JoAnn Sarvak grew up in a house of antiques and vintage finds in Westminster. As a child, she and her mother would scour auctions, flea markets and estate sales.
Five decades later, Sarvak, 55, has returned to her roots, acquiring nostalgic pieces over many years of travel overseas and throughout the U.S.
To add a new dose of inspired interior design to Newport Beach, Sarvak opened American Vintage House, a shop stocked with art, accessories and new and old furnishings that represent a mix of her interests and one-of-a-kind objects.
"I try to have a story with everything," Sarvak said, as she stood in the showroom tucked in a business complex neighboring Westside Costa Mesa. "I tried to get a little bit of everything I love, whatever catches my eye."
Sarvak's collection ranges from a funky cork wine bottle holder made by architect Frank Gehry and a honeycomb art object used in socialite and tobacco-tycoon heiress Doris Duke's estate to a wooden case that displayed candy in a Hungarian store and a large, vertical movie poster featuring Brigitte Bardot.
The curated space — which had a quiet opening in October — is a reflection of Sarvak's experiences and hobbies, she said, noting her love of all things motorcycle as a nod to her past riding days. She carries a selection of 1960s racing helmets.
Collectors with a creative streak tend to use items in a different manner and try to make something usable, Sarvak said. It's why she carries eclectic pieces made by friends, such as chicken feeders wired with lighting or Belgian wooden shades refurbished as tabletops.
Sarvak, who travels once a month to vintage and antique shows, said she hopes to change out inventory often but not stockpile pieces as tastes evolve over time.
The shop, filled with items from the '50s, '60s and '70s along with one-of-a kinds, was designed for shoppers to bring an offbeat vibe. Sarvak said she already has held special events, and bands have asked to use the retro store as a backdrop for photo shoots and music videos.
She eventually would like to open American Vintage House as an event venue.
"I'm kind of a free spirit," Sarvak said. "My phrase is, 'Be You.' There's a freedom to that."
As a second-generation picker, Sarvak gained an early appreciation for buying something old and previously loved as she is extending its lifespan and reducing her carbon footprint. It's a mindset she hopes to share with shoppers who are interested in adding decorative pieces to their living spaces.
The Newport Beach resident had previously worked in the wholesale vintage industry and would often meet trade designers suggesting she open a store.
The internet may be filled with advice on finding furnishings and accessories, but Sarvak conceptualized a brick-and-mortar store where people could gather, share design ideas and find a treasure trove of home decor that couldn't be found elsewhere.
Her boutique, she thought, would serve as a point of inspiration where others could embrace their inner creativity and express their imagination by adding pieces with history to a room or throughout their house.
"My hope is for people to come back and think, 'I can be creative in my own space,' " Sarvak said.
"You don't have to have new. Repurpose it or call me," Sarvak said with a laugh. "Stop throwing things away."
American Vintage House is at 877 16th St., Newport Beach. For more information, call (949) 386-0111 or visit americanvintagehouse.com.