All posts tagged: Art

You’re so Fine, and You’re Mine.

orange-lady

When I was little, there were two semi-weekly activities that I engaged in with each of my parents. With my dad, I played on a soccer team that he coached. Begrudgingly, and with my feet dragging, I’d go out to the fields week after week (except on the frequent occasions when I pretended to be ill and got away with it) to take part in something that I generally regarded as a waste of my time. Apart from the sliced oranges and bottomless cooler of Capri Sun, soccer combined a lot of things that I just couldn’t get behind: what with all the running around, the focus on teamwork with other boys, the outdoors, the unsightly footwear. I strove to play as little as possible, and when I did play, to do as little as possible——up to and including planting my butt on the field during play and weaving delicate tiaras out of grass for myself to wear at halftime. Hopped up on orange slices, Fruit Roll-Ups, Gushers, and Capri Sun, sometimes we’d go to Subway afterward and I’d be allowed to get a sandwich filled with nothing but ham and a truly appalling slathering of mayonnaise on white bread, which made the whole ordeal moderately worthwhile in my eyes. This was the 90s, and nobody cared too much one way or the other what kids ate so long as the product could reasonably be branded as food.

On Sundays, though, there was a weekly antiques fair in a strip mall parking lot near our house that I went to with my mother, which suited me much better. Here, you were expected to move at a pace slower than a walk, which appealed to me, and you could wear whatever you wanted to. Further, my people were there, which is to say kooky old people who wanted to get chatty about even older stuff. Because I was as much a novelty to them as they were to me, we developed a nice sort of symbiosis——I got to study adults that normally might have ignored me, and they got the pleasure of my youthful company and, sometimes, a hug. I developed a series of collections——first there were dog figurines, then there were wooden boxes, then milk bottles——that I’d keep my eyes out for, and I was great at using my childhood innocence to win me good bargains. It’s hard to say no to a little gay boy with bad hair who just can’t live without a porcelain dachshund, even if he only has three dollars to offer. I was a champion, and I knew it.

Like my athletically-inclined siblings, I was a competitive child, and I think my parents always hoped they’d find a way to parlay this into the sort of passion required on a soccer field (or, for a brief period, in a hockey rink). But it never came to pass. We all have our strengths, and buying old stuff instead of playing sports is mine.

It wasn’t until nearly two decades later, though, that I’ve finally found a way to combine all the fun and excitement of shopping in the company of weird old people with all of the high-stakes, fast-moving competition of a sport. Auctions, y’all. It’s what I was born to do.

Sure, I’ve played the whole eBay game a time or two in my day, but the real thing is approximately 4,000 times better. I’ve only been to two auctions, but allow me to break it down anyway like I know anything:

1. Auctions take forEVER, which I personally enjoy. It starts off a little boring, but then you get to know people in the audience. There’s that guy who will always bid on a box of costume jewelry, or that lady who will buy anything so long as it’s rusty and serves no evident function. There are the gaggles of old ladies who go solely for the entertainment. It becomes a kind of game, anticipating how much a given item will sell for and who in the room will bid on it. You begin to ask yourself a series of questions——who are these people? what brought us all into this room? what makes you interested in spending money on that garbage?——which lets your imagination really soar about the lives of your comrades. They’re questions without answers, but they’re fun to chew over nonetheless.

2. Auctions are educational. It’s fun to learn things about antiques and what they’re worth, but way more fun to do it in the rapid-fire environment of an auction house than by reading books, surfing the Internet, or watching Antiques Roadshow on TV.

3. Snacks on snacks on snacks. I did NOT know that there was food at auctions. Because they’re so long and people love to eat, there tends to be a lot of food available for purchase, ranging from junky to——hands down——the best slice of carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.

4. Of course, finally getting to bid on your item is, like, the most exciting. There’s a whole strategy to it, but there’s also the exhilarating moment of actually getting to do something that could have real repercussions. This is where the competition side comes in. In a way, you’re always a winner: either you win something at a semi-reasonable price that’s a little higher than where you pledged to stop bidding, OR, if things get really out of hand, you still have the opportunity to bid it up, out of spite, to the point where it’s no longer a good deal and then let your competition take it. It’s a little immature, maybe, but I did this to a set of six outdoor chairs and I don’t regret it for a minute. Those bastards can take them, and I can sleep easy knowing I made them pay too much.

