Livonia antiques dealer mixes old and new to create unique holiday tablescapes

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

It's a standing tradition in Don and Sandy Vartoogian's Livonia home when their grown kids come over on Christmas Eve: Poke fun at Mom's big table display for the holidays but then race as fast as you can to see it.

"My kids tease me about it," said Vartoogian who has a knack for creating unique tablescapes for entertaining. "But the first thing they do is run to look at the table."

And they should. Sandy, an antiques dealer, goes all out with her holiday table decor, skipping the traditional red and green and instead creating her own-one-of-a-kind tables that sparkle with spirit.

Antique trophies, which Vartoogian collects, serve as vases for flowers for this year's holiday tablescape. The flatware is vintage; one of the sets was a wedding gift to Sandy and her husband, Don.

One Christmas Sandy used sheet music as her starting point, layering the pages over a black tablecloth with gray and white striped linen napkins and making it all festive with fresh greens and pine cones. Another year she used buffalo check throughout her tablescape.

This year, Sandy, who collects and sells all kinds of antiques from nearly every time period, is using one of her collections -- antique trophies -- in her holiday table. They're filled with flowers and layered with mini-strands of lights. 

The themes "just sort of evolve I have to say," said Sandy. "It does. I look around at what I have. I don't want to run out and buy stuff."

Sandy Vartoogian, an antiques dealer from Livonia, poses in her Livonia. She loves infusing antiques into her holiday decor.

Sandy's approach to her holiday tables is a lot like her approach to decorating her home. She blends antiques with newer furniture and is never afraid to mix things up.

In her home office, for example, she blends a wall of black bookshelves from Ballard with chairs from IKEA. Her book collection -- she especially loves to collect gardening books -- is color-coded on the shelves.

"It's a mix," says Sandy. 

Furniture with a story

Sandy got into antiques as a teenager after a visit to Greenfield Village. She bought her first piece -- a desk -- from her aunt, which she kept for decades until just recently selling it.

"At that time it was over 100 years old," said Sandy, who now has two booths at the Livingston Antiques Outlet on Howell and Etsy shop.

Sandy says she loves items with a story.

"Everything has a story and I enjoy learning about each piece," she said.

And her holiday decor has a lot to share. On the fireplace mantel in her family room, she's layered vintage mirrors with antique pottery. Dried hydrangeas from her yard sprout from the pottery, along with branches from Eastern Market and pine cones she sprayed silver. Nearby is a holiday tree with vintage ornaments and mercury glass beads.

"They're not perfect," says Sandy, referring to the mirrors. "And I like that they're not perfect."

Every year, Sandy changes her decor -- from her front porch to her tree -- and this year's color palette is a mix of silver, moss green and white.

"Last year, I did red and I really enjoyed it," said Sandy, who had Martha Stewart colors in her house but switched two years ago to all grays. "Black and red buffalo check. It was fun."

But Vartoogian tries to use what she has.She said she actually only has four boxes of Christmas decor. She said you don't really have to spend a lot to create standout decorations.

"You really can decorate on a shoe string," said Sandy.

Buy what you'll use

For this year's table, vintage garden books prop up the trophies, varying the height. The books "bring in the green," said Sandy. 

She also used etched wine glasses and three sets of vintage flatware (one of which is from Sandy and Don's wedding).The chairs around the table belonged to her mom and she had them reupholstered. 

Vintage napkin holders also add a chic touch. And next to each place setting is a Christmas cracker, a party favor that includes a paper crown, trinket and a riddle or joke. 

Sandy, who also collects gardening books and dishes, says she doesn't want to buy any antiques she won't use. 

"I don't want to have something in a case and just look at it," she said. "I want to use all of it. And I love to entertain and set a beautiful table."

Near the dining room table is one of Sandy's newest antique purchases: an early 20th century apothecary cabinet with 72 drawers at an antiques shop in Howell, Like Mother Like Daughter. Don sanded and stained it to spruce it up.

"Isn't it awesome?" she said. "...I call it 'The Beast.'" 

Eventually Sandy plans to build her own dining room table, one that will big enough to seat her entire family. And she plans to do it herself.

"I actually bought a little circular saw that I think I can handle," she said. "I want to build a farmhouse table that will seat 12 to 14."

And what will the theme for next year's table? It's too early to tell. Whatever it'll be, it'll be different from this year's.

"I'm always changing things," she says.