The saying "one person's trash is another person's treasure" could easily have been coined for Dana Cain.
The Denver event planner, vintage-items dealer and author on the subject of collecting is also the mastermind behind such offbeat events as the Colorado Chocolate Festival, Comics Con, Fashion Doll Fan Fest, Baby Boomerama and the Vintage Voltage Expo. Her latest concept, the Imagine Paint-In, is an art and peace festival in Civic Center on John Lennon's birthday (Oct. 9), an endeavor that was recently endorsed by Yoko Ono.
But lately, the home office at this nostalgia maven's one-story, 1,200-square-foot, 1970s house in a quiet, southwest corner of Denver called Centennial Estates buzzes with plans for what's become her largest
"As an event planner, Denver's a really interesting market," Cain says while seated in in her dining room, in front of a Japanese screen, beneath an asparagus pendant lamp, and near a free-standing tiki statue topped with potted flowers.
"We've gotta get some fun stuff going on here because there's no place else to go," Cain says, adding that Denver is unlike the coasts, where subculture enthusiasts migrate from one city to next for collecting festivals and events.
Cain's yard sale-, thrift store- and flea-market-decorated house is a tribute to her own funky preoccupations — from leopard prints to dinosaur and Godzilla figurines. It was 1992 when Cain first walked into this home's converted garage, which the previous owners used as a dojo. She spotted the "Star Trek"-looking, hexagon doorway in that room and declared, "I'll take it!" without even looking at the rest of the house.
The place has evolved over the years, depending on Cain's latest obsessions. At one point, glitter paint coated the walls of her
"We had Buddhas, we had Jesus, we had a lot of Marys and Ganeshes, and plastic roses," she says. "I just love plastic roses ... so it was pretty fun, for me."
Around that same time, Cain's bedroom featured pink walls, purple carpet, furry throw pillows, lava lamps and '60s psychedelic collages.
"People would walk into the bedroom and say, 'Oh, is this your teenage daughter's room?' But no, it was mine."
A turning point in this residential escalation of kitsch happened three years ago when Cain's boyfriend, the cerebral portrait artist Peter Illig, moved into the house. This was shortly after the couple sparked up a whirlwind romance
Rather than going into a clutter-induced panic, Illig observed Cain's accumulation of lowbrow collectibles and knew that he'd found true love.
"Oh, it was just funky (and) very unusual," says Illig, a retired high school art teacher and a classic-car enthusiast.
Both were raised by artists. His father, C.W. Illig, was a prolific upstate New York landscape painter who toted the kids on family vacations to picturesque locales he wanted to paint, like the towns around Cape Ann, Mass. He also stayed up into the night teaching art classes at the studio attached to the family's house in East Aurora, N.Y.
"You'd smell oil paints, cigarettes and coffee," Peter Illig recalls. "My mom was
Cain's mother, Dorothy Adams, is more of an eclectic who loves painting, collecting and party planning. "I know that's where I got it from," Cain says of her panache for creating new and different events.
And while this couple shares innumerable tastes in common, the clutterbug tendency skipped Illig, who once maintained a garage for his classic-car projects that was so pristine friends joked that it was actually an operating room.
The painter's current distractions run toward cooking and vintage stereo equipment. Otherwise he's holed up in that converted garage — endearingly referred to as the holodeck because of its hexagon-shaped doorway. It now serves as a home studio where Illig conceives large-scale conceptual works.
"She and I have such active lifestyles," he says. "We don't really have places in our house to just lounge. We're moving all the time."
Her fascination with the tackier side of midcentury culture has given way to a love of contemporary Colorado art and a hankering to build a significant collection of that work.
So, with Illig's help, religious icons in the living room were replaced by vivid, empty walls ideal for hanging paintings by Cain's favorite artists including Riva Sweetrocket, Mark Penner-Howell, Brianna Martray, Brandon Borchert and of course Illig, who's represented by Plus Gallery.
"People would look at this house and say, 'This is artistic,' " he says. "These people are unusual, active and don't fuss too much."
Just don't be led into thinking that Cain, who at one time spent at least three days a week "picking," or secondhand shopping, has completely ditched her flea-market flair. Case in point: She still entertains a fantasy about transforming the secluded, nearly half-acre backyard slope behind her house into a '50-era dinosaur park complete with waterfalls, tropical landscaping and giant plaster reptiles.
"It's so private back there," she says, "no one would even know."
Elana Ashanti Jefferson: 303-954-1957 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The third annual Denver Modernism Show
This midcentury modern, art deco, retro and pop collectors event includes vendors from around the country, Charles Phoenix's retro slide show, live music, a tiki lounge and a car-design show.
National Western Complex-Expo Hall
Admission is $5 (kids younger than 12 get in free). denvermodernism.com