The Cross House

Hunting for Crystal

In the 1980s, I lived in New York City and had a thriving architectural design practice. Donald Trump was one of my clients (and I may one day reveal my stories). I lived in a very large duplex apartment in Little Italy.

I enjoyed having people and clients over for dinner, so had fabulous china and crystal. Of course, dahlink! The crystal was something I found at Bloomingdales. It was by Mikasa and from their Sophisticate pattern. I loved the feel of it; so delicate. I loved, too, the design. Each piece reminded me of something that would be used in Emerald City.

I ordered a complete set for twelve, including water, wine, champagne, and cordial glasses. The price was many thousands of dollars. I did not bat an eye, and handed over my gold American Express card.


Fast forward to 1996. My life was unrecognizable from the 1980s.

I was now living in Newport, Rhode Island, four years after a real-estate deal had gone spectacularly bad. Had the national economy not also collapsed I might, might, have survived the 1992 debacle. But by April 1996 I had lost my house, my adored 1929 yacht, Alondra, my car, and was now living in my office. I traded work for rent. My plan was to leave Newport and backpack across America. And all that I had left were some personal items and…a complete set of Wizard of Oz-styled crystal.

Which was not likely to fit in a backpack.

I had a yard sale in my office, and priced the crystal set at an absurd $120.

Hours later, everything had sold but the crystal.

As I was closing up, an older woman wandered in. She saw all the empty table tops, and then moved before the crystal. She stood there for many minutes, carefully picking up various glasses and looking closely at them. Then, she just kept standing, not moving.

I stopped cleaning and came beside her. “Can I help?”

She did not answer. She was just staring at the array of crystal, sparkling in the late afternoon sun.

“Can I help you?”

She suddenly, in a startled way, seemed aware of my presence.

“Oh! Oh!”

“Can I help you?”

She looked confused. Then, she picked up the little note card which stated: Crystal set for twelve. $120.

“I don’t understand. Is each piece $120?”

“No. The whole set is $120.”

She looked profoundly confused.

“I don’t understand.”

I waved my hand across across the tops of all the glassware. “All of this is $120.”

Now she looked worried.

“What….what’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing. The set is very fine crystal with no damage and is fully complete.”

The woman looked increasingly upset and confused. I had no idea of what was wrong with her. Then her eyes watered up. “You mean…all this is priced at $120? You mean, if I give you $120 I can leave with all these gorgeous pieces of crystal? All of them?”

“Yes, that is exactly correct. And I know the price is unbelievable but I am leaving Newport with just a backpack and cannot take this with me. It has to go.”

The she started crying. Really crying. I just stood, not knowing what to do.

After a few moments she calmed a bit. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea that I would do that. Please forgive me. You must think I am insane. It’s just….it’s just…that my daughter is getting married next week, my only child, and I have looked everywhere for a incredible wedding present but have not been able to afford a single thing I thought she would love. Not a single thing! And how can I not give my daughter a wedding present? How? But now you are telling me that for a measly $120 I can give my daughter the best-ever present? The most exquisite crystal I have ever seen? A set she will go crazy for?”

Ahhh. I understood now. “Yes, all this can be yours for $120.”

Then she erupted in tears and fell against me. “Thank you! Thank you!”

I wrapped my arms around her and we both just stood, with the the array of crystal sparkling in the late afternoon sun.


After leaving Newport, I wandered America and ended up in rural Kansas. And stayed.

In 2006, I stumbled into what would prove a thriving business: restoring vintage lighting and selling online.

in 2012, I recalled my Wizard of Oz set and thought it would be nice to acquire just a few pieces. Maybe just three or four wine glasses. Then, when I had some wine, I could smile recalling my former big city life and the memory of a very happy mother.

But I had no memory of what company had made the set, much less the pattern name. So, months passed with me spending an absurd about of hours crawling through the famous Replacements website. Hours and hours and hours.

And then…


…God smiled on me. The wine glass.


The champagne glass.


I ordered a few pieces and was thrilled when they arrived. Memories flooded over me of the many dinners in my grand duplex and of the very happy mother. Even though I had lost so much in the 1990s, I had been able to resurrect a tiny portion of my former life, to heal, just a bit, something which had been scarred.

On eBay, I created a search and would occasionally receive an email about Sophisticate pieces being offered. Sometimes, I would make a purchase. Over time those first few pieces became ever more pieces.


This month, I agreed to host the board of the 1900 theater at the Cross House on October 1. We will be having dinner. But, as I detailed in a previous post, I soooooooooooooo did not want to be eating off paper plates and drinking from plastic cups. The grand dining room, no matter its current ruined condition, demanded, well, better.

My Great China Hunt was successfully concluded by filling out, in the end, a set I already had. There was, however, no reason to begin a Great Crystal Hunt for, to my surprise, since 2012 I had managed to acquire an almost complete set of twelve Sophisticate pieces. Oh. I had no idea.


