For the Love of Old: A Well Collected Life

 

I was fortunate, I grew up in a home with two very talented parents who loved their home, and loved surrounding themselves with beautiful things; their period was 18th Century.

My parents didn’t have deep pockets. My dad was a traveling chemical salesman, my mom stayed home. They didn’t live in a large or unique home. They lived in a middle class suburban neighborhood developed in the 1960’s.

When they traveled, they liked to visit places like New England, Vermont’s Shelburn Museum, Winterthur in Pennsylvania, the homes of Charleston SC and Savannah GA, and their beloved Williamsburg VA. All the while, studying the architecture, and the home furnishings of the time.

My mom would comb magazines like Colonial Homes, The Magazine Antiques, and Early American Life. She educated herself, reading each magazine cover to cover (including the ads) and studied the architectural elements involved in creating a beautiful door surround, or the way the moldings were placed to create an 18th Century mantel. How was the dining room furnished? What was the wallpaper like, the tables, chairs, the chandelier? The window coverings, the area rug, what did the dishes look like, the glasses the silverware? Every element involved in furnishing a home was scrutinized with an eye to detail. She paid attention to how objects were placed together on tables, how they were displayed in cabinets to maximize their beauty. She was hungry. She learned about the things she would love to own, and she studied their history. She learned how to polish, how to wax, what kind of chemical to use to create an old patina, and just how to care for the items placed in her temporary custody.

My dad was a master of the art of barter and trade. Early on in our adventures in Omaha, after moving from Minneapolis, my dad was driving down Center Street, which still had cobbled sidewalks. They were being replaced with concrete. My dad asked the foreman where they were dumping the bricks? Of course in those days, they were taking them to the dump! My dad said, “I live just down the street, why don’t you dump them in my yard for free.” They cut the deal, and we soon had 3000 bricks in our front yard. That summer was spent creating a 3000 brick patio. My dad laid every one. He created a secret garden with complete privacy, and that patio has hosted many an intimate party, (sometimes for 60 people w/o caterers) complete with fine linens, china, crystal, fountains and chandeliers. Not a common environment for the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s.

After the first trip to Williamsburg, my parents knew the direction they wanted to take their 1960’s ranch. My dad could reproduce moldings found in the 18th Century homes. They already had a good start on furnishings with my mother’s eye for design, they decided to stay with the house they had, and make it into something truly special. (My parents never were the two story type!)

Now the hunt was on. What did they collect? Well a lot frankly. My mom’s first passion was dishes. Still is. She collected Royal Doulton Dickens Ware. Though 19th Century, the dishes inspired by the stories of Charles Dickens were charming, with soft colors. They collected antique leather bound books, pottery, primatives, brass, pewter, weathervanes, Chapman Lamps, oriental rugs, Pink and White Transferware. Anything and everything to create a well appointed home, always with an eye for beauty and quality. The collection was amassed over a 60 year period of estate sales, antique shows, and a few garage sale finds. Every vacation included the hunt, and a lot of vacations were the hunt.

Dad collected guns, and telescopes, and with the knowledge of the antiques that appealed to mom he was often the one bringing home the treasure. He built pond sailors, bird houses, fences and pergolas. Eventually at my mothers urging started carving wonderful folk art, and reproducing antique signs. Dad would carve geese, swans, and herons inspired by what they had seen in the museums, and peddle them to local antique shops, and home furnishing stores. He would put them in the trunk and as they traveled, he would sell them along the way very often paying for a good portion of their trip.

If they couldn’t find an antique piece of furniture at an affordable price, my dad would create it. If my mom could dream it, he could build it. Welsh Cupboards, sideboards, corner cupboards, dining tables, desks, and beds. There wasn’t a project too big for him to tackle.

Every once in a while they would get lucky. I remember dad calling me on a Wednesday in December many years ago, asking me where Mom was. I said, “Gee Dad, it’s Art Guild day so my guess would be that she is at Art Guild. Why?” “I have the buy of a lifetime here.” (Our downtown Red Lion had been bought out by Hilton and all the furnishings were being sold.) In the pub were a number of antiques, from pewter and art to furniture. Amongst the goodies was a Jacobean Period Welsh Cupboard dating we think to the 17th Century. This was a piece they had been looking for, for about 10 years. It was 465.00, which in those days was a fair chunk of change. Of course my dad didn’t want to buy the cupboard without mom seeing it. (This was before cell phones.) They finally got together, and the cupboard came home with them strapped to the roof of the Cadillac. (My dad would have never considered owning a truck!)   A sigh of relief breathed through house because they finally had the right piece to fill the wall space in the living room and a proper home for my mother’s ever growing collection of dishes.

On a buying trip to Maine with my parents 18 years ago, my dad said to me “My life would not have been as rich without your mother. I wouldn’t have gone to museums and studied the architecture or learned about the antiques if she hadn’t pushed me.” We were alone in the car at the time and I will always treasure that moment.

My parents rarely called a contractor. If they were capable of doing the work themselves, they did it. This enabled them to create the home of their dreams with pride in their accomplishments and money left over to feed the antique bug.

Though my dad died in 2007, my mom, at the age of 90, is still living in that home they created together surrounded by their accomplishments and my dads furniture. She is still creating extraordinary vignettes and beautiful tablescapes and polishing brass.

I am so proud to have had the honor of being the daughter of such interesting parents. They have shared with me the Love of Old and taught me how to incorporate the antiques with a contemporary lifestyle. They have taught me how to live a Well Collected Life.

 

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