Thursday, April 16, 2015

...about shopping your heart out: ten tips to help score big at Design on a Dime 2015

You know those bridal dress events, where brides-to-be, their BFFs and frenemies, Maids of honor and Mothers-in-law line up around the block to storm Filene’s Basement for $100 wedding gowns once the doors are flung open? Yeah, Design on a Dime is a little like that. Well, a LOT like that. But with cocktails, cute cater waiters, and a cause, all to benefit Housing Works Thrifts, Manhattan’s respected organization addressing the links between homelessness and AIDS treatment. There's good reason long-time designer/supporter Marc Houston has been hashtagging his own Design on a Dime pre-posts #philanshoppic.

I have to admit, the first year I participated as one of the 50+ designers, all stocking our 10 x 12' spaces with donated goods from generous donors like Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Room & Board, and Pagoda Red, I was unprepared for the shopping frenzy, where cash-and-carry rules the day, and fierce shopping competition brings to mind Shark Week mixed with a soupcon of Game of Thrones, with just as many gowns and queens, and only slightly fewer strategic overthrows and power plays in the quest for iron thrones and velvet recamiers.

Why the, well, bloodsport? The biggest clue lies in the name, specifically the “on a Dime” part. Just about everything corralled, curated, styled and displayed is sold for 50 to 70% off retail. But this is no Dollar General; this is major merchandise, coming from the halls and walls of some of Manhattan’s most stylish venues, great national showrooms, respected galleries, antiques houses and artist’s ateliers. Much of the merchandise is brand new, often completely custom, swathed in Clarence House fabric, dotted with Dransfield & Ross pillows and Jonathan Adler pots, lit with Spitzmiller lamps, all set against Ralph Lauren wallpaper. Or it’s enviable antiques from places like Lee Calicchio Ltd., Grace & Favor, NEST Interiors NYC, or the stashes of top tier designers like long-time Design on a Dime friend and master Miles Redd.
So what’s the best way to navigate these stylish but slightly treacherous shopping waters? Here are ten tips to make sure you get the most out of the event and party, and the most in to your shopping bags and, ultimately, your own stylish abode.

Buy your ticket NOW. Design on a Dime sells out up to a week in advance EVERY YEAR, and even knowing a designer and whispering sweet nothings in my, er, THEIR ear won’t get you in once the tickets are gone. These are HOT tickets, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

2. Spring for the VIP ticket 
What’s the saying... “You have to spend money to make money”? Well, with Design on Dime, one of the best ways to save money, ultimately, is to spring for the bigger-bucks “Classic Six” entry ticket. The $500 price tag gains you early admission at 5:30, and one full hour of unfettered browsing, with fewer crowds, AMPLE opportunity to scout the whole space at least twice, and plenty of time to station yourself in front of your first-choice, must-have merchandise, with drink in one hand, credit card in the other. It also gives you a chance to chat up the designers, to find out what the biggest bargains are in their booths, and to see what they’re eying in other spaces.

The deals are so considerable, you’ll easily recoup the $300 difference on the basic ticket price, assuming you’ve come to shop. The bargains are THAT GOOD.

During this preview hour, you can also rub elbows with Founding Chair James Hunniford, Honorary Chairs Lara Spencer and Nate Berkus, and the glittering cast of co-Chairs like Evette Rios, George Oliphant, ELLE Decor's Michael Boodro and Todd Oldham, plus design and media glitterati (including, this year, stylish neighbor to the North and Canadian design guru Karl Lohnes, gracing DOAD with his presence for the first time this year, and donating one of his signature “painted queens,” his second year doing so... but this year, he’s upped the cool quotient considerably, adding the piece to the online auction, and securing an autograph on the piece by Dame-about-town Helen Mirren, currently reigning in Broadway’s "The Audience.")

What’s the catch to the big ticket? There’s no actual shopping during the VIP hour,  only scouting. But it definitely gives you a running start, allowing you to be squarely in place as the ribbons drop, after downing one martini for strength, all before the general admission ticket holders have made it past coat check.

3. Get There Early 
If you’re there for the main shopping event starting at 6:30, be prepared to get in line up to an hour before. The good news is the line is super social, well dressed, occasionally cruisy (so I’ve been told), perfect people watching, and buzzing with great energy. 

