i was grateful when they attached a name to it – shabby chic. my inclination to love things with the texture of peeling paint and a bit rough-hewn was vindicated…wait!…not only vindicated, but reinforced by the decorating fashion industry. phew! that meant that the old screen doors on the wall, the glass-less window frames tucked here and there, the chopped-off-side-of-the-vintage-desk end table, the vintage black suitcases, the metal radiator grate catty-corner in the foyer, the old door laid horizontal on horses, the tin ceiling panels…these were all fashion statements and not statements of making-do-decor. such a relief.
i must say, however, that i wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. these all make me happy. they are cozy and warm and, mostly, they have history. and it’s the history-that-remains-a-mystery and the history-that-i-know-a-smidge-about that i love. i had no idea whose screen door screens these were when i got them at a wholesale trade show years ago but i could imagine the sound they made when they slammed shut. nor did i know where the old black window with one colored glass square in my studio was from. the old four-foot tall window frames were being thrown out of the historic lakefront building where i had my offices, making room for new windows. i couldn’t bear to see them in the trashpile and the way i adored those offices made it easy to take them home. someone literally chopped off the side of the old desk leaving three drawers and a rough edge and selling it in the estate sale for $5. you can’t see the rough edge unless you really look and this piece has been in the living room for years and years now, serving a purpose and feeling loved. the tin, well, who knows? what i do know is that they make marvelous places to magnet photographs and cards and tiny little signs with sayings that help each day. so, yeah, i guess my point is that whether i know the back-story or not, i really appreciate the warmth of long living they bring. they sit alongside many rocks and sticks that have made short and long journeys home with me, in the back of little baby scion or in backpacks with corks that come home from times spent with my children and moments i want to remember.
i haven’t purchased a lot of brand new furniture. there was the first herculon-fabric overstuffed couch with two matching overstuffed chairs, a tweed in lovely shades of very-early 1980s brown.
well over a decade later that was donated to a youth group and a new couch in mid 1990s floral barn red and forest green with a reclining wingchair of red and white checks made its way into the living room. both of those pieces still have a place in the house – though no longer in the living room. the couch, still very comfortable, is covered with a black slipcover and has a place in the sitting room with a hand-me-down lazyboy, an old farm table and an antique copper boiler tub that stores our roadtrip writings.
there’s a black leather couch in the living room now that has been there over a decade. it shares the space with the old secretary that was my brother’s, the bistro table that was in the second story porch of my old offices, a vintage typewriter 20 bought me for my birthday a couple years ago, a few paintings i spattered, the desk-turned-end-table you now know too much about and the driftwood we brought back from a trip to long island. the two big branches we painted white and potted to hold happy lights still stand steadfastly happying up the room and each day i pass them i wonder if they are too holiday-ish. i quickly reject this as too big a decision and plug them in.
it is in recent days i have had the good fortune of hearing from a dear old friend i taught with in my first two years of teaching way-back-when. we soon will have a phone chat and catch up on everything from a-z. what lois doesn’t realize is that i have thought of her simply every day…as it is her dresser that stands in our bedroom of vintage size that couldn’t really accommodate one of those bedroom suites you see in magazines. instead, this old sturdy five-drawer sits opposite the windows of the sunrise and hold my dad’s peanut can, one of the precious items i have of my sweet poppo’s, the planters peanut blue metal can he tucked in his drawer that always held a few dollars and was the place he sent you if you were going to go pick up the pizza.
as i look at the top of that dresser right this second, pictures of d and me and of my beloved children are on top. there is a small piece of the carpet padding from the irresponsible-gasket-flood waiting to go in the special box next to the yago-sangria-wine-bottle-turned-lamp i made when i was 19 and there is a card in a glass frame that reads: “someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin and they will say, what have you done with your life? and though there are many moments i think i will remember, in the end, i will be proud to say, i was one of us.”
all of this – the stuff with history i know, the stuff with history i don’t know, the peeling paint, the rough-hewn, the used and the it-took-me-a-long-time-to-decide new…all of it – around me reminds me of that and is the connecting thread. of the concentric circles of me, of us. probably that’s why “shabby chic” speaks to me. it is most definitely why it works for me.