When I had guests over at my house recently, I overheard my mother attempt to describe my decorating style (in the kindest possible terms, of course!). I could tell she was having trouble finding the right words, but I believe I heard her utter the phrase, “Yes, she has a distinct style, a…. unique eye.” It’s as good a description as any, and I take it as a compliment.
Something you might notice on a tour of my home is that excepting appliances, you’d be hard pressed to find many things that look new, or even newish. My dining room suite is the one my grandmother began housekeeping with in the 30’s. Ditto 95% of the furniture in my guest bedroom. I’ve a drop leaf table that belonged to my Aunt Virginia, and my reading chair was my granddaddy’s. Even my soup and salad bowls are second hand, transferred directly from my mother’s kitchen cabinets to mine.
I did buy a few things new, like mattresses, a sofa, and contact paper for the cabinets. But I purchased the majority of pictures and lamps, not to mention dust-catching decorative items and the bookcases they sit upon, at consignment stores, antique malls, and garage sales. I shopped this way at first because it was more affordable, allowing me to stretch an entry-level, non-profit budget. But now I do it simply because it suits me. I enjoy the fact that my things had a life of their own before coming into my possession, with history evident in chipped paint, worn varnish, and faded upholstery. And I can’t deny the thrill of the hunt when I unearth a treasure in a junk shop or thrift store.
My recent house guests are also known to enjoy decorating, and one mentioned the danger of shopping at a particular mall store; a nationwide chain with hundreds of locations. “I bought a picture there once, and hung it over my sofa,” she admitted. “I enjoyed it a lot, up until the point when I discovered three of my friends had purchased the exact same picture to hang over their sofas.”
Having surrounding myself with inherited items and vintage purchases, no one could ever accuse me of being a cookie-cutter decorator. I’ve never found a drop leaf table exactly like my Aunt Virginia’s, or a chair with the same details as granddaddy’s. I admit, there are items in my house that run the gamut from simply unique, to pointlessly quirky, to downright weird. For example, there is a lamp in my office that is truly one of the ugliest late 60’s/early 70’s pottery monstrosities to ever spark a light bulb. But it came from the lake house my family used to own, and it has one hundred and one memories attached to it. I can’t imagine getting rid of it, and for sure I’ll never see another like it.
There is one room where my “buy used” strategy has not had the best results, and that’s the working aspects of my kitchen. My recent trip to the ER was due to a dull knife that was purchased, not at Crate and Barrel or Target, but Goodwill. That bargain has cost me a few hundred dollars so far (and I’m not sure I’ll ever look at cantaloupe the same way again). And I had a “sudden” realization the other day – after several years of eating overdone eggs – it’s not my fault! I do know how to cook eggs! It’s not my stove’s fault, either! It’s that blasted pan that I bought for $3.33 at Value Village!
So this weekend, armed with a birthday gift card and a 20% off coupon, I am headed to Bed, Bath & Beyond to buy a sharp knife and a mid-priced skillet. My keen shopper’s eyes will happily adjust to a well-lit store interior and organized shelves. I’ll select things that are not well-seasoned, broken-in, or broken. Hundreds of people all over the U.S. will own the exact same items, purchased shiny and new, with no history to them whatsoever. And, I’ll gladly pay full price (minus 20%!) for this privilege.
Then, I’ll get in my 15 year-old Toyota and drive home to my 29 year-old house.
I’ve got some eggs to scramble.