In my fifty-some years of adulthood only once before have I had to furnish a nearly-empty home, and that was when I was 19 and the apartment was so small you could roll a desk chair across it without the chair losing momentum.
As a child, of course, the furniture in the room I shared with my sister was chosen by our mother. The whole house was furnished with heirlooms and refinished antiques and pieces that Mother hand-painted in the Pennsylvania Dutch style.
My college dorm room was furnished, though at that time I was so slovenly that it was difficult to find the furniture under all my stuff. When my boyfriend, Joe, and I decided to elope, our possessions consisted of our clothes, two milk crates, a coffee pot, my portable record player, Joe’s car, and my collection of Storybook dolls. We furnished our first apartment (the very small one) with castoffs, some literally found out on the street on garbage collection day.
Through the years, as children came and Joe was hired for better-paying jobs, we moved through a series of very similar three-bedroom “rambler” homes. Whatever furniture we had collected in one home fit in pretty much the same place in the next home. The criterion for selecting this furniture was not comfort, nor style, but cost.
A few years after Joe died I sold my Michigan house and its furnishings and moved to the West Coast. In Berkeley and Oakland I rented furnished apartments while I earned my masters degree and worked among the street people of San Francisco. When I moved to Whidbey Island in 2001 I bought a furnished house.
In 2009 I sold that small house, furnished. I had bought a large, totally EMPTY house; but not to worry: this would be a house-share with a friend who believed, as I do, that it’s silly for just one person to live alone in a house, using all the appliances and space and utilities that could better be used by two or more. The new house would be filled mostly with her furniture, while I would contribute a hutch, a couch, and two chairs, plus my great-grandmother’s four-poster bed for my bedroom. Now, in 2015, my friend and her furniture have moved on to a smaller place of her own.
I couldn’t bring myself (to say nothing of my credit card) to buy new matching furniture for my large, now-nearly-empty home. No matter how beautiful, such furniture would feel lifeless because there would be no story, no history imbued in it. Besides, my sense of style is more . . . “mixed,” shall we say, or maybe “mongrel.”
So now I’m buying used furniture, other people’s furniture, one piece at a time, from thrift stores, or friends, or one of the websites of things for sale. This evolving furniture “motif” has no single name, like Jacobean, or Colonial, or Victorian. Instead it comprises a question: “what pieces of furniture make me happy?” That’s what holds the “style” together: whatever I buy “matches” whatever else I’ve bought, simply because it pleases me. And it feels as if it has a history.
And so it is that lately I find myself listening, at quiet times during the night, to see if I can overhear one piece of furniture telling another what its story is, as they marvel together at the unexpectedness of meeting in a house that welcomes them all.
I look forward to listening to my next housemate’s stories in the same way, against the background hum of stories murmured by well-loved furniture.
I totally relate to your descriptions. It’s amazing to me how much furniture I’ve actually squeezed into my “Hobbit House” – all 600 square feet of it. All of it is beloved and each indeed has a story. The few things I’ve purchased from Habitat for Humanity seemed to snuggle up to its neighbor and shared its story. There are no outliers here. Each piece does make me smile.
Looking at each piece I can remember when and where I got it and what was happening in my life at that moment. Even though it is just ‘stuff’ it is my history.
Just this morning Fred asked me why I had purchased an old rolling pin on EBay.
I told him “because it made me smile” and for me (and you it sounds like) that is the only criteria I use, not counting the “Budget Thing” that is always there. You already know my style. I used to call it Early Salvation Army. Now I call it me.
There is nothing here that was purchased NEW, save Fred’s La-z-Boy I bought for him when he turned Forty, so that makes that chair…hmmm old would be the adjective of choice. Patched with duct tape on the arms and having had three spring repairs (done by me of course with my La-x-Boy heritage) it is still the beloved chair of choice.
Not to go on and on I think our home feels like us and I have never felt the need to go the Better Homes and Gardens way. I always feel somehow sad for people who have homes like those. In one your in them all, perfectly matched to nothing.
Sending Love your way-feel the warmth. Mary
Early attic and old mother-in-law furnished most of our abodes over the years and served us well. Your blog brought a smile and memories.
Everyone has stories but I never conceived of furniture having stories though, of course, it does! It is wonderful to live with good memories at the same time realizing it’s just “stuff”.
Well,Cynthia, In all my years I have lived in Colorado, New Mexico, and now Arizona. As I think back, I don’t remember actually buying very much NEW furniture! I did buy a couch one year, but that is long gone. With the help of my mother, I purchased a very good bed, something I think everyone should put first on their list. The rest, yes, is from garage sales, used furniture stores, and my children, as they discard pieces that no longer fit into their homes! But when you enter my home, it is friendly, not stuffy!
I have many,(too many) interesting things I have saved over the years and they are mostly all on display!
We are moving. Purging. “keep what gives you joy” is our daughter’s advice”. Wish we could ship you the rocking chair I used to nurse both children and enjoyed for years in our living room, and the old, comfy leather chair with ottoman that we bought in Denver 45 years ago. Anyone who sits in it finds their eyelids drooping after a few minutes, it is so restful. We always chuckled to think that Conrad first experienced such a chair in a lawyer’s office!