How to Not Stay Married

Step 1: Have a long and rich history of purchasing unnecessary pieces of furniture and assorted decor for your home.

Step 2: Purchase a salvaged fireplace mantel from an antique store. Make sure you do not consult in any way with your husband prior to purchasing your new antique fireplace mantel.

Pretend not to notice your husband rolling his eyes when you arrive home from shopping and giddily tell him about your new antique fireplace mantel.

Also, make sure that the home that you live in at the time has a perfectly lovely brick fireplace surround that would not even accommodate your new antique fireplace mantel thus ensuring that no one, not even you, can justify the purchase of a new, antique fireplace mantel.

Step 3: Ask your husband to return to the antique store with you the next day to help you haul your new fireplace mantel from the bowels of the warehouse-like building to your minivan.

Ignore the deep sigh that emanates from his general direction.

Step 4: Retrieve new mantel from antique store and attempt to fit it into the back of your minivan. Be unsuccessful at this. Witness your husband’s complete exasperation. Witness your positive attitude making everything worse. Jerry-rig the mantel with improvised ties in such a way that makes it impossible to close the back hatch of the minivan so the entire 30 minute drive home, the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the car’s there-is-a-door-open warning system is blaring.

Assure yourself that the noise is probably why your husband is no longer talking to you.

Step 5: Arrive home with your new antique fireplace mantel and have absolutely no logical place to put it. Ask husband to carry mantel to the third floor storage room while you “figure out a plan.”

Step 6: Devise brilliant plan! Decide to create one of those fake fireplace vignettes in your dining room. Something like this:

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Request husband retrieve mantel from third-floor attic so you can get to work!

Step 7: Do not get to work.

Step 8: Look at mantel leaning precariously against dining room wall for several months, hoping it doesn’t accidentally fall on one of the kids. Eventually, put some candles on the top that also lean precariously.

Step 9: Decide to move. When husband asks if the mantel should, logically, be left behind, react with shock and horror at such a suggestion. Explain in earnest that if you’re moving, the mantel’s moving, too.

Place mantel in basement of new home, leaning precariously against a wall. Hope it doesn’t accidentally fall on one of the kids.

Step 10: Wait three years.

Step 11: Clear out the entire contents of your basement in advance of construction work. Carry load after load of items to the garage, both you and your husband working diligently to ignore the antique mantel leaning precariously against the wall until it is the only item that remains.

Wordlessly and while making no eye contact, move the antique mantel to a dark corner of the basement.

Step 12: Bravely suggest to your husband that the super talented contractor working on the basement could maybe, possibly, perhaps also look into replacing your current fireplace mantel with the new antique mantel?

Watch as your husband rolls his eyes while simultaneously sighing deeply and reluctantly agreeing.

Step 13: Wait until your husband has worked an 11 hour day after rising at 4:30 a.m. and THEN ask him to help you bring the mantel up from the corner of the basement so the contractor can take some measurements and provide an estimate.

Ignore your husband when he exclaims, “FINE. BUT IT’S NOT GOING BACK DOWN THERE.” Wave your hands in a sarcastic, dismissive manner when he threatens to chop the antique mantel into many, many pieces and throw it into the fire pit. Do not, under any circumstances, suggest this might be ill-advised since, “it’s probably covered in lead paint anyway.”

Step 14: Get a response from your contractor that indicates the mantel installation is doable but that provides no indication of a work start date.

With great enthusiasm, relay this information to your husband. Watch him have much less enthusiasm.

Step 15: Pretend, along with your husband, that the new antique mantel isn’t currently sitting in the middle of your living room, leaning precariously against a buffet, like a ticking time bomb. Like an elephant in the room that is almost the actual size of a small elephant.

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Convince yourself that the old newspaper and small kindling your husband is gathering is for an entirely unrelated project.

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An Ill-Advised Purchase

This probably won’t come as a huge surprise given my love of all things shelter-related, but, I like furniture. A lot. All kinds of furniture; little side tables, comfy overstuffed chairs, bookcases, charming cabinets and shelves, roomy hutches, buffets and sideboards. I like it all. I would amass large quantities of furniture if I could. But, I can’t, because we don’t live in a castle. However, square footage has never stopped me from finding an amazing piece of furniture (or a so-so piece of furniture at an amazing price) and dragging it home.

