During the spring of 2012, Claire and her husband made the decision take their lives in a different direction. Over a few month period, they got engaged, quit their cushy jobs in Boston, bought a house in Vermont without knowing a soul in the state, and moved to the country to see about a more peaceful, sustainable life.
Claire had often dreamed of buying a fixer-upper house with endless projects to work on and studio space to run her online vintage shop. Her husband wanted to try his hand at growing food, raising animals, and living closer to the land. When they found the half forest, half meadow 10 acre lot with a little red farm house and separate barn workshop they turned to each other and said, "Well, should we just go for it?"
Claire describes the year and a half that followed as somewhat of a whirlwind. Among other things, the couple converted a barn space to a workshop, tapped maple trees, planted two vegetable gardens, and began growing some of their own food. They also DIY remodeled the bottom floor of their house, adding an office, bedroom, bathroom, and sun room. Throughout it all, Claire has been chronicling the process on her blog, The Little Dog Blog, and running her vintage Etsy shop in the barn, constantly working on improving her photography, the quality of stock, and customer service.
Claire has also become increasingly interested in vintage textiles, specifically rugs, and uncovering old kilims in antique malls and flea markets has become the thrill of all thrills. Last winter she began taking weaving lessons from a weaver in Vermont with a goal to eventually make her own rugs to sell. "At the moment I still have a lot to learn, but I am really enjoying the process" she said.
In the meantime, scouring flea markets and antique stores is still her favorite place to be, and getting to run Little Dog Vintage full time has been a dream realized. According to Claire, aside from the beautiful design and quality of older pieces, buying vintage reduces the amount of trash ending up in landfills and pollution generated from the manufacture of cheap, throw-away goods, not to mention the resources used to ship merchandise overseas from China and India. "I just feel better about it," she says. "Better quality and less environmental impact. It's a win-win."
Little Dog Vintage
In summer 2012, Claire Ferrante scrapped her status quo for a completely new way of life.
Though she loved her full-time graphic design career at Google, her calling was to be a full-time vintage seller. “I knew that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life sitting in front of a computer in an office building, so when the opportunity to run Little Dog full time presented itself, I just went for it,” she says.
After saving a significant amount of “backup” funds, here’s what happened in a nutshell: within a few months, she and her boyfriend got engaged, quit their jobs in Boston, bought a fixer-upper house in rural Vermont, and moved to the country without knowing a single person in the state. “I still don’t know where I got the courage to shake things up so much. I guess we just got excited about the idea of taking on an adventure, living more simply, and working for ourselves, so we ran with it,” she says. She chronicles the process of adjusting to her new way of life and running the vintage shop on her blog.
Now Claire spends her days hitting up flea markets, antique shops, thrift stores, yard and estate sales, along with creating top-notch photography and item listings. “My favorite items that I sold are an antique plaster horse bust pulled out of an attic in a Victorian home, a metal model train bridge with chippy green paint, and a mid-century Sputnik light.”
Claire shares her vintage adventures and tips for turning a hobby into a full-time job here.
Do you only sell on Etsy, or do you subsidize your income in other ways?
I’m in the process of collecting items for a Fab.com sale — this will be my first time selling off Etsy. I’m also currently taking loom weaving lessons from a wonderful weaver in Vermont, and I hope to eventually weave my own rugs and blankets to sell. I’m still embarrassingly far from being able to weave anything worth selling, but it’s been so much fun learning to make something with my hands.
What’s your average day like?
Every day is different. We’re remodeling our house ourselves, so I split my time between that and working on my Etsy shop, which I run out of a barn that we converted to a workshop. I stop everything and take photos when the light is right. I take off for the day and hit up flea markets when the good ones roll around. I don’t have a set schedule, and for now I’m really enjoying that.
What’s your advice for new Etsy sellers?
Continually improve listing photos. I noticed that my items started to be featured more consistently on and off Etsy after improving my photos. When we moved to the new house, I built a new photo setup that has made life so much easier. You can check out the full DIY for how we made the setup here on my blog.
Claire Ferrante’s photography tips: She uses natural light and, for each item, takes at least one shot showing the entire item from the front, a side angle, a close-up, and one showing any flaws. “Where appropriate, I add props like books or a flower stem to convey the size and scale of the item,” she says.
When you’re shopping, how do you figure out whether a potential purchase would fit in the Etsy Vintage marketplace?
Certain pieces just reel me in, and I tend to choose items I would love to own or that speak to me in some way. I love the look of well-loved pieces that have lots of character. I’m not interested in pristine, mint-condition antiques. I like the real-deal, old, chippy stuff.
Does Claire have a specific strategy for selecting Vintage items? Kind of. “I buy whatever catches my eye,” she says. “You can never plan what you’ll find, but I do have a soft spot for mid-century items and textiles.”
How do you date and determine the value of your vintage finds?
I do web searches for similar items and start to piece things together. You also develop an eye for certain periods. Some items, like globes, are easy to date by looking at borders and country names. I research similar items online to determine the value, then typically set my price somewhere in the middle.
Though Claire loves following trends, at the end of the day, she stocks her shop with items that speak to her. “Getting excited about a whacky find at the flea market is what keeps me going, whether or not it’s currently trendy,” she says.
When you’re writing your listing descriptions, what kind of information do you find is helpful to include for the buyer?
I try to describe in detail the look and era of the item, and also provide a few suggestions for ways it can be used. I make sure to take accurate measurements and include details about the condition, which is especially important for vintage items. I want buyers to know exactly what they are getting and ensure there are no surprises when the item arrives at their door.
What are your top three pieces of advice to sellers who want to transition their hobbies into full-time careers?
1. Create a workspace that allows you to be organized and productive, and more importantly one you want to spend time in. Designate storage space for vintage stock and shipping materials, set up an area for photography, and clear table space for packaging and working. You don’t have to have a huge space, just one that works for you. If you don’t have enough space for a permanent photo setup, get creative. When I was running Little Dog out of a 500-square-foot studio, I stored a half sheet of drywall and a wood board behind a cabinet and pulled them out to create a “base” and “wall” background for shop photos.
2. Be realistic about your financial needs and set concrete goals to reach them. This point is obvious and practical but can be tempting to gloss over when you’re passionate about an idea and can’t wait to get started.
3. Let your business evolve. Stay open to new ideas and approaches. If something isn’t working anymore, it’s okay to let it go. Keep trying new things and keep trying to get better!
I've been waiting on the urge to write for months now. Waiting and waiting, but the urge just doesn't come. Life is full and happy, and tearing myself away to sit down and write a post hasn't appealed.
And that is good.
The blog was for me more than anyone during my time in Vermont. I needed it then. Vermont became lonely (the understatement of the year), and blogging turned out to be one of the best ways to connect. But I don't need it anymore. I'm surrounded by friends, coworkers, a wonderful boyfriend, and seas of people in Boston. A line from a book I'm currently reading sums it up better than I ever could:
"I've emerged from a dark tunnel and found myself in the middle of a carnival."
That doesn't mean I won't keep this space going in some way, I just haven't figured out exactly what that will look like yet. I love sharing pictures and thoughts and projects, and I intend to continue with that, but I wanted to shed light on why the posting has been so slim recently. I just don't need it like I did before. And that's a very very good thing.
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