5/04/2012

Does Your Home Tell a Story?

When I look around my house I'm sometimes appalled at the hodgepodge of furniture we've acquired over the years. I sometimes go to other people's homes that are decorated with a defined style, whether it be country french, cottage style or modern. They look nice and pretty in a model home sort of way, impressive in their perfection and order. But they're also missing something. I've never been one to follow the trends. Decor styles come and go and if you put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, the basket can get pretty outdated looking when the trends change. If I have a style I suppose you could say it is Eclectic, or as I used to call it, Early Married. Somehow, thirty-one years later, it's still mostly the same. We have a combination of family hand-me-downs, thrift finds and a smattering of pieces we've bought new.

When my husband and I first set up housekeeping we had only a handful of furnishings that we'd managed to scrounge up on the cheap. It consisted of our new bed (essential!), some hand me down furniture from our families along with the few things we had from college apartments. We used lawn chairs for living room seating for quite a few months until we finally found a sofa to buy with our wedding gift money, our first big purchase. My mom refinished an old coffee table that she and my dad had as newlyweds. Our TV was an old console black and white that only got one channel, but even that required some creative arranging of wires strung across the curtain rod to get reception. I remember how excited we were to buy four new folding chairs from Target so that we'd have seating at our kitchen table. I suppose we could have, like many newlyweds, gone out and purchased a suite of new matching furniture on credit. Luckily we were of like mind when it came to money. Having both grown up in thrifty households we knew that credit was not the answer and that we'd make do until we could afford to buy new. We didn't really care about the stuff so much. We were newlyweds and just happy to be together.

Needs always came before wants. Becoming pregnant before our first anniversary bumped a washing machine to the top of the list. An April baby meant I could use the clothesline all summer to dry all those cloth diapers, saving our dollars until we could afford to buy a dryer when cold weather arrived. A new Boston rocker, which we still have, was a baby gift from my husband's grandmother. The nursery was outfitted with a second hand crib, the chifforobe that I grew up with, and a library table from my grandparents used as a diapering station. When it came to other baby needs we kept it to a minimum, getting only the essentials...a car seat, high chair, playpen and stroller.

After buying our first (and only) house, when our son was three months old, we suddenly went from a cramped two-bedroom rental to a three bedroom two-story house that we needed to furnish. Although only about 1100 square feet it felt huge! Again, more family hand-me-downs to the rescue. What would we have done without family? We had a dedicated dining room for the first time. The table was one a tenant had left behind in a rental my Dad owned. The four high-backed wood chairs had belonged to my great grandmother. I refinished them one by one over several month's worth of baby naps. My dad found us a nice hutch at a fire sale. Although the finish on the hutch was fine it had a strong smoke odor. We cleaned and cleaned it but even years later it still retained a faint smoke smell, especially on humid days.

The living room was outfitted with our sofa, coffee table, the Boston rocker, and a couple other family pieces. A nightstand became an end table. My parents lent us a set of old folding wood theater seats that acted as a love seat. When my grandparents moved to an apartment I acquired the piano my grandmother had always promised would be mine someday.

The bedrooms upstairs were the last to be furnished. The master bedroom had our bed. That's all. Our previous place had built-ins so we didn't even have a dresser. What clothes couldn't be hung up resided in cardboard boxes in the closet for another year and a half before we could afford to finally buy furniture. We saved until we could afford to buy quality pieces that we're still using today. The nursery was the only room completely furnished. The third bedroom was being used as a storage room while we worked on getting settled with hopes of it becoming an office and sewing room. But just two months after moving I found out I was pregnant again! So with two babies just fourteen months apart our planned office/sewing room became a second nursery, furnished with thrifted finds.

Over the years we've kept some pieces and replaced others, sometimes with new and sometimes with used. As I glance around I see everything from Early American to mid-century. Each piece has a story. The little plant stand at the bottom of the stairs belonged to a good friend who gave it to me when she downsized to move across the country. The hutch reminds me of my father, no longer with us, who was so proud of his fire sale find. The white wicker desk that came from my grandparent's cottage brings back memories of my daughter sitting at it typing stories on the big old Smith-Corona typewriter. She went on to study creative writing in college. The coffee table we now have evokes the beaming face of my ten-year old son, proudly carrying home his find, after he rescued it from a pile of things thrown out when his elementary school moved to a new building. We removed the linoleum top and refinished the wood, leaving the chippy painted legs as found. It's been in our living room ever since, happily abused during the years of raising three kids, just as it was for several generations of kindergartners before that. Nothing in this house is too precious in that way.

I have parted with a few things that have really tugged at my heartstrings, things we no longer had a room or a use for or anyone to pass them on to, like my grandmother's piano and the chifforobe. But their memories live on. Grown children return home and want to feel like it's still their home. Whenever we change something they call us out on it. But homes are not static, just like the occupants. We change, we age, we adapt. And sometimes we move on. So I am slowly learning to let go of things. Now that my children are grown some of those things are finding new lives in their own homes, new stories. Some will become cherished memories. New things will find their way in and out. It's what makes our home ours and different from yours or anyone else's. I wouldn't have it any other way.

1 comment:

  1. As they say, your home is the extension of one's self. It reflects your personality and definitely tells your story. chicago studio apartments

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