Bob tolerates this. Barely. Mostly because I promise him that I’m going to refinish or repaint or polish up whatever it is I’ve brought home even though he knows and I know that he knows that I have no idea how to refinish or repaint or polish up furniture. So, he endures my acquisitions with sort of an eye roll and a nod and I pretend to not notice his lack of confidence in my choices and proceed with enthusiasm anyway. I’m pretty sure this sort of dance is how marriages are supposed to work and it’s worked for us for awhile now.

Until, I purchased a rather large piece of furniture that we legitimately had no place to put: a corner cabinet with no corner.

This whole thing began when I visited a friend’s new house many, many months ago. Because I’m nosy and know no boundaries, I was wandering around her basement, scoping out the floor plan, while she was upstairs tending to her infant son. In the way, way back of their basement, I spotted an antique corner cupboard. Its honey-colored pine wood was out of place with the purple walls and disco ball the previous owners had installed for their teenage daughter. But, there it was. It was beautiful! And, the price tag from the Old Town Alexandria antique shop where it was purchased was still hanging from the knob. I assumed it was a new buy made by my friend for her new house and headed upstairs to demand the story of how she found it.

My friend quickly explained that it was left behind by the previous homeowners who no longer wanted the piece and were just waiting for an antiques dealer to pick it up and take it to auction. Which seemed to be taking forever. They had offered it for purchase to my friend but their dining room had no real corner in which to house the cabinet (foreshadowing!) so they had passed. Knowing I’m a furniture fan, my friend looked at me and exclaimed, “You should make them an offer!” I thought about it for twenty seconds before deciding that yes, indeed, I should totally make an offer. And, those twenty seconds had nothing to do with deciding on the cabinet; I was simply mulling over how fast Bob’s head was going to explode when he found out I had procured more furniture.

After a brief internal struggle, I decided I wasn’t about to let something like a little marriage come between me and an antique pine cupboard with a so-perfect light blue-painted interior. So, I did. I made an offer. Well, actually, my friend did. She drives a hard bargain. Her negotiating skills were super impressive. With a simple text exchange, I was the proud owner of a ca. 1880s corner cabinet, having paid approximately 30 percent of the retail price.

IMG_2799The previous homeowner was happy since they were rid of the responsibility for having to have it removed from the basement. My friend was pretty happy since she’d negotiated like a BOSS and regained some space in her house. I was happy because I loved that corner cabinet with my whole heart and had purchased it for a steal.

You know who wasn’t happy? Bob. He (rightly so) asked where in the world I was going to put it. Since this was just prior to our move away from Richmond, I casually waved my hand to dismiss his concerns and assured him we would figure it all out after we got to the new house and retrieved the cabinet. There had to be some place for it in our new space. After all, it was a cabinet built for a corner and houses are always full of corners. Right? It would all work out.

So, of course we moved in and there was absolutely no clear place to put that cabinet. Our dining room is one half of a “great room” and it HAS NO CORNERS. Literally. No corners. So, my dream of filling the cabinet with our fancy dishes was killed right away. There was no place in the kitchen nor the foyer and the cabinet would look odd in the kids’ bedrooms. Every other corner had something in the way like a light switch or a thermostat or an HVAC return. Our only options were to awkwardly place it in the corner of our family room, where one naturally stores their finest china, or the corner of our bedroom where it might work if you squinted and filled it with fancy towels meant for the bathroom on the other side of the wall. TWO options in the entire house. That was it. Both were less than ideal.

Bob was exasperated since we hadn’t even retrieved the cabinet yet and this was all proving to be such a pain. I felt bad about spending money on something that wasn’t proving useful. So, in deference to the fact that we really had no place to put it, I asked my friend to send me some pictures so I could shop it around to some of the antique dealers in our new town and gauge their interest. I figured I could probably sell it, make a little profit and then go buy more furniture! But, when the pictures arrived, I realized that I just really love the cabinet. It’s such a beautiful piece, probably one of the nicest that I own, and I had a change of heart. Bob heaved a deep sigh and reluctantly agreed.