5. Sometimes, there’s something totally crazy that comes up that wasn’t listed in the previews, and it’s fun to see people react to it while you also consider maybe buying it. The first auction I went to, between a Victorian chair and a platter of assorted glassware, they sold LAND. Like acres and acres of woodsy land with a creek and a modest waterfall. The other information about it——exactly where it was located, whether or not it had municipal water, the projected property taxes, whether it was cursed——these things never really came up, but it was still fun to think about. It ended up selling for only a couple thousand dollars. Where else can you buy your own waterfall for that, I mean really?

In short, I love auctions. I need to stay away from them due to the state of my bank account, but I also love them.

This is how the elegant painting in the photo above came into my life. I spotted her during previews——a period before the auction begins, in which attendees are encouraged to view the available items face to face. She immediately attracted my attention, an object nestled in that fun space between pretty and ugly, between uniquely beautiful and incredibly tacky. In an auction filled mostly with Hudson Valley antiques, the audience let out an audible laugh when the auctioneer read aloud the provenance: Russian, painted in 1997. Bidding started at $100, as usual, but quickly dropped to $10 and worked its way back up once the first interested party lifted their card. But it was I who eventually won out somewhere around the $60 mark, a price that elicited several eye-rolls and chuckles from onlookers.

But just LOOK at her. She’s like a Matisse, but without the talent, originality, or vintage. I love her gaudy frame. I love her vacant eyes. I love her perfectly round bosom and the inescapable fact of her garish, Snooki-level orangeness. I love that she traveled across continents and ended up with me. Sometimes I buy questionable things and immediately regret them, but we’re a few weeks into our relationship and I still treasure her presence in my home. She’s everything I never knew I wanted, but could not live without.

The Guest Bedroom is Like a Real Room and Stuff.

before

One of my favorite rooms in our whole house is what I’m sure was originally a nursery. It’s very small, on the corner of the second floor, and accessible from both the hallway and the main bedroom——meaning that it has two large doors, two large windows, and a radiator. For some reason every time I post a floor plan of the second floor, I wind up with loads of comments suggesting that I turn it into a third bathroom, but there’s no way that’s happening. Aside from the obvious plumbing nightmare, I like it way too much as a room. It’s filled with light, it’s super cute, and it’s probably looked more or less like this for 150 years or so already (we’ve yet to nail down an exact date of our house…partially because I’m a little lazy and preoccupied and partially because it’s complicated stuff!), and I don’t really want to mess with that. It even has the original gas light fixture! It’s too nice to be a closet and too small and awkward to make a great office, so for now we’re using it as a small bedroom, as intended.

mekkoandlinusonbed

After we got a little smart and ditched the queen-sized air mattress for a real mattress for our own room, we kind of just threw the air mattress in here for guests. It took up basically the entire room. Very often we’ve had actual guests, but when it isn’t Nora’s room (or Chandler’s room, or Katie’s room, or Emily’s room), it’s Mekko’s room. Mekko is a little diva when it comes to her sleeping arrangements——she doesn’t like to be crowded by Max and Linus and I, so she elects to sleep on her own at night, and who am I to deny her that small luxury? Sometimes during the day she’ll allow Linus entry into her domain, but only if he promises not to lick her or impede on her ability to sprawl.

After a while, I began to feel a little bit guilty about forcing our houseguests to sleep in a glorified dog crate, though, so Max and I started keeping our eyes out for a cute little twin bed that would fit the room better.

amvets

Hooray for quick trips to the city of Buffalo. Hooray for AmVets. Hooray for $20 bed frames. So many hoorays.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thrift stores very often have tons of vintage bed frames, I assume because they don’t sell very well. The matching rails are usually in a weird pile somewhere nearby, so it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces. Then you’ll want to MEASURE, since old beds can sometimes be non-standard sizes——and while it’s possible to modify and old frame to fit a standard mattress (or have a mattress and sheets made to fit the bed), that’s a whole headache I’d rather avoid. So. MEASURE. It’s very hard to eyeball it when it comes to bed frames——they ALWAYS look tiny without a mattress. You can pull up standard mattress sizes on your cell phone while you wait. Then you can cut the slats yourself out of 1×4 pieces of lumber at any home improvement store. BAM. Easy bed.

