Credit: Leslie Schwartz

Sandra Soss has cultivated her approach to decor since she was a child, but it was only four years ago that she learned the word for it—bricolage. Soss came across the term in a word-a-day calendar, defined as “something constructed by using whatever materials happen to be available.”

The phrase sparked an epiphany, she says: “That’s how I live my whole life.” Inspired by the calendar page (which she kept), Soss made bricolage her living as well. The former buyer and “visual merchandiser” for an independent retailer now sells her finds, as well as original creations like hand-embroidered cameo buttons, through two shops—Bricolagelife and Daisy Chain Vintage—on She also blogs at

Soss’s three-bedroom Lincoln Square apartment is jam-packed with curios recent and old, modern and country, industrial and handmade, culled over the years from thrift stores and rummage sales. But if the components are the results of happy shopping accidents, each placement is painstakingly intentional. They “all go together when I get them home,” she says, forming a kind of museum of the mind, a catalog of personal history, emotions, and inspirations. Cabinets teem with small dolls, built-in bookshelves by the fireplace house a sizable collection of American art pottery. She transformed a cramped bedroom into a cozy workshop with surplus retail shelving, on which she keeps vintage cameras, fabrics and notions, and art supplies.

Soss doesn’t collect things for their monetary value. “I’m compelled by aesthetic or nostalgic appeal,” she says. “You see a piece and you know if it’s something you want to look at forever.” —Katherine Raz

“This is a stack of Ikea wooden CD storage drawers. I glued pieces of maps from an old atlas on the drawer fronts with some words and small images cut out of books and magazines I kept for making collages. I used a bundle of vintage wooden yardsticks and rulers I collected and wanted to display to finish the side and top surfaces.”

“The top shelf of my doll collection, mostly small wooden dolls and toy animals. Many of these were made as souvenirs for tourists and range from 20 to 100 years old. I have been picking them up at thrift shops and rummage sales very inexpensively for decades. Some are hand-carved figures and some are nesting dolls and toys from my toy-store owning days. I have no clear cut rules for collecting these. Certain dolls or toys are appealing to me because of their nostalgic, exotic or handmade qualities.”

“This is a still life on my dresser. A vintage lamp has an old necklace draped over the shade where I hang earrings in the links of the chain. A tab end of film negative is tucked in because i thought i might us it in a collage one day. A porcelain hand holds a few of my rings and necklaces (some made by Flickr and Etsy friends).”

“A small group of old locks and keys . . . they fall into the obsolete objects category of things I am attracted to.”

“Clever and beautiful packaging design has fascinated me for as long as I can remember–I always appreciated the package as much as what it held. When I couldn’t throw a box, tin, or package away I would use it to store something small like pins, buttons (another collection), pencils, or jewelry. One day I decided to gather a few boxes together to display in the empty cabinet and i realized i had a collection. Some of them are still full of buttons and pins, but they are much easier to enjoy on the shelves than closed up in a closet or drawer.”

“These are simple pieces of vintage and antique pottery, most in a clean creamy white, mostly matte glaze I have been collecting for many years. Most cost just a few dollars each. Besides looking lovely against the painted shelves that flank the fireplace, they are purposeful. I use the vases regularly and the bowls hold my beach stone and beach glass collections or small candles. Sadly, this collection was depleted in the grand purge of 2006. I once had three times as many.”