All posts tagged: Living Room

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.

New Desk!

When I was young, my parents became possessed of the notion that we needed to have all of our personalities tested. There wasn’t anything terribly dysfunctional about my family—at least not more so than most other families, which are mostly all dysfunctional—but the tests held a certain alluring promise. Before the tests, we were free-falling in chaos, but after the tests, we would know things about each other. We would regard each other with understanding and compassion, communicate more clearly, and we would be better for it.

I was twelve at the time, and I remember sitting in my bedroom and answering simple, repetitive questions for two hours. It was fun and relaxing and, when the results came in, made me feel exceedingly special. Here was a written report explaining in scientific-ish terms that I was, essentially, a terrific person. Of course, everyone’s results come out this way, so I’m not bragging, but the test told me specifically why I was terrific. The test had a way of putting a positive spin on all traits. Instead of being needlessly and irrationally emotional about the problems of other people, I was just very empathetic. I could give up on the dream of pursuing anything very practical or profitable career-wise because ultimately I was just too literary for all that. I was an intellectual, and this made me feel as though I was more interesting than my siblings, which was more or less all I wanted at 12.

The biggest takeaway for my family, though, was that instead of just being a lunatic spaz, I had a high change score. I was the kid who was constantly rearranging my furniture and always questioning why we couldn’t just move some stuff around in the house or paint a room or four. Prior to the tests, this sort of behavior was interpreted by mostly everyone as simply irritating. But after the tests, I had a label. There was a chart in a folder that said this was just who I was, irrevocably.

Because permanence and stagnation freak me out, I often try to avoid them. I don’t mind permanence much where my life is concerned (oh hey, live-in boyfriend and two dogs in the space of a year), but it drives me crazy in my living space. I like things best when they’re easy to reverse and modify. It drives me crazy that each room in my apartment only has one truly viable furniture layout (trust me, I’ve tried everything!), and I don’t like feeling married to certain pieces (with the notable exception of my grandparents’ Eames lounge chair. I’ll marry that.).

desk1

Oh hey there. Lookatchu.

The only reason anyone reads this blog is probably because I once made a desk. It was one of the first things I ever built, and I was really proud of that thing. I had no idea what I was doing or the best way to go about anything (some of my advice in that post is, uh, really bad), but the point was that I had an idea and I made it happen and it totally worked and it looked cool. And then Anna blogged about it and I felt really cool, which led people other than my mom to read my blog and led me to eventually counting Anna and some other people I met through blogging as some of my best friends.

So that desk meant a lot to me. I’ll admit that. I’m not made of stone!

But while I loved that desk in my old apartment, I could never really make it work here. I schlepped it from the bedroom (where it was NEVER used) to the living room (where it sat for months and was rarely used). It took up precious space and provided so little storage. Eventually, the desk just became frustrating, and I realized I was keeping it around mostly out of some weird sense of obligation and sentimentality. But it had ceased to be very practical (which was the whole goal when I built it) and when the MDF top started to bow slightly and some of the paint chipped, it just didn’t look so great anymore.

Enter the light of my life, fire of my loins: Craigslist. For a while I just wanted to get rid of the desk and replace it with some kind of small, low dresser on this wall next to the sofa or maybe a smaller desk, and then I realized I could have both! I quickly found a listing for a cute Swedish secretary-style desk for a couple hundred bucks. Oddly, there was another listing for the exact same desk for like $1,200 at the time, which is a total rip-off.

desk2

I totally love this cute little desk, but it’s a piece of crap! The teak veneer is pretty, but I think the entire thing is made of just chipboard and cardboard and some little dowels and wood glue. It seemed like the entire thing was going to fall apart when we dragged it up to the apartment, and it had little floating storage compartments inside the desk part that did totally fall apart and now need repair. Whoops. Anyway, not all things vintage are synonymous with quality.

Oh well. It works. And now that it’s in place, I don’t think it’ll fall apart as much anymore. Also, I KNOW that arrangement on the top is not working, but I need to rearrange the art to make room on a wall for that painting. I guess. I don’t know. High change score. Don’t rush my process.