The other good news is that once the doors open, the line FLIES.

4. The Buddy System 
This is like swimming, the tango, and other various trysts: It’s better with a partner (or two). Bring a shopping posse, even if only one of you is dropping the cash. Once you do a group scout, divide and conquer. Send everyone off to snag the piece that first caught your eye, then rendezvous at a predetermined check-out line.

5. Comfortable Shoes 
While this is a well-heeled designer crowd, this is no time to teeter on the Laboutins. You’re going to need traction for this action, so shoes you can make several laps around the Metropolitan Pavilion in are the style of choice. (Leave the Giant Purse at home, too, since the aisles are full and the booths are fuller.)

6. Don’t Hesitate 
Design on a Dime puts the pulse in impulse, and there’s very little time to ponder a purchase, so to paraphrase the MTA safety mantra, “If you see something, snag something.” Art, furniture, antiques, rugs, sculpture and objet of various ilk all FLY out of the booths at this event. Wonderful volunteers in each vignette will tell you what to do, whether it’s carrying a smaller piece straight to the multiple cash or credit pay stations, or snagging the tag on larger pieces too big to carry out.
Also, the party goes on for several hours. You’ll have plenty of time to mingle, nibble the nibbly bits, and get your drink on... AFTER you’ve swooped in on and scored that accessory, settee or photograph.

Trust me, you will be haunted by the one(s) that got away and eluded your grasp. And I’m only partially talking about cater waiters. TOTALLY unrelated... 

7. Measure Twice, Buy Once 
Bring a tape measure, and have measurements for what you’re looking for on hand or phone. 

8. Don’t Think “This Will be Cheaper Tomorrow” (I’ll Just Go to the Public Sale Days) 
Without question and with few exceptions, the best stuff all sells the very first night. And while further price reductions are taken as the two days of public sale (this year, Friday and Saturday, April 24th and 25th) unfold, if you hesitate the first night, or wait for deeper discount, you’ll be disappointed when you return for the free-admission public sale days.

Plus, if you ONLY go to the public sale, you won’t have any opportunity to see anything remotely resembling what designers had intended with their designs that have taken months of planning, begging, curating, finagling, designing, and as mentioned, custom crafting. Two years ago, my lamps sat on the floor for a large chunk of the night, since someone scooped up (and took!) both end tables. It’s that serious.

Sure, there are still AWESOME pieces that escaped the party-night crowds. But don’t risk it.

9. Talk to the Designers 
The designers stay pretty close to their booths, and they are the best resource to hear what’s hot and hotter... plus, we all know the original price of our donated wares, to make you feel even better about the bargains you’re sure to score.

10. Remember What It’s All About 
At the end of the evening, this is shopping with a heart, for an extremely worthy cause. AIDS isn’t over, and Housing Works makes sure those still dealing with an expensive and still often brutal disease have dignified lives, warm beds, and stable environments. Last year, Design on a Dime raised over $1.1 million, earmarked for new facilities and continued programming. And over the years, Housing Works has proven that HIV and AIDS treatment happens more reliably when people have a permanent address to come home to, saving lives in the process. And that’s, without a doubt, the very best savings of the night.

Design on a Dime 2015 opens to VIP ticket holders Thursday, April 23rd, at 5:30, with official Opening Night Reception general admission at 6:30 pm, at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, 125 West 18th Street, New York, New York.

The shopping continues with the FREE Public Designer Sale, Friday, April 24 from 10am – 7pm and Saturday, April 25 from 10am – 5pm.

A HUGE thank you to Rio Hamilton, for loaning me some of his images from the VIP Opening Night Party from Design on a Dime 2014. Check all his coverage here, and here, his super-fun, super-charged video remix of the night that perfectly captured the images and energy of the can't-miss shopping event. And thank you, also, to the lovely social media maven Jessica Sofia, for additional images.


  1. LOVE IT PATRICK , thanks for the wonderful shout out !!!

    1. My absolute pleasure! Thank you so much for letting me use your photos. No one captures the spirit of the event like you do!

      And thank you for being such an unflagging personal supporter of the event and Housing Works!