Also: regular mattress, no box-spring. No pillow-top thick monster mattress shenanigans. Max and I have bought both of our mattresses at a Sleepy’s clearance warehouse center at steep discounts, and they’re both great mattresses. Never pay full price.

That is everything I know about buying beds. Use this information responsibly.

guestroomfromdoor

We really aren’t even close to making this room a real priority and have just sort of thrown thrifted stuff in it, but it actually looks pretty adorable! Mekko feels super civilized about it, as you can tell.

Based on the condition, I’m guessing the bed frame is from the 1950s or so, but these spool “Jenny Lind” beds have been produced for approximately forever——this style (with turned corners on the headboard and footboard) began to be produced around the 1850s (you can read a good history of these beds here!). Even though it’s a little sweeter and more traditional than the stuff I’m normally attracted to, I like that it’s cute and classic and goes well with the house. I think Max and I are both having fun mixing things up, here——we’re buying furniture slowly and as we find it, with the loose criteria that we love it and that we have a place for it, and we’ll just sort of see where it all lands and how it plays together. Also, $20 bed.

sidetable

I bought those little teak side tables this weekend off Craigslist! Good news: $20. Less good news: I traversed both a nearby nursing home and a clandestine gas station meeting to procure these tables. Long story. But they’re here now, and they’re cute!

The little rug weaving thing came from an auction. Yeah. I go to AUCTIONS now. Steppin. It. Up.

Separate post. Exciting times. Auctions are bananas.

I thought the colors were a little bright and silly and not my taste, but I bought it anyway because it was cheap (I AM HUMAN I AM FLAWED) and then Max threw it on the floor in here and it looked cute! I know, I am full of exciting stories today.

chairlitho

I hung art! I had it in my head that it didn’t make sense to hang art until the walls are restored and painted, but you know what? That’s going to take a long time. I’ve accepted it. My time is limited. The least I can do is grab a hammer and a couple hooks and just start hanging stuff up so it isn’t sitting around in piles. What’s one more tiny hole to patch? Nothing, that’s what.

I like this funny little litho, though. We found it at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago. It kind of toes the fine line between pretty and ugly, between tacky and not-tacky, which is sort of how I like most things in my life to be. Aside from my body. Everything else should be a little ugly.

It maybe needs a better frame at some point, but whatever. I’m into it and its weird 80s-ness. I can’t explain. Art just has to speak to your soul.

In addition: chair! True to form, I have been slowly accumulating a very stupid and nonsense amount of chairs I don’t need and someday will probably have to get rid of when my friends and family mock me. Right now, though, I can put them in corners and pretend people will sit on them. Who doesn’t want to just sit in a chair in a corner under that magnificent bright blue 80s lithograph? I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want that out of this little room.

Details

Here are some more snapshots, in case you’re not following all the complex data being thrown your way. Cute dog. Cheap bed. Cheap rug. Cheap tables. Cheap chair.

I have no idea where Mekko’s bandana came from. It just showed up in our apartment one day, so we put it on her. She’s pleased to look even more androgynous than ever.

olddetails

I’m excited to really get to work on this room someday. It has the same American Radiator Company “Rococo” style radiator as the rest of the house (except smaller and flesh-colored), that crazy gas fixture, and a beautiful old sash-lock with a little ceramic knob just waiting to be stripped and restored. I want to make sure it’s staying a bedroom before making any big decisions about it (wallpaper? overhead light? rug? furniture? curtains? blinds? did I miss anything?), but anyway. It’s going to be way cute.

above

Until then, Mekko is not complaining.

 

Adventures in Vignetting

Some things I could stand to be better at:

1. Dressing myself.
2. Cooking.
3. Saving money.
4. Waking up in the mornings.
5. Eating breakfast.
6. Eating lunch.
7. Going to sleep.
8. E-mails.
9. Socializing.
10. Vignetting.

So basically I’m mediocre at nearly all aspects of daily life. Go me!

That last item, though—the last one I struggle with. All the other stuff seems like things I could fairly easily improve upon with a little focused attention and effort, but vignetting is more like a frustrating art where owning nice things and understanding concepts like composition and color and scale and being fabulous intersect. You’d think it would be simple: buy pretty things, plop them on top of other pretty things, and BOOM: prettiness occurs. Not so.

