riding jackets, and worn-in leather vests, Mary Randolph Carter doesn’t dress like any executive we’ve ever met. And yet, since 1988, Carter has been a creative director and executive at Ralph Lauren, following stints as an editor at Self, Mademoiselle, and New York Magazine.
On the Ralph Lauren spectrum, Carter is more RRL than Polo. In fact we’d even take it one step further and say that Carter’s aesthetic is really closer to Polo Country, the now defunct precursor to RRL which was more South, than Southwest. Carter is well-known (possibly even more so than for her association to RL) as a collector of what she calls “junk,” but what would more kindly be described as folksy flea market collectibles. It’s this widely documented collection which has made Carter a legend in her own right, as everyone from The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to The Selby has explored Carter’s massive collection of rusty signs, hand-painted family portraits, curling photographs, yellowing books, Lady of Guadalupe bracelets, and just about every other obscure knick-knack imaginable.
It is Carter herself who has shone the brightest light on her all-encompassing assemblage though, through her series of Junk books. Published between 1994 and 2001, these four coffee table books cover Carter’s self-described transformation from “collector” to “junker,” as she explores “junking” hotspots around the U.S. To Carter, the objects we amass are a reflection on who we are, an idea that she elaborated upon in 2010 with A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life: How to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc… and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place. Published by Rizzoli, this was Carter’s incredibly-long-titled guide to interior design.
It is her follow up book, the somewhat shorter titled Never Stop to Think… Do I Have a Place for This (also published by Rizzoli) is the one we’ve found to actually be the most fascinating. Even if you don’t have much of a home to decorate, or the confidence to become a full-on “junker,” you can still appreciate the seventeen homes which Carter visits throughout this book. Never Stop to Think shows how each collector has taken their own unique approach to filling their surroundings, and how these decisions reflect their personality.
Our favorite (predictably) is the house of Doug Bihlmaier, the long-standing vintage buyer for Ralph Lauren. One flip through Bihlmaier’s enviable collection of vintage Americana, all of which is arranged just so, is enough to make us want to hotwire a VW bus and hightail it up to Brimfield. For now, I’ll just have to settle for living vicariously through Never Stop to Think.