Anyway! The desk is super cute, super Swedish, super vintage, and has a lavish amount of storage space. When you live in 500 square feet with one small closet, it’s amazing how much a change from 4 small drawers to 4 less-small drawers just feels absolutely spacious. The desk holds all of our office supplies, electronics crap (extra cords, chargers, external hard drives, etc.), and most of my tools (thereby clearing up space in the kitchen cabinets!). It’s great.

widelivingroom

I don’t have any pictures of the new lounge chair and the old desk in the room at the same time I don’t think, but trust—it was feeling very crowded and dumb. Here’s a before-ish picture for reference-ish? I’m shitty at this.

wide1

I love how the new desk has totally opened up this end of the living room. I moved the Fiddle Leaf Fig (still going strong!) out of the corner and it seems to be pretty happy there in the middle. The proportions of the desk are small enough that it works off to the side of the sofa in a way that most other furniture (including the old desk!) just looked really awkward. Feeling it.

corner1

I moved my Patrick Townsend String Light from the kitchen to the corner behind the chair, and I LOVE IT there. It’s the perfect lighting after the sun goes down, and is just so soft and beautiful. It’s unfortunately exceedingly hard to photograph well, but it really is one of my favorite things. Like, in the world.

I kind of wish we could get away without a side table next to the chair, but I’ll admit that it’s nice to have something to put a mug or a book down on. It’s a vintage knock-off Saarinen tulip side table from the amazing Maya! I kind of want to replace the top at some point (it’s just wood with a bullnose edge), but I don’t know. It’s feeling very mid-century-modern-museum up in here, so fake tulip might have to be relocated. Hmmm.

I want to change all the things always.

string

I love String.

desk3

I love desk.

I’m out of words.

 

Real vs. Fake: The Eames Lounge

beware-of-imitations

I know this post is kind of a departure from my regular programming ’round these parts, but what can I say? It’s Monday, it’s almost the end of March, it’s snowing, possibly this is the rapture, my apartment building has no heat, and I woke up feeling like it was high time to nerd out over chairs.

So. Remember how I used to have a fake Eames lounge chair? Back when my living room looked like this:

enje

Yeah. Well. When we received the very special things from my grandparents’ house, there was a brief hot second when I had two Eames lounge chairs—the real deal, straight out of Zeeland, Michigan circa 1972, and the fakey guy who I think was manufactured by Plycraft, probably a few years later.

“Reproductions” and “replicas” and “inspired-by” designs have been around for forever, but it seems like only in more recent years have these unauthorized replicas inched closer and closer to looking like the real thing. Now. There is a whooooollllleeee long debate to be had about “real” vs. “fake” and the legal standing of intellectual property surrounding furniture designs and who is getting ripped off and how and what this means for society and design and quality and whether the sky is blue. Frankly, I’d rather not get into that because everybody has their own opinions and I find that type of squabbling annoying. Personally, I can’t picture myself buying a newly-produced knock-off piece of furniture for a number of reasons, but I think the rules change a little when you’re talking vintage and secondhand. Nobody’s getting hurt, it isn’t perpetuating the lousy knock-off furniture industry—it’s just good clean old-fashioned thrifty fun times. I support that.

Point is, people often wonder what the differences are between authentic and knock-off furniture—Eames lounge chairs, specifically—and it’s hard to find a good guide explaining it. So being in the unique position of owning both concurrently, I thought it would be a good time to put together a little show and tell.

frontback

The first thing you’ll notice is that the knock-off Plycraft (left) is huge. This is a pretty standard issue with knock-off furniture: getting the proportions all wrong. One of the many things the Eames’s did very well was scale—the 670 has all the comfort of a larger lounge chair, but is really only as big as it needs to be without sacrificing comfort. The elimination of that kind of bulk is a big part of its charm. Even modern-day knock-offs are usually too big or just proportionally super weird.

bases

The base is often the most telling difference between an authentic chair and a knock-off. Vintage knock-offs usually have a base like Plycraft, or a flat chrome X base. The Herman Miller base is powdercoated black with chrome on the top, and each foot has a height adjustment to accommodate uneven flooring. Clever!