For some people, I think this sort of thing comes really naturally, but some of us have to work at it. And maybe some of us also get careless and flustered and feel ridiculous working at it. I mean, this isn’t a model home, it’s where I live, so when I put too much effort into arranging things just so I tend to feel stupid and petty and I give up and go on being mediocre. It’s a weird hang-up. I want my home to just look easy, breezy, beautiful, like I’m just naturally cool so therefore I have pretty stuff (duh) that all looks nice together (double duh).

before

Take this situation, for instance. When I brought home the new desk, the painting that had been hanging in that spot just stayed where it was (except leaning instead of hanging). I had that black lamp on the old desk, so it stayed, and then I thought, hey, here’s a Dala horse and a Dansk candleholder and a vase thing I can put pens in and I’ll just put all that up there, too! Great plan, D!

Except it wasn’t so great because it looked crowded and nothing really looked good together. Then, factoring the lamp on the desk and the lamp next to the couch, which don’t look so good together, it was feeling very lamp-y ’round this corner of my world, which doesn’t look so good FYI. Plus the painting is too big and overbearing here, so the desk looked small, and it didn’t provide enough contrast with the painting over the couch (which I recognize is not in the above picture, but trust me). See what I mean? It just…isn’t right.

vignette1

I’ve been trying to streamline and simplify and pare-down, though, and I’m really happy with how things are looking now! Breaking it down from left to right:

1. The Telescoping Otis Light from OneFortyThree. I’ve been a huge (huge, huge) fan of Logan’s work at OneFortyThree for a longggggg time now, and I’m so thrilled to finally have one of his creations in my life! It perfectly solves the too-many-lamps issue, since it easily swivels from side to side to illuminate both the desk and the couch, and it extends! Now I can say, firsthand, that Logan’s work is as exceptionally made as I imagined it would be from stalking his transformation into a full-blown prolific lamp-making, plywood-bending superhero.

2. Plant from IKEA. I don’t know what it’s called, but it seems hard to kill, and that’s how I like my plants.

3. Christopher Gray Winter Logs Giclee Print from Erie Drive. I’d never heard of Erie Drive until very recently when the creative director and buyer, Alexandra Grenham e-mailed me, and then I was filled with lust and envy and very intense feelings to buy all the things! Alexandra has a really amazing eye that she’s used to curate this store with SO much great stuff, it’s a little overwhelming. I fell head over heels for this Christopher Gray print, though—I love the black and white (no shocker there), and the composition and balance of it. It’s bold and graphic, which contrasts perfectly with the other abstract paintings we have in the room. The quality of the print is really nice, too, which was an unexpected surprise. AND it fits perfectly in an IKEA RIBBA frame, which is really the only way I ever frame anything, ever. Love.

4. Nybro Crystal Volcano tea light holders, vintage Swedish from a stoop sale. Yep, it’s stoop sale season again (finally!) and these were my first scores! I love how big and weighty they are, and as we know from my deep and abiding yearnings for Ultima Thule, I pretty much love whenever glass looks like it’s melting all over the place. Mine were a total steal, but here’s one and here’s another one if you need a pair and have no impulse control (like this guy!).

5. Vintage studio pottery, thrifted. Amateur studio pottery is tough because I love basically all of it, but it doesn’t all look great together. This might be stating the obvious, but I finally figured out that they key is matching up the right scales and keeping things contained to a complementary color palette. There are lots of nice options here, but I’m cheap so I wait for them to show up on my thrifty rounds.

6. Dansk candleholder, stoop-saled! This was from last summer and was only $5, so I kind of had to. I’ve yet to find candles that actually fit in it, but it’s such a great shape that I don’t care. Tons of similar ones on Etsy and on eBay if you can’t live your life without one for another second.

7. Dog, scavenged.

desk2

Here’s a slightly better angle of that swivel in action and how the lamp, couch, desk, and two pieces of art all look in relation to each other. Feelin’ it.

closeup

If you also love the Christopher Gray print or other lovely notions from Erie Drive, then maybe you want to stick around because maybe the amazing Alexandra is maybe a fabulous and generous sponsor who wants to offer you a fabulous and generous giveaway very soon. Maybe.

Probably.

This post is in partnership with Erie Drive.

