LET’S take equine home style off the beaten path. Outside of the brand names and designer tags, a world of equestrian artifacts awaits discovery. I caught up with an eclectic collector in upstate SC and found that classic design lives to be found in unexpected places.
Lee and Amanda Cone’s 150 year-old farmhouse is the backdrop for a wild collection of equestrian treasures. The house, like the collection of artifacts, has a story of faded glory and revival. Once covered in dust and fallen into shambles, the house now stands proud amidst the 95 acres of Windbrook Farm.
Amanda Cone’s home décor simultaneously respects and discards tradition. She attributes this to an awareness of her heritage. “I come from an old Southern family,” Cone recounts. “My mother told me when I was young that I had to know all of the rules and proper protocol of my heritage. After that, she told me, when I had learned the social graces, I could do whatever the hell I wanted!” This liberation from the typical has turned her home into a testing ground for creative experimentation.
Objects of all kinds climb their way onto the walls of her home. Table legs, trivets, and packsaddles share wall space with traditional equine paintings, yet the design looks strangely cohesive.
Cone prefers to have pieces that no one else has, so the unexpected is embraced. Eccentric, discarded, and overlooked treasures find a resting place in her home. But let’s be honest: what is original is often strange.
Take for example, her headless, half-size jockey mannequin. Run-ins with awkward pieces keep the house’s appearance fresh and the viewer on his or her toes.
Moving from room to room, I can see that Cone is a collector who appreciates and understands artistic inspiration. She collects both sporting art from the masters and folk art from the anonymous; moreover, she appreciates both equally. Their value comes not from name or reputation, but beauty alone. A wall of horse illustrations and paintings adorns the kitchen’s far wall. She has given breathing room to a crowded wall space by adding brass stirrups (of Middle Eastern origin) and antique hunting crops alongside.
Turning just ninety degrees, I see various sculptures atop the rough-hewn wooden cabinets. Their naïveté seems cheeky when set against the refined, high art on the opposite wall. However, they resonate with equal artistic spirit. One is a thrift store find: a unicorn made by an unknown artist with spare metal parts and a soldering iron. The body and legs are made of axe heads, the tail and mane from a metal scrubbing brush. The head has been fashioned from a strange but nearly recognizable metal scrap, and the horn is nothing more than a screw. “I tried so hard not to buy it, but couldn’t stop myself,” Cone admits. Beside it is a small cast iron horse. The foot-stand on its back indicates that was once a piece of a shoe polisher’s equipment. An antique weather vane and a silhouetted hunt scene sit beside it. And the jumbled herd of horses continues, running around the cabinets above my head.
A favorite of most is Cone’s kitchen pot rack. Pots and pans dangle down from the runners of an antique sled. “I had been looking for the right pot rack for years, but never found anything original,” Cone remarks. It was a lesson in creativity: she couldn’t find the right pot rack because she hadn’t yet invented it. When she saw the sled in a junk store, she knew exactly what it was meant to be. “I don’t get hung up in what is traditional or standard. There are no rules if it makes me smile,” she says. “Try some unexpected things and just see how they look.”
The finds that add the most to the house are those that have a story. No matter whether they came to her as heirlooms or from an estate sale, their own heritage adds value. On either side of the mantle piece is a pair of antique “singers” that have been wired with electricity and turned into sconces. Singers, which served the same function as clippers, were used to singe or burn stray muzzle and jowl hairs off of horses. This set in particular holds a lofty place in equestrian heritage. They come from the farm where the US Olympic Team trained in the 50’s.
An equine tool of yesteryear can be an exciting piece of art if it finds its way into the right hands. This exciting collection is the result of Cone’s antiquing, scavenging, and Goodwill hunting.
1) Hunting flask
This would have been attached to the saddle of a huntsman and filled with some “liquid courage” for the ride! The age and origin are unknown.
2) Carriage weight
Carriage weights were used to tie down or tether horses to keep them from departing. The age and origin of this object are unknown.
3) 14th Century Knight Stirrup
English in origin, circa 1400s.
4) Brass Temple Toy
This antique originates from India. Temple toys were made to entertain children in Tibetan and Nepalese temples. They rolled around on the floors of temples, keeping children busy with play.
5) Carriage Foot Warmer
Carriage foot warmers like this one were filled with hot coals and placed on the floor of carriages to provide foot warmth on cold days. This piece most probably dates back to the turn of the century (circa 1890 to 1910).
6) Hoof Knife (antler)
This early hoof knife has a handle made of an antler. The age and origin are unknown.
7) Leather Clog Stirrup
Little is known about these stirrups, as they were a thrift store purchase. Leather clog or toe stirrups were made for children as safety stirrups, preventing children’s feet from getting stuck in the stirrup during falls.
8) Hoof Knife
This metal hoof knife (circa 1903) was used to clean hooves.
9) Antique Teeth Floating Tool
As it is another thrift store find, little is known about this tool. It is similar in appearance to equine dental floats circa 1920-1940.
The beauty of eclectic style is that it’s been there all along. Treasures abound in unexpected places, waiting for the human element to complete them as art. Some have been long forgotten, others never appreciated to begin with. They pass their time inanimately— dusty in hay-lofts and scattered in junk stores— needing only an artist to endow them with new life.