Conversion Experience

Nikki Witherspoon-Whited can style a rustic-chic event on a scale both diminutive and grand. Photo by Matt Rose

Eclectic and customized is what event planning’s all about these days, according to Nikki Witherspoon-Whited, owner of East West Vintage. Her Asheville-based business provides clients with the tangibles for elegantly curated, quirky-cool weddings and parties.

But to pull off this version of high style, it takes a keen eye and a nose for great finds. Witherspoon-Whited’s rank as a seasoned thrifter is indispensable.

“I absolutely love the thrill of the hunt. I’ve searched for something up until the event weekend,” she confesses. “I always seem to luck out.”

But her raw design instinct is not a whim of chance, much less her core belief that “beauty surely ups the quality of life.”

You were a collector before you launched East West Vintage. How did it evolve?

I started the business with my sister Katie in 2013; she has since moved to Florida for a great opportunity, and I run it now. We come from a long line of collectors. My grandmother actually turned an old Florida railway station into an antique mall when I was growing up; she still finds things for me at auctions to this day. I worked as a graphic designer, but wasn’t happy sitting in front of a computer all day. My sister and I started talking and reading about these businesses in larger cities. I’d had my first child and we already had half the stuff we needed to start here in Asheville, so we went ahead and launched.

That must have been a thrill, transitioning to doing what you truly love.

It sure was, and is. It gave us permission to buy things that represented our tastes. We went to flea markets, Goodwills, and yard sales to pull together a decent collection to add to what we already had. I love to create a very particular and gracious atmosphere, to put together beautiful vignettes with objects, fabrics, and furniture pieces … aside from bringing my services to wedding sites and other venues, my showroom serves as a space for all kinds of parties.

What kinds of things do you rent?

Vintage china, wine glasses and goblets, linens, rugs, furniture, candlesticks, potted plants, and I’ve got great tables clients use as gift tables and dessert stations. I offer traditional and unconventional containers; for example, we’ve got proper flower vases and vintage medicine bottles we repurpose as vases. I do floral design, too … an arbor or colorful bouquets for a wedding, or potted moss or succulents to pretty up a dining table. I have accessories of brass, which is really hot right now, milk glass, and other elements that infuse tabletops and spaces with charm and interest.

What are the top event trends you’re seeing lately?

People are wanting casual, low stress, and fun gatherings — they don’t want things too matchy-matchy. They go for funky elements like mismatched china, natural and rustic touches — think chunky candles placed on slices of tree stumps — and canning jars used as vases. Asheville lends itself to this aesthetic, for sure.

Photo by Matt Rose
Photo by Matt Rose

But your inventory has items for various tastes …

True — I have everything from dainty Victorian teacups and serving utensils to McCoy pottery, Asian-inspired pieces, and accessories and furniture with a modern simplicity. My clients’ tastes are all over the map — from French antique to “hippie chic” and mid-century retro, and more. The more I learn about their tastes, the better I can create the backdrops. I bring things to them and they can do the party setup, or I take the event from start to finish.

Any advice for the average home entertainer about outdoor gatherings as summer approaches?

Sure. I’d grab what you have in your cabinets. Linen napkins are easy to come by and instantly elevate a table, glasses of varying sizes add height and interest, fresh flowers or plants on the table are pleasing, and definitely candles. Lighting always helps set the mood. It’s the unexpected that makes al fresco dining special, so I often bring things that live inside out, like furniture, throw pillows, even rugs.

What favorite area haunts of yours reap the greatest rewards?

I’ll never tell! Actually, I really love Goodwill, CarePartners estate sales, [Habitat for Humanity’s] ReStore, and I’m always game for a good yard sale. I’ve had great luck with yard sales; you often learn the history of something from meeting its original owners. The key to success with Goodwill and other thrift stores is to go often. Recycling and giving old things new life also brings an element of sustainability to my work.

I want to go scour a Goodwill now. Your excitement for what you do is palpable.

Thanks, I think so — I’m grateful I can see beyond the supposed flaws in something. It’s a gift to be able to see what a space could be, to have a transformative eye.

East West Vintage Rentals is located at 278 Haywood Road in West Asheville. 828-230-0377. For more information or to view an online inventory, visit eastwestvintagerentals.com.