Lisa Congdon for Hygge & West is in my Kitchen!

wallpaper2

When I was a toddler, after my twin sister had moved into her own room, my mother set about the task of redecorating mine. I don’t recall having any part in the decision-making, but I do remember stumbling in on the progress one day. Furniture was pushed around and the matching dinosaur-themed curtains and bedding were waiting to be placed. I remember being particularly fascinated with the matching wallpaper, though—a small border that went just around the top of the room and matched everything else. The process—what with the paste and the trays of water and the scraps everywhere and my poor exhausted mother—made me feel very fancy and special. My brother’s room had been decorated similarly years earlier—a matching dinosaur motif—so I figured that everyone got a dinosaur-themed bedroom when they passed a certain threshold into kid-dom. Except my sister. She got flowers. But she was a girl, so there.

Unlike my brother’s more realistic earth-toned dinosaurs, mine were bubbly and cartoon-ish, rendered in bright blues and aquas. My comforter and curtains were reversible with coordinating stripes on the opposite side, but I liked everything to match—all dinos, all the time. This was the early-90s, and I knew what was up in the world of high-stylin’ toddler interiors.

I grew to love that dinosaur pattern with an intense, unhealthy fervor, thrown into sharp relief the day we moved out of the house about 4 years later. I knew vaguely of the new family moving in, who had two little blond boys and seemed nice enough, but when the news rolled in that my prized curtains and wallpaper border had been part of the sale, I was blinded to all reason and left with only hatred in my heart and resentment in my bones. I wanted my curtains. I wanted my wallpaper. And more than that, I did not want anyone else to have them.

I hoped these people would up and decide not to buy the house after all, or at the very least, lose their kids in the mall. Without their children, they would no longer want the dinosaurs around to remind them of what once was and might have been, and we could all go on our merry way. Them, childless, sad, and alone, and me with my dinos. The natural order of things.

But it did not come to pass, and moving day found me clinging to the bottom hems of my curtains, wailing in protest as I stared up at the wallpaper border and tried to devise a way to remove it. The disappointing thing about being seven years old is that your full bodyweight and all of your strength isn’t a very powerful match to your father’s, but as I was dragged away, I pledged that I would someday come back for them. Even if I was 37, I’d knock on the door and go take what was rightfully mine, and I’d put up my curtains and my wallpaper in my room and everything would be right in the world again.

What I failed to understand at the time was that a) I’d get over it, b) that wallpaper isn’t all that easy to remove, let alone reuse, and c) that as a future renter in NYC, wallpaper would continue to be one of those things I could only dream of.

Rolls

UNTIL NOW. We all know how much I love Lisa Congdon’s line of wallpaper at Hygge & West (also, everything else at Hygge & West, let’s be honest), so imagine my excitement when the folks at Hygge & West offered to let me sample their new line of removable wallpaper. You read that right. Removable! And, theoretically, reusable, which is pretty awesome too. Renters rejoice! I knew exactly where and how I would use it and which pattern I wanted—Lisa Congdon’s Triangles in the yellow/black colorway. This is so much better than cartoon dinosaurs, y’all.

before

This back wall of my kitchen has changed a lot over the past couple of years, from getting painted, the window getting salvaged wood moldings and a nice light-diffusing roller shade, and a new overhead pendant light. It’s a very small dining space, so a while ago we swapped out the round fake tulip-ish table and Eames chairs for this smaller set-up (the tabletop and legs are IKEA and the chairs are vintage Bertoia wire chairs). All of these things are huge improvements toward making this a (finally!) functional little dining space, but it was just feeling a little…dead. I debated painting just this back wall with a shot of bright color, but I thought a little graphic pattern (designed by one of my internet-friends, no less!) would be way better.

I was a little suspicious of the product, to be honest, but it’s pretty amazing. Each “tile” is about 2′ x 3′, which is the size of one full pattern repeat. They come in handy rolls with handy instructions on each one.

Wallpaper1

The best way I have of describing them is that they’re basically enormous vinyl stickers that look and act like wallpaper. The adhesive is made of 100% voodoo. It clings really well to the walls, but peels off easily and doesn’t leave any residue behind or damage the paint. The panels are very hearty and can be stuck down and removed multiple times (I moved the first panel a few times, just to get the positioning perfect) without compromising the strength of the adhesive or stretching/tearing the panel. It’s very cool.

