Distressed (old) furniture pieces can make your home feel inviting #721

#721 in a series of true experiences in real estate

We once helped a friend clear her house before she sold it. There were many things she was not taking with her when she moved, including a massive collection of magazines. Many of them she just couldn’t part with but, at the end, she did leave some.

I didn’t think I was going to be bringing home any of the complete set of “Country Living” 1985 to 1997, but after we’d filled the recycling bin to over-full with other paper, and our client’s sister and daughter had taken what they wanted, plus we’d given away as much as we could to friends (no takers for any magazines), “Country Living” remained. I heard myself saying to Anet, “I’m taking these home.”

I put them on the floor of my garage. I figured they’d be enough in the way that I’d have to do something with them, but after a few months, I neatly stacked them on shelves where they remained until lately. I’ve been bringing them upstairs, half a dozen at a time, going through them, then letting them go.

As it turns out, I can look at only a few in one sitting. A complete country theme in these old magazine issues is ever-present, and it is intense. Page after page of pictured homes have much in common with one another: rough unpainted wooden walls and floors, disguised appliances, ruffled curtains, lanterns, hand pumps on dry sinks, rope beds. The owners of these houses seem not to like any other look for any item they live with. They have gone to a great deal of trouble to have everything they own “of a piece”.

It’s the use of worn items, usually furniture, that interests me the most. I assume that, when new, these pieces were spiffy and evenly finished, without checks and scratches, and, if painted, the paint was smooth and even. But now the reason they are treasured is because they look old and worn.

I haven’t seen any newer issues of “Country Living” but judging from other home magazines more recently published, I think that the old country look has become lighter. It no longer is floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall. For example, our stager uses an occasional piece of purposely distressed furniture, making a look I like very much. In an elegant all-white or off-white bedroom with sumptuous bedding and lightweight curtains, the stager will use a simple 4-drawer dresser painted in multi-layer paints, ochre over dark red and, on some edges, gilt gold – a look that is almost country but lighter and happier.

Of course some furnishings have been passed down through family and are kept as they are for sentimental reasons. Other pieces are authentically worn by handling and are appealing for that very reason. A friend has an old dresser, central in her kitchen, that has different layers of paint color showing and some bare wood, apparently damaged by use. It is a useful piece and quite charming. Maybe it’s a delight because it is very different from the well designed and built cabinets elsewhere in the room. Or maybe we enjoy looking at the history, what occurred over time with this one piece of furniture. One family liked it red but after it became worn, they decided to paint it green. Maybe we can “see” the mother laying out a tray with fresh baked bread on the dresser shelf, the rest of the family waiting at the table for dinner?

I’ve always respected furniture and done my best not to mar any we lived with. “Careful with the table” my mother would say when I was a kid. That meant no scissors, knife, grater, lemon juice, etc. that would damage the finish. “Don’t climb on the chair and keep your feet on the floor” we were also told so that upholstery would look good for as long as possible. If some harm did occur, we hurried to have it fixed so it looked “like new”. When we bought something new, we expected it to be flawless.

And yet, there are these old, worn pieces, a lot of which are highly sought after still, which is somewhat surprising and quite interesting – surprising that I like some of it, interesting that I’m unsure why I do.


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