Thursday, June 18, 2009

Furniture memories.

We had one of those serendipitous experiences last weekend that make you smile when you think of them.

Todd had stopped at a garage sale Saturday morning and picked up a couple of old hand tools from an older guy who had come over from Smithfield to try to unload a few things at his daughter's sale. The man was a retired engineer who restores antique furniture now.

When he got home, Todd realized that he still wanted a few of the tools he'd passed up, and he also told me about a hutch made from an old letter cubbyhole box that the man was selling. We thought it might work in our dining room.
We went back to where the sale was later that afternoon (and let me tell you it was a small miracle that Todd was able to find the place again!) and the guy had gone back over to Smithfield with his stuff. So we got his phone number and arranged to drop by that evening and look at the hutch.

Well, what a lovely hour we had with Dave and his wife. The hutch didn't work out, because it was too big for the spot we would have had to put it in, but we had a super time looking at Dave's backyard woodworking shop (Todd madly taking mental notes for his own shop) and chatting about various things as Todd and Dave looked over the shop and Todd bought the old toolbox full of tools that he'd wanted.

We were heading back to our car, full of apologies for interrupting their dinner, when Dave asked us if we'd like to see the antiques in their home, since we'd been chatting about antiques and auctions.
Would we?!

Dave and his wife have been collecting antique furniture for what seems to be most, if not all, of their life together, and the only "modern" piece of furniture I could see in their home was a swivel computer chair, which sat in front of a gorgeous library table-turned-computer desk. Everything else, even the TV armoire which was repurposed from what looked like an old wardrobe, was beautiful and old.

What made it so special, as they took us through every room and pointed out every gorgeous piece, was that they had a little story or memory that went along with each one--where they'd picked it up, how much they'd paid for it, the child who'd slept in that bed, the woman who'd given them that bookcase from her father's old law office.

On the way home, we talked about the memories associated with our own bits and pieces of furniture. We don't have very many antique pieces, and I'm not quite sure why. Probably because when we've needed to buy furniture, we've needed very specific items, and not just whatever fate happened to toss in our path at a sale. Also, antique furniture has risen in price quite a bit between Dave and his wife's early married days and our own.

But we do have some things that have definite memories attached, and I thought I'd share them.

I've probably told the story of our china cupboard and sideboard (our only truly antique pieces) before. When we moved into our first apartment together in Pittsburgh, we had nothing--nothing! The woman who was vacating the apartment had lived there for decades and was moving into a nursing home and had some things she couldn't take with her. So we paid her $100 for a scratchy plaid couch, a metal wardrobe, a rickety card table, two vinyl kitchen chairs, and these:

As we were talking Saturday night we realized this was our very first furniture purchase--bought a week or two before our wedding. And they'll always remind us of our crummy first apartment in Squirrel Hill.

Our first bed is long gone. It had beautiful bedposts with knobs carved sort of like pineapple bottoms. It was given to us by Todd's parents, who had gotten it themselves from an older lady at their church.

She also gave them the dresser that went with it, and Todd's mom gave me the dresser a few years later when we moved back to Ohio from Idaho.

When we got our new bedroom furniture last year, I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of the dresser, even though the pulls are broken off one of the drawers and another drawer's slides are broken--it has such great lines and it holds so much stuff! So it moved to my study where it holds computer ink, felted wool sweaters, and excess grocery items.

The dresser is also special because it still has the label on the back from the furniture store in Columbiana (our hometown) where it was bought in the 1940's.

After a few years of marriage, we were finally solvent enough to start buying new furniture to replace some of our hand-me-downs, and the very first thing we bought was this couch, my love for which has been documented here before:

Nine years isn't antique, even for a couch, but it's very squishy and beloved and a reminder of the joy of having disposable income for the first time in your life.

Once we'd bought the couch, we decided to replace the kitchen table and chair set next, which were, again, hand-me-downs from Todd's folks. (They pretty much were our furniture suppliers for the first several years!)

We both wanted something well-made and unique, so we headed up to Holmes County, which has a large Amish community and large numbers of Amish craftsmen making some of the prettiest, sturdiest wood furniture you'll ever see.

We also bought coffee and end tables there a little later on. We'd have bought our bedroom suite there if we were still living in Ohio. How I miss Holmes County! We really enjoyed our drives there, through the countryside, and then having lunch at one of the Amish restaurants in Berlin, and then roaming through stores and warehouses that smelled like wood and polyurethane.

When we bought our first home in 2002, we needed some odds and ends, and we found this little old table at an auction in Clintonville, one of the old neighborhoods in Columbus.

It's nothing special, but it has a lovely wood grain on the top, and looking at it reminds me of that sale and the pretty summer day, and the excitement of buying our first house. The chair next to it is from that same era--one of two small Ikea armchairs that have worked perfectly in every place we've lived since then.

We bought one more piece of Amish furniture before we left Ohio--the pie safe on the right. It went into the red kitchen of our first home, to serve as a pantry, and it looked wonderful there. I think it looks nice in my green kitchen, too, though. (Better than the light in this picture shows, anyway--yikes! Our kitchen is apple green, not mint green!)

The piece on the left is also from Amish country, but Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, rather than Holmes County, Ohio. We took a trip up there a couple of years ago to attend a machine show, and I dropped Todd off there and went out to explore. I found that stand at another Amish furniture showroom, and a nice man hauled it into the back of my station wagon for me. What I always remember when I look at it is the arctic January wind that blew across the fields around that farm and showroom. Brrrrrrrr.

When we moved to Virginia, we found that auctions and good estate sales were harder to come by. But I found this chair at one of the only auctions I ever remember attending here, the first year we lived here. It was sitting off on the edge of the yard with a bunch of other very forlorn looking chairs, and we hung around till almost the end so I could bid on it.

It had pale green upholstery hanging off it in tatters, and dirty stuffing sticking out all over, and was probably a thing of beauty 40 years ago. I wanted to find a fabric as close to the original as possible when we took it to be reupholstered, but there was nothing like it. So I went with something different (and have regretted it ever since!)

I paid $35 for the chair at the auction, which was probably $30 more than it was worth, and we spent several hundred to have it reupholstered, but I persist in calling it my "$35 chair." Someday when I have a few more hundred bucks with nothing else to claim them, I'm going to scour the shops until I find a fabric I really love and have it re-reupholstered.

So our home is a mix of things bought new and used, but the thing that makes them special is the memories attached to them. When we walked through Dave's home, we could feel the happiness and the love he and his wife feel for each other, for their family, for their beautiful things and for their memories. It was a peaceful, contented home. I hope our home feels the same way to visitors--because it does to me!