By Megan M. Seckman

Tracy Heightchew comes from a long line of junk collectors. Her grandfather was fond of salvaging scrap metal and took young Tracy out to sift through his heap for a hidden treasure. Her grandmother was an extreme yard saler who stockpiled a potpourri of Depression-era oddities. They loved old things, and their amassed collections left a forever mark on young Tracy.

“I am very close to my grandparents and grew up around their salvaging in Pleasureville, Kentucky. I have carried on the tradition of pulling stuff from the garbage. I love to see what other people throw away and what still has life. My grandparents were hoarders,” Tracy explained from her salvaged mid-century modern dining room table, “The real kind. My version is clean, fun, and respectful of the story still left in people’s trash.”

Tracy’s mid-century modern dining room table is one of many items she has found while thrifting.
Photos by Melissa Donald 

Recently, Tracy, public information specialist with the Louisville Free Public Library, moved three blocks away from her small home in Germantown to a larger, two-bedroom Craftsman-style home in Parkway Village. It is the perfect setting to showcase her found treasures. The house itself was owned by the same family for over 70 years and is filled with custom-made cabinets and shelves by the original homeowner, who was a cabinet maker.

“He would bring home leftovers from his business. He built the shelves, the bar downstairs, and the kitchen cabinets with the scraps. People saw this house and thought ‘Oh, I’ll gut that kitchen and put in all new cabinets.’ I saw it and said, ‘Oh, no, that is staying the way it is.’ I inherit stuff no one else wants because I like the story [behind the objects]. This house had a story.”

 Tracy keeps some of her thrift items in a metal vintage curio cabinet. 

Throughout the home, Tracy has arranged her thrifted and salvaged goods with meticulous attention. She likes weird things like anthropomorphic vegetables and panda bears, eerie portraits of women, and vintage toys arranged in tiny boxes where a typical vanity mirror would hang. She collects books and artwork from Andrew Wyeth and Marcel Duchamp. But somehow, the flow of the home with the aesthetics of her collections never feels busy or cluttered; the space feels curated, like a museum dedicated to beauty of refuse.

Tracy’s skillful arrangement of thrifty furnishings gives her home character and appeal. 

For years, Tracy has made and sold collages at markets throughout town. She applies the same principles of collage to living beautifully.

“To me, it’s all about the arranging. I like to fill little spaces; I have a vision for these things,” Tracy explains as she walks me through her immaculate collections. There is an altar to women above the fireplace, a vintage curio cabinet filled with smiling vegetables, built-in bookcases lined with vintage hardcovers, an Aubrey Beardsley hanging above old wooden boxes filled with more books and records. The stairwell upstairs is lined with the beginnings of another collection of oddly-shaped antique pictures inspired by a photo of her great-grandmother. The assemblages flow throughout the home, paying homage to the past, to things once forgotten.

Tracy thrifts about once a week for therapy and fun, but is a diehard fan of Peddlers Malls. “Everything really cool in my house came from a Peddlers Mall for $15. That seems to be my price point. I don’t generally go above $15 for anything, and that includes my Aubrey Beardsley and my Marcel Duchamp matted print.” She also shops at Tickled Pink off Taylor Boulevard. But mostly, Tracy lives beautifully with her things because she cherishes the narrative behind each one. “I help people when they are in crisis about their house. I remind them why they have these things; I remind them of the story behind each one —where each one came from, how we found them. I can relate to people through their things.”