Ah, the circle of life. My mom is officially done with all of the maintenance and care needed to keep a big house going. So, we’ve put the home I grew up in on the market and Mom now aspires to the downsized life. The heat went out this winter and we’ll always remember that event as being the straw that broke the camel’s back. But how do you efficiently sift through 46 years of family memories? Let’s start with the big stuff- the furniture.
Anyone who’s an American knows we are an abundant country. Full of stuff. Whether you are a pack rat or you’ve simply lived a full life, it doesn’t matter- we’re all drowning in excess stuff. And there’s so much new stuff, who wants the old stuff?
It all comes down to:
- the quality of the piece,
- how much time you’re willing to invest, and/or
- the personal memories your family’s items have for you,
When materials were more plentiful, and there was less than 7 billion people on the planet, less expensive items were just made better. Mom’s wrought iron patio set was built in 1968 and you can’t even lift the chairs, they’re so heavy:
Before I “saw the light,” the patio sets I’ve owned have survived 3-4 years, at which point they just fall apart. So a few coats of spray paint, some new cushions, and a new umbrella, and this item will last another 40 years. Nice to keep it in the family.
It gets trickier with upholstered items, like this chaise.
In this case, the investment to get it into good shape is too high if you don’t like the fabric it’s covered in. Don’t get me wrong, we love reupholstering family heirlooms and furniture from America’s Golden Age of Furniture (and do a lot of it for our projects), but reupholstering is not something you can pick up easily from a You Tube DIY video. We use experienced re-upholsterers who know all the ins and outs of this specialized craft. The frame is not particularly well made, the cushioning needs to be replaced, and, admittedly, my Mom got it “to fill the space.” Here’s a rough idea of costs, if we were to bring it back to life
- Reupholstery Labor: $800
- New fabric: 12 yards plain fabric @ roughly $35 a yard= $420
- Replace cushions and Stuffing= $200
- New bullion fringe trim on bottom roughly 7 yards @ $25= $175
- Pick up and re delivery= $200
= $1800 (and she probably paid half that amount!)
How Much Time Do You Have?
On the other end of the spectrum, this guest bedroom set was bought back in the early 80’s, (around the time the Golden Girls were flourishing), and everyone loved blonde wood:
The set is not veneered particle board, like today (you can tell by the edges), so you could get a power belt sander, strip it down and repaint it white over a few weekends. Also, a great choice for college kids in the fall.
Maybe it could turn out like this:
But my brothers and sister and I don’t have time for such a project. So my brother Joe (who’s a master at selling things online), listed it on www.letgo.com. A young couple, expecting a new baby and in the process of buying their first house, called for it quickly. We sold it for a very fair price, and they got some furniture that was made much better than the ready to assemble furniture in the same price range. A good deal for all.
Downsizing & Personal Home Memories
One of the most interesting parts of going through the house were going through the stories that accompanied the smaller pieces (stay tuned for that blog, I can’t wait to tell you what I learned in the process). But I had some strong associations with a few of Mom’s bigger pieces because of my own memories. My parents always threw lavish dinner parties, and this buffet was the place for treats during family events.
It opens for larger buffets spreads
I can’t wait to have Mom over for a dinner party and keep the family dinner party tradition alive using the Chinoiserie-like buffet. And I love the kitsch of it too. Not terribly expensive, but terrific memories!
Probably the strongest memories I have, though, is of music circulating around the house at all hours of the day. Both Mom and Dad were musicians and music teachers, and so this unassuming piece, believe it or not, holds especially fond memories for me.
As a kid, I used to rifle through them all the time: the pieces she taught, the music she herself studied. I remember the sound the drawers made opening and closing. They’re totally beat up from a life of use. Cats have scratched the fronts. But wonderfully made out of solid cherry. At some point, I will restore them using the best refinsher I know. They are my prized possessions and I have now started putting all of my music in them
And they now live happily next to a bookcase reclaimed from a Indian door frame, and a piece of art my aunt did that I love. The custom chair is where I love to read.
Transitions, and moving, it goes without saying, are stressful times for everyone. And I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t go through this process at some point! But it’s nice to honor the passage of time and to pass on family memories through the items you cherish. But in this era of overabundance, choose wisely!
I’ll leave you with a pic of my Mom, Joan Malambri, who still likes to party!
I’d love to learn about your experiences with your own family home!
Stay tuned for Part 2: what to do with all the small stuff, and why did everyone collect so much?