My family is not a family who easily gets rid of things. When cars of those gone before us stop running, we park them on family land to serve as a sort of monument, a reminder of the soul before us who drove that truck and caused millions of tiny burn holes in the seat from his cigarettes.
We don’t sell their houses. Grunt Labor often jokes that our family owns more houses than it has families to live in them. He’s right. We don’t hold estate sales when loved ones pass. Whatever items of theirs are not taken when things are divided up, get put into a basement or attic or garage for storage until a member of the family decides they really want that old chaise lounge from the 40’s.
My people find it hard to let go. Some might call us hoarders, but that wouldn’t be true because it is in fact possible to navigate easily through each of our houses. Perhaps pack rats is a better term and I won’t deny that one. However, my preference is to think of us as collectors and keepers of the family history.
The person who has the most issues with letting go is me. Everyone knows that if no one else wants it, but they just don’t have the heart to give it to Goodwill because it was a gift from so & so to so & so on their wedding day yada yada yada, then by God, give it to Jenna because she’ll hold onto it till the end of time whether or not she actually has a place or need for it. She’ll also be able to give the next generation a mostly accurate work-up of it’s history in the family.
Here’s the thing though. Not all of those inherited pieces always fit in perfectly with my decorating style. You’ve ran into that problem too, huh? When I first realized this, I just kind of lived with it. I thought it would be a sin to paint something or repurpose it to make it more “me.” Well, that was just damn stupid, y’all. I’m here to tell you that your grandparents will in fact not disown you from the grave if you paint their kitchen table you spent countless hours with them at and turn it into your desk. In fact, I think they might be damn proud of your ability to repurpose items and love the fact that it’s like you still have coffee with a little piece of them every morning.
So here’s where I give you all the “It’s ok to….” lines. Just imagine it’s your grandmother saying it. I do this all the time. The only time I got in trouble for it was when I turned my great-grandmother’s china cabinet into a liquor cabinet and I’m pretty sure I heard her sigh, throw her hands in the air from beyond the grave and say, “Whatever,” somewhere in the distance. She still loves me though and I did name my kid after her so I figure that got me back in her good graces.
1. It’s ok to paint it.
You see that buffet? It was my great Aunt Treva’s. I never met her, but my uncle, her brother, used to tell me I was a lot like her. He said she was a lot of fun, so I’ll take that. When I got the buffet it wore its original stain. Eventually it went to a periwinkle hue. Then red. And now, it’s stained once more, but not the same shade as before. The same is true of the matching dining room table that goes with the buffet. It was stained to begin with, now white, but will soon be stripped and stained again. Now, you can’t tell me my Aunt Treva doesn’t think her buffet looks killer in front of my black and and white gallery wall.
My great Aunt Lee gave me this chest of hers about 10 years ago now. On the inside lid, it has the emblem of her college. I used it as as storage chest for quite a while, but when the Circus started amassing a huge collection of toys, I decided to paint the chest, add little birdies and make it her toy chest.
When I was a little girl, that bookshelf was filled with 30+ years of yearbooks from my grandmother’s days as a teacher. I could probably still look through one and tell you the names of people just by looking at their faces – I looked at those yearbooks that much. Sitting criss-cross in the floor in front of that bookshelf with a yearbook in my lap is one of my most vivid memories. The bookshelf was stained then, but that wouldn’t work in my daughter’s nursery, so I painted it for her. She has a new bookshelf for her room at the 70’s Landing Pad, so this one will be getting another makeover for my office.
2. It’s ok to repurpose it too.
This one makes my heart smile every time. That desk is the one I’m sitting at now typing this post. It’s also the kitchen table I sat at over 15 years ago while my Pap and I stared at far too many grapes my father sent over and told us to do something with and we finally figured out how to make grape jelly. It’s the kitchen table where I sat on top of on my first birthday and drank from a mustard bottle my grannie filled with milk while my uncle put icing from my cake on my nose. It’s where my Pap waited for me to arrive every morning during the summer of 2001. That table has a history. I took the side leaves off it (but kept them in case I want to put them back on again) and added a hutch on top to make it my workstation. It’s served me well my whole life.
And this is the one where my great-grandmother would have probably liked to come up from the grave and give me a swift kick in my rear end. This was her china cabinet. I had never really considered using it as anything else, but when Grunt Labor saw it for the first time, he stood in front of it in silent thought for about five minutes, then proclaimed it was meant to be a liquor cabinet. And I agreed with him. He and Nick knocked out a couple of shelves to make it work and Nicky nearly peed his pants when I told him mid-hammer swing that it was my great-grandmother’s china cabinet. But in the end, it does work better for us this way. I still remember it painted black in the corner of my great-grandparent’s house, but now it has lots of new memories as well.
Apparently, I have a thing with bars. This vintage radio was my great-grandfather’s and while I didn’t necessarily want to paint it, it’s stained finish was simply too far gone. The radio didn’t work either, so I turned it into a bar cabinet for Grunt Labor’s man cave.
3. It’s ok to mix and match.
When my great uncle died, my uncle who inherited his things gave us a bedroom set from his house. We really needed the dresser and chest of drawers for our master bedroom, but the bed was too small for us. We split the set up and put the bed in the guest bedroom and the chest and dresser in our bedroom.
4. It’s ok to embrace them just the way they are.
There are some things you won’t be able to change – things that have too much of a stronghold on your heart that you can’t bear to see them any other way than the way you saw them growing up. This lamp was one of those things. My pap made it. Many might consider it out of style. I don’t give a damn. I love it. It works perfectly in our living room. For me – painting this was unthinkable. However, it’s finish was in bad condition, but I found a way to fix it.
The same is true of this marble topped table. The finish is no longer shiny on it’s base, but I love this table just the way it is.
5. It’s ok to pull out the little things.
I carried my grandmother’s guitar around in its case from three different houses before it finally dawned on me to get the thing out and decorate with it for all to see. It was actually Bill who saw it out one day after the Circus had been “playing” it and said, “I like how that looks over there.” And he was right – it fit in perfectly. Don’t leave the small heirlooms tucked away. Get them out – let them breathe. I guarantee you they will make you smile when you pass by them.
This one right here – it’s one of my favorites. My dad and uncle’s old cowboy blanket paired with my pap’s cowboy hat, my boots and a random confetti wall. I once told someone that if you threw me up on the wall, this is what it would look like. That’s about right.
Now, repeat after me.
It’s ok to make my grandparent’s pieces my own.
They’ll still hold the memories, but now they’re ready to make even more.
How do you decorate with your inherited pieces?