Monday, September 14, 2015


I recently inherited a few pieces of furniture from my grandmother's estate. Sometime in the 1960s, she had begun to collect old pieces of furniture and refinish them. She was generally not so particular about the style. She just wanted things that spoke to her; things that were old enough to call Antiques.

I remember occasionally shopping in antique stores with her as a child. She never bought anything. I thought it was odd. We'd circle the store again and again. She point out things she liked and clasp her hand over her heart or tsk and frown. It was only as an adult that I learned she never bought her Antiques at antique stores. She only visited antique stores for inspiration.

Instead she would buy at estate sales and auctions. She found them deeply depressing and maybe even shameful. She never took me to an estate sale or an auction. "A person's whole life, just sitting there on front lawn!" she once told me in exasperation. And yet, in these lawns, she would find a small, neglected, beat up table or a chair. Reasonably priced. She would see something she liked in it. She'd bring it home, refinish it, and add it to her Antiques.

After she passed away, there was never the slightest consideration that her own household would become an estate sale or auction. Instead, my aunt, uncle, and father carefully divided everything among her descendants. When my father asked me what I would like, it felt wrong to ask for anything. Antiques have never really been my thing. They don't really "match" whatever style I think I have.* I knew how important they were to her. But were they important to me? Was being important to her enough to ask for something?

I never really thought much about the specifics of her refinishing process, other than to recognize it was long and painstaking. I know she frequently asked my grandfather or my great uncle to help her recut bits that were broken or damaged. I know that her primary objective was to make the wood beautiful again. Beyond that, I don't really know exactly what she did to the wood, but she did have a gift for making it beautiful.

As soon as the Antiques arrived at our house, they surprised me by seeming perfectly at home.

I surprised myself by feeling particularly mesmerized by them.

It was like she had rubbed her soul all over the wood. Then my kids rubbed their dirt and grime and toys souls all over the wood. And the deal was sealed.

Even with her soul-rubbed wood furniture gracing my house, there's still sadness in the thought that I never learned from her the specifics of the refinishing that she knew so well. Practically, I find myself wishing she was still around so I could get some advice on my three-year-neglected chair project.  It almost feels like I might be able to pick up where I left off now that 2 out of 3 kids are in school all day. But I also realize that my dining room chairs won't be "refinished" by me alone, so best to just dive in and not spend too much time overthinking it.

* I think we now have more inherited, hand-me-down furniture than self-purchased furniture, so it's hard to say there is any stylistic oversight at all. 


Ann's mom said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother's life and legacy. She would be so touched - you know that she'd start to well up and say, "Oh, Ann!"

Pregnantly Plump said...

I like them! The chest is awesome! I love the detailing on the side of the drawer. And the desk is super cool, too. I like the wood grain on the chair. It's great that you have pieces with a great history.

Idena said...

Those pieces are beautiful!