The instructions suggested starting with the first panel at eye level, but I opted to start from the ceiling because it resulted in fewer cuts, and using entire panels was easier and more efficient. You can’t see the seams at all until you’re standing less than a foot away and looking for them, so it didn’t really matter where they fell.

process

This wall was a little extra-tricky because NOTHING about it is level or square, so I found it was easier to rough-cut the partial-panels (leaving about an inch of excess), stick them to the wall with the seams aligning, then remove the excess with an X-acto knife. Because of the huge window, the only full panels used were that vertical strip in the second process shot—everything else had to be cut down to size either at the edges of the moldings or at the corners of the wall. I just moved across the wall from right to left, ending in the opposite corner.

It takes a little concentration to get the seams to align and get everything looking snazzy and perfect, but the whole thing was pretty easy and painless and only took a few hours. It’s the sort of job that might be easier/faster with two people, but I did it myself because I got it* like that.

*zero patience, need for instant gratification, inability to work with others

after2

OH HEY LOOK AT THAT. Pattern-y goodness forever and ever. I LOVE it. Like, more than I thought I would, more than I thought I could. I’ve never wallpapered anything before in my life, and I’m really thrilled with how this turned out. It makes the kitchen!

One thing I wasn’t really anticipating is that it makes our narrow kitchen (it’s only 7.5 feet wide) feel wider and more spacious, somehow. It also totally makes the dining area feel defined and like a real space instead of kind of an afterthought, like it did before. So exciting.

I know the baseboards still aren’t caulked and painted. I am aware. I am garbage. BUT LOOK, WALLPAPER!

hallview2

I love reaching the end of our crazy long hallway and getting a little glimpse of this bright, happy pattern in the kitchen. I finally love how the kitchen is looking, even if it isn’t completely finished yet.

And hey, if you like this removable wallpaper idea, you might love what’s coming up next on the bloggy! (hint: rhymes with miveaway.)

This post is in partnership with Hygge & West.

65.

desk

The neighbors wondered whether a motel might be going up during construction. In the Chicago suburb of Highland Park—composed mostly of large, traditional houses—they weren’t used to seeing anything like it in 1963. Single-storied, flat-roofed, vaguely linear, and covered primarily in bright white stucco, it didn’t look like much from the outside. At best, they probably thought, it was uninteresting—a tacky architectural carry-over of California modernism. At worst, it was offensive. There were certain codes of conduct in places like this, and judging from the architecture alone, rule #1 was to color inside the lines.

My grandparents weren’t the original owners of the house, but I never really saw it that way. They were more like adoptive parents: maybe they didn’t build it, but they were the ones who treated it the way it was supposed to be treated. They hired a decorator when they moved in in 1972, and together they conceived and executed a plan, resulting in something not unlike what would happen if Woody Allen’s Sleeper mated with 2001: A Space Odyssey and birthed an entire house.

hallway

But that wasn’t how I saw it, either, at least not until I was older. I didn’t see it as mid-century modern or 70s glam, and I certainly couldn’t appreciate the curvilinear design scheme that gave the house shape or the particular balance of materials that gave it form. It didn’t strike me as odd that my grandparents owned a sofa made entirely of foam, or that the rug was made of strands of yarn longer than my hands, or that the coffee table essentially amounted to an enormous plastic cube. It was all just part of them.

My grandparents were both people for whom modernism wasn’t any kind of intentional decision or contrived style choice, but just something they kind of emitted and diffused into the air around them. Like Steve Jobs, my grandfather always seemed to be wearing some slight variation of the same understated uniform. He accessorized with slim plastic watches that looked like they’d been flattened by a steamroller. He was a constant consumer of information and news: if there was a new technology, he wanted to know about it. His whole ensemble—the house, the look, the attitude–added up to being the sort of person who embraced the future with open arms.

They fit, together. For as long as I can remember, my grandma stuck to a basic wardrobe of black and white. But there was always a twist: a line of decorative buttons there, a pair of glasses so elaborate and substantial that it was hard to imagine the bridge of her nose supporting the weight. She always carried with her a set of Paper Mate Flair felt-tip pens, a packet of tissues, and little pill-sized tablets of Equal sugar substitute in a plastic dispenser. She was the kind of person who thought everybody she encountered was entirely fascinating, who could listen to a person talk about nearly anything, and do so with utterly rapt attention. Everything was “nifty” to her, and if it wasn’t, you felt as though it was. Profoundly so.

table

And there they were, in that wild 60s house—colored by vivid 70s technicolor—floating around it all like little punctuation marks. They were a part of that house and it was a part of them. And I thought it was the most beautiful place I could imagine.