Modern knock-offs usually get the base wrong by designing the legs with an incline that’s way too steep. It makes the chair look like it’s frightened or standing on tip-toes, which is just not all that pretty.

tilt

The design of the base also affects the incline of the chair. Vintage knock-offs (and some modern ones) try to make the chair into more of a recliner by adding a spring mechanism that allows it to tilt forward and back, but the base position is much more upright than the 670. The real chair is at a constant stationary position that’s something between upright and reclining. The wood shells and rubber shockmounts give the chair a little flex, but it doesn’t actually tilt at all. Some people find this prescribed positioning wildly uncomfortable, but that’s a matter of personal taste. I found the Plycraft chair really uncomfortable because it required effort to tilt back and remain there, so as soon as I took my feet off the ottoman it would spring forward to its upright position. The 670, for me, really is just right. I love that thing.

sideshock

The biggest difference, structurally, between vintage knock-offs and the real thing is that the plywood shells on the Eames chair are continuous, without any exposed hardware (except, of course, the vertical braces holding together the middle and top shell). Charles and Ray Eames are known for their honest use of materials and exposed structure, but they also believed in elegant solutions to vexing engineering problems—like how to hold this gorgeous thing together. The solution they came up with was the rubber shockmount, which is basically a metal disc encased in rubber. The Eames lounge has 4 oval shockmounts, bonded to the inside of the wood shell at the upper tips of the bottom shell and the “ears” of the middle shell. A black metal plate attaches to both shockmounts on each side, and then the upholstered armrest is fitted on top of the metal plate and secured from underneath. That’s a little hard to explain.

The knock-off chair, however, just says fuck it! and screws directly through the wood shell from the outside instead of into shockmounts from the inside. Make sense? Additionally, the cushions in the authentic chair are secured by clips on the inside of the wood shells and the backside of the cushions, whereas the cushions on the knock-off chair are held on by small screws that go through the shell and into the back of the cushion (which in this case is a lower-quality, thinner plywood shell covered in foam and leather). This all adds up to plywood shells that look OK from afar but are actually covered in screws holding everything together. Not so elegant, but it gets the job done.

backs

Often vintage knock-offs will have a small metal brace between the bottom shell and the middle shell, which takes some pressure off the sides as the main structural support. Whereas the authentic 670 gives the impression of three floating wood shells, it’s pretty plainly obvious how the knock-off works.

Most modern knock-offs look more like the originals because they’ve gotten more ballsy about directly copying both the style and the engineering of the original chair. This is partly where the problem of “quality” comes in, because even the Herman Miller chair is prone to problems. Tragic, horrible problems. Like so.

Broken

I debated even sharing this because it was pretty sad and SUCH a headache, but here you go. Consider yourself warned.

The main engineering failure of the 670 is that it relies solely on the adhesion of four rubber shockmounts to support the weight of a human being reclining in it. What I really wish I had known is that after about 40 years, give or take a few, the rubber tends to shrink and become brittle and the adhesive tends to fail. So, one day, a person—say, your adorable boyfriend named Max—decides to sit in the chair. The bond between the shockmount and the shell fails on one side, putting the pressure of all his weight on the remaining side. In the course of a split second, the middle shell swings backward under the weight, bends, and snaps completely in two. You hear a sickening sound from the next room and know something terrible has happened. You enter the room to find your boyfriend on the floor, your chair lying in a depressing, crumpled mess around him.

I may not have many strengths, but I have one that I’m fairly confident about: I don’t cry over spilt milk. Which is a stupid saying, because really, who would? But for somebody as into stuff and pretty little things as I am, I really don’t sweat it too much when stuff breaks. I break things with decent enough frequency to recover pretty fast. Shattered dish? Whatever. Ink stain on my favorite shirt? Shit happens. Cherished Eames 670 lounge chair inherited from my grandparents?

