Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Newsmaker: Sandra Lee Foster ’90

“Shabby chic” expert Sandra Lee Foster ’90 has a knack for making herself at home—whether it’s in a dorm room at Wheaton or in a tiny Victorian cottage hideaway that she renovated herself, deep in the Catskills. The New York Times took note of that renegade Martha Stewart side of her in a wide-ranging article that showed off Foster’s decorating skills, her tenacity and innovation, as well as touched on the brief homelessness she faced as a teenager.

“I tried to make my senior single in Emerson look like a Laura Ashley catalog spread,” said Foster, recalling her early decorating days. “I’d make pilgrimages to the Newbury Street store in Boston, but the only thing I could ever afford in there was a headband…. I’d buy things at the Norton Flea Market, or at a secondhand store in town, and polish them up. I bought a reproduction Louis XV table and walked all the way back to campus with it!

“People were so lavish in their praise of my humble little dorm room, though I didn’t know a thing about design…. This is chiefly why ‘shabby chic’ appeals to me—it’s about making a home with what you have, be it ever so ‘shabby!’”

A fiscal administrator at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., Foster majored in English literature at Wheaton, and she has a minor in art history. She learned an important lesson about design right here: “Wheaton taught me to rise above gender stereotypes, so carpentry and renovation never fazed me.”