My grandfather died in 2001, and everybody more or less figured that my grandma would move out of the house in favor of something more manageable and suited to a woman approaching her 80s. But she refused. I found out a couple of years ago that my grandma never actually liked the house—that it had always been my grandfather’s passion and that she had complained about it constantly. But his death brought about a sort of desperate clinging, the despair of leaving it worse than the despair of living in it alone. This went on until she, too, passed away in 2007.

I went back to the house twice after my grandma passed away—the first time, to sit shiva, and the second time, about a year later on a trip to Chicago. To a stranger, it probably would have looked the same. But it felt different. Where before the air always held a slight tinge of her perfume, now it was flat and vacant. The house was still an amazing place by all counts, but something essential about it had dissipated, leaving only a spectacular shell in its place.

clips

Though it would now be regarded more as pathology than habit, my grandmother was a perennial keeper of things: old receipts, letters, coupons, photographs, and other documents. She had a cataloguing system all her own, enabled mainly by binder clips and paperclips, and stashes hidden all over the house. What began as a daunting but straightforward process (“we’ll rent a dumpster…”) turned into an ordeal that took weeks, then months, then years. As middle children often do, my aunt Janis took on nearly all of this work, separating the trash from the treasure, sitting alone in the middle of the living room with mounds of paper building up around her, a pile for everybody. I wonder if she ever considered carrying it all out the back door, walking a rickety stairway down to the beach on Lake Michigan, and just setting it all ablaze. But she couldn’t do that. Instead, she spent nights and weekends, early mornings and late afternoons commuting between downtown Chicago and her parents’ old suburb to take care of things for the rest of us. For Janis, the house became both a thorn in her side and—if not the final—than at least the largest tether connecting her to the past. Anybody who has ever taken detailed stock of somebody else’s belongings knows the feeling: it isn’t just sorting. It’s communing. And when it’s over, there’s a deep feeling of emptiness and finality. There’s no more to be seen or found, and it’s time to move on.

Everybody wanted to keep the house. Janis and her husband, Tom, considered moving in briefly, and my parents even toyed with the idea of relocating from Washington, D.C. to live in it, but it just wasn’t practical for anybody. Once it was finally listed, the large lot on the lake immediately attracted the attention of developers rather than families, who saw in the house only an easy tear-down and the potential for three houses in its place. And that wouldn’t do.

So we waited. For two years, the family refused enticing development offers, hoping that the right buyer would happen upon it and see what the rest of us saw. But it didn’t happen, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sinking feeling in my stomach when I found out that we—the estate—had accepted an offer from a developer. The carrying costs and the maintenance had become overwhelming, and we’d all just lost hope. We negotiated salvage rights, giving us the opportunity to bring in a crew of contractors and remove anything we could—lighting, built-ins, even the doorknobs were coming with us. Admittedly, the idea that pieces of the house could be dispersed and reused across the country was a decent silver lining, but it didn’t help much. The idea of a bulldozer destroying the house all at once was only slightly less palatable than us going to rip it apart from the inside out.

But then something fell through, as they often do when real estate is concerned, and the developers backed out. Amazingly, it wasn’t long after until the right buyers did come along, and saw the house as something special and worthwhile and significant, and offered to buy it. And then it was time to really say goodbye.

Most of the furniture, art, and other stuff got loaded on trucks and sent around the country—to my aunt, just an hour away in Hyde Park, Chicago, to my uncle in Utah, to my parents in D.C. and to my sister in Los Angeles. And we got a few things, too.

closeup

This chair was one of a pair that sat in my grandparents’ bedroom for almost 40 years (my dad has the other one), and now it’s mine. Of course, I know what it is and what it’s worth, but that’s really not something I think about. I love it because it belonged to them, and because I grew up climbing all over it, and because sitting in this chair feels different than sitting in any other chair exactly like it.

chairfromafar

Not surprisingly, it’s also very comfortable and has basically become my permanent office in the apartment.

art1

The other biggest thing that came our way on a truck were these two lithographs that used to hang on the wall behind my grandparents’ bed. They’re really sun-damaged and worth very little, but they’re two of my favorite things. I love them hanging over the bed like that, and every time I peak into the bedroom I’m so happy that they ended up with me.

art2

My grandparents didn’t live to see me become an adult or the sort of life I’m building, or the ones who get to share these things with me. But I think they’d be happy, too.

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