Meet Rebekah Brooks, who is one of the most talented and original jewelers working out there these days. And she’s wise, too… because she actually left the bustle of NYC and decamped to Western Massachusetts where she now lives with her husband and daughter, selling her wares (and vintage pieces as well!) out of a lovely storefront in Northampton
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Rebekah Brooks. I am a mother, a jewelry designer and an artist.
Where are you from and where do you currently live?
I am from a tiny rural town in southern New Hampshire. I grew up on a farm but feel like I am a New Yorker because I lived there most of my adult life and definitely think it is the best city in the world. Now I live in Holyoke, Massachusetts in a converted Victorian church. When my husband and I decided to leave Brooklyn 6 yrs ago, we found this church and it was a lot like the lofts we had always loved. Plus, I grew up in a hippy house made out of found lumber that didn’t really have real rooms in it. There is plenty of room in our house for our studios (my husband is a musician), for our daughter to play and to have a garden. It had been converted to a residence years ago, but we’ve done lots of work on it to make it truly our own.
What is the most awesome thing in or about your neighborhood?
How close it is to nature. There are so many places to be in the woods and just walk and think. Mountainview Farm (our CSA) is only 5 minutes away! We go there to pick our own vegetables, herbs and flowers most of the year, and also to just walk and play in the field. We are also only 10 minutes down the road from Northampton, the really cool town where our flagship Rebekah Brooks store is located. And with so many colleges and universities in the area, there are always interesting forward thinking people around.
List the top 5 places you go locally to discover hidden treasures.
I am always on the lookout for secondhand and vintage finds for our house as well as to sell in the store. I always check out The Pioneer Valley flea market on Sundays in Holyoke year round and, in the summertime, the Hadley flea market is really fun to explore. The antique stores on Market Street in Northampton are all great, especially The Antique Center, and I almost never pass by a Salvation Army without poking my head in! Last but most definitely not least, our whole family keeps a sharp eye on the piles of “trash” in the streets nearby (we just found a perfect bed for my daughter!)
What blogs or websites do you visit regularly?
I do shop a lot on eBay. I love georgianjewelry.com for inspiration. I check The Cosmic Path for my horoscope, and The New York Times for news. I also enjoy looking at my floral designer friend Denise Fasanello’s blog when I need to see some beautiful flowers.
As a kid, were any of your toys and clothes hand-me-downs? Stories please!
Most of my clothes were handmade or from rummage sales held at local churches. I loved going through clothes and trying them on. Where I grew up, in New Hampshire, there were also great recycling centers and we got a lot of the things for our house from them. My parents are artists and never had much money, so they were really resourceful but also very creative. My mom loves to sew, and when she travels she always buys a few pieces of fabric. She also knits and crochets (as do I). I used to think that it wasn’t so great for my social life to have all handmade toys, and handmade clothes. But now that I have a daughter, I find myself doing the exact same thing! Plus when I look back, my friends may not have been the most popular kids but they were definitely the coolest! I think teaching my daughter to be resourceful and recycle things is one of the most important things I can share with her. No matter what you do in your life, if you know how to cook, buy things cheaply, plant food and start a fire you will be probably be OK. We share this planet with so many others, and there is way too much stuff on it already.
Today, how often do you go to garage sales, flea markets, etc.? What is your modus operandi? Any personal tips you’d like to share?
I go to garage sales, flea markets, church rummage sales– you name it– as much as possible. I have my favorite sellers and I always go directly to them at flea markets while scanning others quickly on the way. I also tell people what I am looking for, and they keep an eye out for me… I am a pretty good customer as we sell lots of vintage and antique objects in my store.
Any specific tips for people looking to buy vintage jewelry?
Look at the overall condition, craftsmanship and materials. If there are real gemstones it may be gold or silver. Look for stamps. Develop a genre or two you like and learn a lot about it, then add another and all of a sudden you will know a lot! I love almost anything Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian. Especially Edwardian rosecut cluster rings. I sell a lot of them in my store. I want one for myself!
Have you ever taken home an object you found in the street or dumpster? If so, what was it? And where is it now?
There are hundreds of things in our home from the trash. Recently I found an entire sewing collection dating back to the 1800’s. Needles of all kinds that are really hard to find (some I have used in my jewelry making), buttons, silk pincushions that look like tiny strawberries, every color thread you could need. Now it is my sewing box… I feel so grateful to the the woman who kept these precious things all the years of her life. I feel like I know her. There was even a scarf in there that she hand knit. It was in perfect condition. I have worn it all winter.
Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
Somewhere in between. We are planning a big yard sale this spring.
Editor’s note: We’ll keep you posted, because this is definitely going to a good sale!
What is your most cherished thrifted, secondhand, vintage, or upcycled object you possess? What’s the story behind it?
Its hard to say. Now and then I keep an antique piece of jewelry that I originally buy for the store but then just can’t give up. This year I kept a Volcanite ring (molded from volcanic ash) that has an 18kt inlay of a butterfly on top. I bought it from an antique dealer.
Do you create/make things? What are you working on these days?
I am a jewelry designer, so I make things all the time– it is how I make my living! I create new designs inspired by antique objects, and I also restore antique jewelry and make ‘new’ engagement rings out of antique diamonds and re-claimed settings and gold. They are ‘conflict free’, recycled, green and more beautiful than anything mass produced. I also design the displays for my stores, windows and walls. For the display this year, I bought a little deer and made a little ‘forest’ around her that changes with the season. Creating these displays is one of my favorite parts of having a store.
The Short List
Visit her store:
150 Main Street @ Thornes Marketplace, Northampton MA
Rebekah Brooks online