Thus, the Wizard of Oz came to the Cross House. And, quite properly, was placed in the butler’s pantry.


When I purchased the house the pantry looked like this. It was obvious though that the uppermost doors were not original. Because I had the original elevation plans for the pantry I was able to figure out …


…how things had been originally, and…


…recreate things. When I can afford it, I will recreate the two lost drawers, and the counter above them. Also, the doors originally had glass panels.


There was no way I was going to hide fine crystal behind plywood doors, so I punched out the latter! Then I refinished one door, removing the non-original pinkish paint.


And with glass installed!!!!!!!!


I accidentally also captured the crystal chandelier in the dining room! 


Squee!!!!!!!! The upper shelf holds cheap glassware purchased for a party I had in 2015. I will relocate this behind solid doors!


A month ago I had no plans to do any work on the butler’s pantry. There was no reason.

Today? I have a compelling reason.

A Wizard set needs to be properly displayed.

And it is a thrill to use the butler’s pantry for its original purpose. I cannot help but wonder: when was the last time fine crystal graced these shelves?



20 Responses to Hunting for Crystal

  1. Life’s funny isn’t it. I had to fit all my possessions in the boot of my car at one point. I used to collect pewter glass. All of it had to go obviously and my collection of books and my sewing machine. But I ended up inheriting some incredible pieces from an elderly lady I knew and kept an eye on a few years ago. And these feel even more precious to me. Glad to see your wizard of Oz pieces have a beautiful new home.

  2. What a beautiful story… you blessed with an opportunity to make an exquisite & spacious 1894 home grand again & doubly blessed as you have acquired some of your previous life’s treats! I am so happy for you darling Ross! The crystal is wonderful… elegant while still simple with a clean design! Enjoy the 1900 theatre board meeting & enjoy your elegant tableware & crystal & have an elegant time in the grandeur of the Cross House! Simply wonderful!

  3. Click those heels together, Ross. The Wizard of Oz sent you to Kansas for a reason. MANY reasons. What a lovely story, despite the unexpected turns it took to get you there.

  4. WOW, Beautiful crystal, and I’m so sorry about the 1990’s. But had that not happened, the cross house would be no more. Everything, I suppose happens as it is suppose to.

  5. Beautiful!!!!!
    -I know that it is not period correct, but now (maybe/perhaps) you (might/must/should) light this cabinet as well as the one in the dining room. Far be it from me to tell a lighting expert how to do it so that the individual lights aren’t visible, but I have found that individual LED votive lights behind the door stiles and opaque pieces does the trick. It is a small nuisance to turn them on individually, but I only do it for special occasions. Nothing beats seeing good lighting around and through fine Crystal, China, and other pieces of gin quality utilitarian and decorative art pieces.

  6. Another lovely story from Ross. ​💗​

    I LOVE the accidental capture of the chandelier, and I positively cannot WAIT to see the Butler’s Pantry returned to its original glory now, that door looks just beautiful. The light picking out the subtle fluting on the crystal is just so lovely, like sunlight on water. October 1st’s going to be a day to remember for the theatre board, me thinks. 😁

  7. What doesn’t break us only makes us stronger! Love your stories and can’t wait for your book detailing all of the adventures!

  8. This story made me cry; what a wonder for that sweet woman. Also, did you really end up in Kansas from backpacking from Newport, RI?! Unbelievable! I wondered, before, what brought you to Kansas when you’ve previously discussed your work in New York. I wouldn’t have guessed backpacking, that’s for certain.

  9. Really lovely story Ross. What a beautiful job you are doing with the butler’s pantry. Those original proportions are so beautiful.

    And of course Wizard of Oz cyrtal belongs in Kansas!

    Enjoy your wonderful party.

  10. What a fascinating story; fantastic glassware; and the restored wood on that door looks lovely. I look forward to the full ‘Story of my life’ book some day as there are so many stories lurking there!

  11. Ross, thanks for sharing your story. Reading it gives me hope that life can in the future be again what it once was or, at least equally good but different.

    I’m in a similar place due to the unexpected sudden death of my husband. Life has been totally altered. Hugs, Ken

  12. What a captivating story Ross. All the ups & downs life throws our way. You have had an interesting life so far. The crystal is so beautiful and the silver rim on the glasses goes so well with the leaves on your china pattern. I hope your 1900 Theater dinner is fabulous.

  13. I LOVE YOUR STORIES!!!! You are such a great storyteller, Ross. These posts are so fun to read and really pump me up for the book about the Cross House that I hope you are still writing!!!

  14. This is my all time favorite blog post ever! My heart is bursting with joy for the joy you are experiencing in this house/home. I KNOW it’s work but these moments are the moments we put one foot in front of the other for. May you have many, many more.

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