I grew up during the time in which House Beautiful and then Good Housekeeping defined home decoration. My mother enjoyed these magazines for the features on New England antiques. My parents spent time antiquing during our summer holidays and cherished every piece they found. They never quite got into the art of restoration, so we sat on prized ladder-back chairs with rungs held together with string, replacement bureau drawer knobs that were still waiting to be stained, and old drawer knobs that would come out in your hand when you tried to open a drawer to find some socks. Even with two functioning knobs, more often than not the drawer would stick so that you’d have to pull and pull to get it open, working it back and forth so it would come out evenly and not jam. As well, we knew better than to leave a glass on top of any of these special pieces for fear of leaving a dreaded “ring”. But, you know, we learned to see those antiques through our parents eyes. We learned to appreciate the simple yet elegant lines, the beauty and richness of the wood, and the history that each piece represented. Each piece had a story related to its age and how it was acquired, especially valued when passed on by previous generation.
One shining example for me sits in our dining room, an American empire chest of drawers from the mid-1800s. It has been used as an unconventional sideboard in a family dining room since my grandfather first discovered it when my mother was a girl. It is a tall gracious piece of furniture, with two columns climbing each side to provide support for the two upper, overhanging drawers. The exterior of its solid cherry wood construction glows a warm mellow gold. Its top proudly displays a collection of family heirlooms that have graced its presence for generations, supplemented by newer pieces: my grandfather’s matching brass candlestick lamps, my grandmother’s cut glass gladiola vase, my mother’s Wedgewood blue soup tureen, and my personal contribution of a cow pitcher. Its drawers have variously sheltered my grandmother’s silverware, my parents’ love letters and old pictures, and the tablecloths I still use from all three generations.
In the 30s, 40s and 50s, my grandfather’s chest watched over Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts in upstate New York, which eventually included my brothers and me. In the 60s it journeyed to Long Island to join my mother, helping her establish a new home at a time of great need, having lost both her parents and my father in rapid succession. It made its way to our farm in Canada in the 70s, the first of several homes with us, gaining a place of honour with each move. It now has pride of place at holiday gatherings that include my own grandchildren, bringing its impact on my family to five generations. The beauty of this item can be experienced visually, but its greater beauty lies in the many memories of love it holds within.
My brothers and I each have antiques from childhood and, although we are very different people with disparate lives, we all share an appreciation of these pieces. As Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Or is it? Apparently, it may be more the case that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. More often than not, when any of us have offered our children one of our precious heirlooms for their own first places, the reply has been something like, “No thanks. I don’t want that dresser; the drawers always stick. I’d rather buy something at IKEA.” So much for the elegant lines and sense of family history!
What do your kids cherish in your home? Is there a special reason?