A few months back, I told you about our rather eye-opening meetings with client, Pat, our octogenarian, “never-give-up,” non-traditional client and now friend (you can read the background here). Pat found us from a list of designers published by a local design center, wanting not much more from us than to make sense of her new two-bedroom apartment. Cramming a life full of memories from a ten-room house into a tiny apartment was not only difficult for her, it was clearly painful for her to have to choose between so many important memories too.
This was not a project for HGTV that you watch on the treadmill. It was not something you post splashy shots of on social media. Instead, we sifted through box after box of mementos, art, and “stuff,” figuring out what was really important and what was not. How did we figure this out, you ask? By listening to Pat’s stories of remembrance. A suncatcher was made by her now deceased sister. This vase, or that cross was her mother’s favorite. We edited, distributed and hung up the most important memories across the apartment. And watching Pat’s eyes light up made me rethink what and why we were there for in the first place. Was I giving or receiving?
Fast forward to last Friday. Pat’s son called saying that she now wanted a chair recovered so it would tie in with our new color scheme. So we schlepped over our fabrics as usual and squeezed in a meeting. We sat down for some coffee, some laughs, and catching up. But here’s the first shocking sidebar: Pat can hardly walk, so even getting to her dinette is an epic feat. But she manages with a lot of wincing, some mild cursing, and a whole lot of smiling. And as is the custom, we listened to Pat’s stories. Honestly at this point, I usually forget why I’m there in the first place. And the words from a mentor always come back, “we rest on the shoulders of those who precede us.” It’s important to honor these stories.
But it was time for business and we talked about fabrics for the chair. This one had too much green to it, this one wasn’t the right texture, etc. But we did narrow it down to a beautiful rich blue velvet with a gorgeous hand. I always do this weird thing and ask people to put the fabric up to their face so they can really feel the texture. Yes, it’s weird, but it works. Pat declined because she said she had too much makeup on. She trusted me that it was soft!
We had some holiday pillows sitting in our car from a recent sample sale and we thought she might like a few of them, so we ran out to retrieve them. She asked if we would prefer for her to come out to the car to make it easier for us. Remember, Pat can hardly walk.
So then this feeling of grace took over as I ran back to the car. Alan and I looked at each other, stopped and I asked, “don’t you feel great every time we come out here?” He looked back and reacted in typical deadpan Alan style: “duh.” I was clearly the master of the obvious.
We came back with the pillows, and while she politely declined most of them, one with a silhouette of a cat on it in leather caught her eye. “I’ll take that one,”
she said, without batting an eye. Not for herself mind you, but as a Christmas gift to a niece out east who adored cats. Another arresting realization: Pat was thinking of others before herself. It was at this point automatic.
We wrapped it up, and on the way out, she out-of-the-blue asked us out for dinner, her treat. Taken aback again at this level of audacious selflessness, we had to decline, but the next time we come back, we’ll probably arrange a meeting under the pretext of some business thing, and surprise her with a homemade gourmet dinner. It’s our turn to serve in this volley of giving and receiving.