This was a tough pill to swallow. We’d only had the chair about a month or so, and it had been all smooth sailing and fancy recline-y times, and now it was totally broken and unusable.

My grandparents weren’t the sorts of people who were all that precious about stuff, and I think that’s healthy. For everything the chair symbolized and recalled for me, it is, ultimately, just a thing. It isn’t my grandparents and it isn’t my memories. It’s metal and wood and leather and foam and rubber and some stupid glue that just didn’t hold. Which is shitty, but not as shitty as a lot of other things that are shitty. So there weren’t any tears or real dramatics. We just picked up the pieces, disassembled the whole thing, and got to work trying to figure out what to do.

I found out that this isn’t altogether uncommon. It happens mostly to vintage chairs, but even some new chairs as well. Turns out that Herman Miller only warrantees the shockmounts for 3 years, and after that, you’re on your own. I don’t blame the Eames’s for this—after all, this chair was produced in 1956 and was totally revolutionary at the time. The shockmount technology was an innovative and incredibly elegant solution, and it seemed strong. It did last for 40 years on this chair, to its credit, and had I known that this might happen I would have had the shocks replaced preemptively.

I asked a lot of smart, wood-worky people about what it would take to fix the broken shell, and the news was pretty consistently disappointing. Because the wood breaks at a major stress point, it isn’t something that a little wood epoxy can really fix, and the repair is highly specialized and expensive. A new shell can be ordered from a couple third-party retailers, but I couldn’t imagine that the new shell would match the 40 year old sun-faded rosewood veneer of the remaining original shells. Herman Miller recommends buying an entirely new set of shells from them (the design has changed slightly, and I was told that the new 7-ply shells don’t interface properly with the old 5-ply ones), but that was basically the cost of a new chair and was even more depressing because all I really wanted to do was repair my grandparents’ chair, maintaining as much of the original materials as possible but making it functional, strong, and something I wouldn’t have to worry about. The last thing I want in my living space is something I’m scared to use or uptight about other people using. I don’t believe in “showpieces,” and this chair is no exception.

I even considered this DIY fix, which sounded kind of amazing until I read in other places that it wasn’t likely to hold for very long, at which point the shell really would be irreparable.

So we saved up and let the chair sit in sad pieces for a while before finally biting the bullet and getting the repair done by Olek Lejbzon, a furniture restoration company in New Jersey who specialize in this repair.

ear

If you click the link, you can see that this repair wasn’t done with quite as much finesse as advertised. If I were more concerned about maintaining the monetary value of the chair for resale or whatever, I probably would have been pissed with how obviously mis-matched the grain patterns are and all that, but honestly? I don’t care. The work has a great guarantee and I think was the best solution for us. It seems really strong, and most importantly I can sit in the chair without feeling like I could break it at any moment.

There’s a certain honesty about it, too. It isn’t perfect, but that’s what gives it history. It was my grandparents’ chair, and then it was mine, and then it broke and I did what I could to make it whole again. And it’s all right there, in that awkward little line where something will never look quite right again. And that’s OK.

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.

Mantel Things

There are real problems, and then there are fancy problems. Real problems are things like meth addictions and getting hit by buses. Those might be bad examples because yeah, maybe you did do the meth in the first place and yeah, maybe you did walk in front of a bus, but still. Nobody’s about to say you have it easy.

Fancy problems are arguably more terrible than real problems because nobody will ever pity you. It’s not okay to complain about them, because nobody—literally nobody—wants to hear about how you can just never find pants in your size because you’re a 2 or how the maps app on your iPhone sucks now. Guess what? Some people have real problems. Some people don’t even have iPhones.

Think about that. Go sit with your shame.

My fanciest problem, I would say, is that I actually struggle with what to do about the old, pretty, non-functional fireplace in my old, pretty, semi-functional apartment. Like, I actively think and agonize over this issue, because it’s weird to have a fireplace with no practical purpose other than looking cool, and it’s also weird to have a mantle where I’m expected to put stuff. Mantles are super intimidating things, I’ve discovered, because there is just no downplaying that thing. If your room has a fireplace, that fireplace is going to be the star of the show—all the time, every time.

