Dollar Store Design

Here we are in the heart of the hot, hazy, humid, lazy days of summer!  Our gatherings are still small, and our energy is low. We watch the COVID numbers.  We try to beat the heat.  We wonder what next fall might look like because, although it is fast approaching, we certainly don’t know.  And hopefully we are gathering in modest-sized groups with people whom we love and soaking in all that we still have.  

I just did an Instagram post on five things I liked at the dollar store.  A topic that silly feels just about right in these triple-H days.  Let’s not solve the world’s design problems this week.  Let’s just figure out how to check out of the dollar store without bags of curious food, bad greeting cards, and holiday decor that clings to your windows.  So, what five things did I choose?  Oh, it’s better with pictures, but I chose some plates, a vase, wrapping paper, a candle holder, and some white rocks. (See how silly?)  But it’s not what I chose that really matters, it’s how I chose them. 

Let’s take the vase I liked.  They’ve been selling those at the dollar store for ages -- and ages ago I bought five.  They are straight, up-and-down glass vases that are about 3 inches wide and 10 inches high.  Simple, simple, simple.  I bought five because whatever they hold will look nice in an odd-numbered group.  (That’s a design thing -- groupings tend to like odd numbers.)  And what can they hold?  Well… anything!  I keep some on the kitchen counter and throw my lemons and limes in them.  I take them out on the patio with pillar candles inside … with sand … or shells ... or sea glass, or whatever.  I set them in a long row on my holiday table and fill them with one giant pinecone, or antique ornaments, or cranberries and greens, or even twigs.  I'll put one out in February, partially filled with those candy hearts that look so much better than they taste.  Just honestly whatever.  

So, in summary, I bought a set of simple, glass vessels which I saw a multitude of uses for.  And bonus?  If you have minimalist tendencies like me, you can now donate many of your random little candle holders, and even some vases.  

I also liked the gold charger plates that I found there.  What are charger plates you ask?  Well, I’m embarrassed because they are the definition of a thing that you absolutely, positively don’t need.  It’s a large plate that goes under your food plate just for the way it looks.  So silly!  So, I’m definitely not investing lots of money in those -- and a dollar feels about right -- but they do give your place setting a nice graphic outline.  And me?  I’ll also use them as beach ware and as small serving platters.  I could put a decorated cake on one and, hey, maybe they can even hold my glass vases.  I have five you know. 

“Simple and True” are key design themes here.  There are so many little design snippets that fall under that category.  Don’t buy a cheap glass vase that is trying to be fine crystal with its scalloped rim and fluted body.  Just save up and buy the fine crystal if that’s your thing.  But, if you are buying cheap, do buy the one that has one idea: I am a simple glass vessel.  Because the most important part about that vessel is what you are going to put in it.  Don’t have it be about the vase - have it be about you. 

The candlesticks I liked?  They are exactly what they set out to be -- chunky black holders for your pillar candles.  No fake distressing or gold leafing or folksy inscriptions.  Just that one thing.  Those silly gold charger plates?  Well, they are exactly and unabashedly that!  I like them, but you may not.  They won't appeal to everyone, and that's something I like.  No need to apologize, you silly gold chargers.  You know what you are! 

And that’s an important point -- only buy what you like and will use.  There is something that I find disturbing about the disposable nature of the dollar store.  Same with all that junk we stuff into pinatas and birthday goody bags.  Or have you seen that SALE room they have at Forever21?  It’s the stuff that gets sold, used for a second - and then goes straight into the landfill.  So, the Dollar Store is a fun concept for us here - but choose carefully, even if it only costs a dollar. 

Oh, and one more note on those vases -- I caught my friend mixing herself a drink in one.  “It saves embarrassing refills,” she said.  “Plus, it’s mostly ice.”  Like I said… it’s what goes in it that makes it special.

Jen Coles is a professional home designer and mother of four who lives in Manchester.