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The cabinet’s journey from North Arlington to Western Loudoun County was delayed when Bob had a stroke. I eventually hired movers to retrieve it and deliver it to us. This, of course, made Bob even more skeptical of the whole endeavor but once it was sitting in the corner of our family room, he admitted it was a beautiful piece of furniture.

Then, in an unexpected and dramatic turn of events, I decided it looks… awkward. It’s currently positioned next to a Crate & Barrel media cabinet made about 125 years later and the two just don’t mesh. The glass-paned door to the right of the cabinet doesn’t help either. I still LOVE it but out of context, it looks a bit odd.

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I haven’t given up on the corner cabinet with no corner just yet. The story of its acquisition is too rich to simply throw in the towel and sell it on craigslist. I’m hoping that eventually it will fit into the space created when we finish out the upstairs.

Until then, it might just be relegated to the basement, again, where it can sit right next to the antique fireplace mantel I purchased a couple of years ago. The mantel I’ve made Bob haul from house to house. The mantel I have no place for but can’t bear to part with.

Hmm. I’m sensing a theme here.

Precious Things

About ten years ago, while visiting my grandmother in Pennsylvania, she gave me some photographs from an album I was studying in her parlor. The photos were of my mother as an infant and of my grandmother and grandfather as young parents. They are small, brown and rectangular with those scalloped edges that pictures taken so many years ago frequently have. Since history in my family is a little hard to come by, I was floored by her gift. What may no longer have mattered to her was of tremendous importance to me.

I spent what seemed like a small fortune at the time to have a professional restore the images. He preserved the photographs and arranged all five of them in a reprint that I was able to reproduce and gift to my parents, brother and sisters. I framed the originals and so, every day, I get to pass by my grandfather, whom I never knew, smoking a pipe; my mother, as an infant, perched in a laundry basket; my grandmother, standing in front of an old car somewhere I’m sure I’ve never been.

Those pictures tell a story. A story that I know very little about. And, since I don’t know the stories, I cling to the objects that represent them.

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If I can trace the beginning of my family-heirloom-hoarding to a specific time period, ten years ago would be about right. I had met my husband and we were busy setting up house. My parents had given me a few items over the years; items that they were done with or significant pieces that they felt ready to pass down. Somehow, having a home of my own in which to place them made all of these things more precious than they were before.

In the years since, I’ve accepted items as they’ve been offered. Those offers have become more frequent as my parents approach the age where one starts to think about clearing out this spot or decluttering that area. I’ve eagerly gathered up decorative plates that belonged to distant relatives, punch bowls that sit dusty and unused, old baskets beginning to unravel.

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A few times, I’ve just outright asked for special pieces. I returned from my most recent trip to Louisville with two quilts that belonged to my father as a youth. They are paper thin in places and it was all I could do, while choking back tears, to reassure my mom I would take great care with them.

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My husband’s father is a skilled woodworker and while my husband likes to protest that very few of his personal effects survived our household merger, the truth is, many of the pieces handcrafted by his father are some of our most treasured belongings. A mirror in our foyer still bears the typed label explaining it was made by my father-in-law to celebrate his marriage to my mother-in-law in 1951. A trunk in our family room, crafted by hand from oak, is the perfect spot to hold super-sized toy trucks. A framed print my husband returned from New York with is hung in our dining room next to a beloved figurine.

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I don’t value one particular item over another – I just simply value them all.

Some keepsakes are decidedly more useful than others. I’ve been clinging to a blender that once belonged to my father’s father even though I haven’t used it in years. It is ancient and has a motor so powerful, I believe we could use it as a back-up generator if we were to lose power. And, when we were expecting Henry, my grandmother kindly sent down a crib that had been used by generations of her family, once housing my mother as an infant. The fear of lead paint kept it out of our nursery but still, I cart it, unassembled, from house to house. I don’t know if it will ever be reassembled but I know I will never get rid of it.

Our house has become a sort of carefully curated collection of items that once belonged to other people. There are plenty of my present-day additions in the mix but everywhere you turn, within every room are pieces of the past. And, even though I may never know the whole story, I can try my best to preserve that which is tangible.