Here’s a fun and flirty mash-up of all the mantle-fails this fireplace has endured through its time under my care. Original indifference (with the red paint) led to continued indifference (with the white paint) led to a real conscious effort which isn’t 100% terrible or anything but let’s be real. It’s still sad. I only show these to you because, oh, I don’t know why. To further solidify my flaws and shortcomings as a human being, I guess. Sounds about right.

The thing is, the mantle itself is really high, so actually hanging anything above it is kind of awkward height-wise, especially with the wall moldings to contend with. Maybe that’s my second most-fancy problem: fancy wall moldings totally confusing how and if I can hang art.

Seriously, try walking a mile in these shoes and you too will understand how hard it is to have beautiful architectural details that you apparently can’t handle. STRUGGLES.

I’ll definitely admit that one of my weaknesses is styling. Like, I understand a couple basic principles about grouping things, triangles, sets of three, whatever, but I don’t know. I hate when things feel super forced and over-styled, but I also appreciate when things like nice and put together? When I try to style up surfaces like mantles or bookshelves, I tend to get all self-conscious and defeated because these activities seem so pointless and petty, particularly with my decidedly un-fancy possessions. But mostly because maybe I’m just bad at it. Mantles, particularly, carry a lot of pressure to be personally representative and whatever, so that makes the task doubly intimidating.

Things are looking up though, especially after I found this big old mirror at Salvation Army for $20 a couple weeks ago. It’s not super old, I’m guessing 1940s or so, but I like the simple lines and the glass has some nice age to it in real life. It isn’t, like, my dream mirror or anything, but the price was right and the size was right, which is a combination that has thus far been entirely elusive in the great mirror hunt that lasted roughly 16 months prior. So I’m happy to have it.

Somehow, I haven’t destroyed that Pencil Cactus thing yet. I bought it a while ago, too, so maybe the tides are changing with my plant killing. Knock on wood.

Of course things already look different, but when this photo was taken a few days ago:

1. the Aalto vase in the back was our splurge from Finland because check the amber glass! Pretty, and we’re used to seeing it in clear.

2. The little raw wood hand-carved Dala horse from Sweden ended up here. Scandi-city up in here.

3. Little junky piece of studio pottery I bought at Salvation Army for a couple of dollars. It’s signed ZONDEK on the bottom which makes me think this was made by one very sassy experimental potter, accounting for the boundary-pushing glaze patterns and irregular shape. The plant I snipped from the tree outside our window because why not.

On the other side is this cute little iittala tea light holder. I saw a bunch of this stuff in fleas and thrifts in Scandinavia but didn’t buy any of it (I only had eyes for Ultima Thule), but stumbled upon this little guy for a dollar at AmVets this summer. In Rochester. I’ll take it.

Also some homo photo strip action to spice up your Friday morning?

Since the fireplace doesn’t function, I’ve always been kind of at a loss about what to put inside it. Nothing and it looks kind of empty, but assortments of candles always seemed messy and objects seemed cluttered and logs just seemed stupid. So I finally had the good sense to pick up this clever IKEA PS Tealight Holder which I just think is the cat’s pajamas and looks very pretty when it’s all lit up at night when people come over and whatnot.

So the fireplace. I don’t know. Liking it, not loving it. The mirror has some strange old varnish on it that makes the wood look kind of sad, and I feel like someday I might paint it? But to what? And I don’t know, I think I’m over the black paint. But then I go look at the first picture and the white doesn’t make me feel better. But maybe it’s the red walls’ fault? And I know I should appreciate and embrace those very old original tiles, but I don’t like them. The colors are gross and I try to be into them but I’m not. That said, I need to respect that they’re original, so they definitely aren’t getting ripped out or painted. I don’t know. I give up.

See? AGONY. The fanciest agony.

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