October, damp and cold this year, made lighting the boiler last week a heralded and longed-for occasion. I began mixing rye bread dough this morning at 4:30 just for the joy of baking it. One grey day I stopped on a narrow country road to listen to the wind rattle the corn husks and then noticed a little black cat watching me. The shop is filled with all sorts of lovely old painted furniture, all chippy and time-worn. That is my favorite furniture of all types and I imagine where I would use it in a future home if I were tp keep it. I sand them to remove specks of paint that could come off and seal the exterior with flat acrylic. After washing the insides of drawers, I seal pretty wood with varnish or, sometimes, I paper them with 1940s wallpaper if the interior wood is nothing remarkable. I enameled the exterior of the dresser shown above with Rustoleum’s stock color Marine Blue. With polished brass antique hardware, it makes me think of a sailor’s dress overcoat with brass buttons.
“The stripped and shapely
The ghosts of her
The ground is hard,
As hard as stone.
The year is old,
The birds are flown.
And yet the world,
In its distress,
Displays a certain
Loveliness” – John Updike, A Child’s Calendar
Walking through Haf’s Apple Orchard last month was a picnic of smells and color. Some trees seemed to be chosen for allowing dropped apples to remain on the ground. The smell of vinegar rose from these fallen apples and the bees were having a wonderful afternoon.
If you live near Haf’s, remember that apple season is not over in November. They have coolers kept at 35 degrees and all of the wonderful varieties are still for sale at prices less than the grocery stores. The comparison stops there as there is no comparison between taste and freshness-Haf’s is the winner in that category, also. All of the apples are marked by variety and purpose. My freezer is full of pies now. I look forward to baking one on a cold January and February night.
From where I sit in the dark shop late this afternoon, leaves are rattling down the sidewalk like old chicken bones. I’m still in the Autumn mode of enjoying mystery movies curled up in the chair with an old cotton blanket from the 1940s. Just as the movie begins, I take two out of the drier and curl up covered in soft, old cotton.
I finished three Christmas wreaths, two to sell in the shop and one to send my sister for the door of the post office where she is the postmistress. I made it from tiny envelopes stamped with dates ranging from the 1930s to the 1950s and Midwestern place names.
Before I leave you in November, I want to show you the Princess and the Pea bed I began last winter. I have 22 mattresses finished for this antique doll bed marked 1898. Using only ticking and other fabric made between 1930 and 1960, it is a like a small encyclopedia of fabric design.
If you are a local reader, remember that Haf’s sells bags of apples with tiny flaws (like a real apple) for 1.00 a pound! It’s fabulous!
By one o’clock yesterday afternoon we had three-quarters of the ground floor of an estate packed into a U-Haul trunk and a van and we were bouncing back down the road toward home. It is a friend’s connection and job, I was hired to fill boxes while he packed the vehicles. It was hard work under any circumstances but made more so because the previous owner was an antique dealer and artist with a pennant for iron, stone fossils and giant balls of string.
The string is not only visually interesting but more so because the tied together pieces were saved by people before the invention of rubber bands, twist ties, various tapes, Rubbermaid tote bins and other forms of containment. What would surprised the thrifty savers of yesterday’s string is today’s value of their frugality. Values starting at 300.00 proved that winding string was time well-spent.
January, 2016 was a month that had to be wrestled and flung to the ground. When it was good, the snow floated down lazily and soft under a sky the color of a grey kitten. I made pear biscotti and baked bread that I shared with the birds and squirrels. When January is mean, the nights are long, dark, and cold in old houses and buildings across town. The sharp wind rattles the old windows and sneeks in through gaps around doors. There was 1/8th of an inch of ice on the interior side of the steel door and windows. Inside, I wore big sweaters, snow boots and a scarf around my neck. Now, we have stomped on old January and walked over it.
The shop was closed for the whole month. Customers dwindle down to one or two a day when the sidewalks are covered with ice and snow. Some building owners don’t shovel or de-ice their sidewalks because they aren’t here. Even with a #10 shovel, I couldn’t break the sidewalk ice after sprinkling ice melt on it the night before. I held on to the buildings when I walked to the mailbox and took ginger steps. Two shopkeepers slipped on the ice; one broke her leg. One day, I went inside Sweet Angeline’s Gourmet Bakery and Cafe and spend a comfortable hour with my friends, Angie and Jim, with a huge, steaming cup of their fabulous coffee. It is the most welcoming place with pastry worthy of a Parisian boulangerie. Walking home while reading their new menu, that I will post under the glass on the shop desk, I am again amazed that we have such a cosmopolitan cafe in this little town of 2000 people.
Now on to February and I think we are going to have an early spring. The sun is out again and it feels strong. Almost all of the ice is gone from the sidewalks on the north side of the street. We have three new (and interesting) shops in Richmond.
This post is about something fabulous that happened. Last fall, I was walking around the corner of my building, carrying, with my friend, Roger, a huge replica of someone’s farmhouse that I bought at a barn sale. The house was quite big and a man, walking to a restaurant across the street with his wife, stepped up to help carry it. Everyone walked into my building and the house was set down. The man, Ron Warwick and his wife, stayed for a minute to talk and as one topic led to another I mentioned that I wished I had a replica of my grandparents house. It had recently been torn down in Northbrook, Illinois. A developer was building a McMansion on the property as happens everywhere now. Ron said that he would turn the house that we were carrying, into a house as close to my grandparents’ house as was possible. I don’t know what kind of a look I had on my face, but I think it looked like a big question mark. I said, “Why would someone do that for a complete stranger?” I realized later that he is simply a selfless artist who must create, for not only did Ron with the help of his friend, Rich, make me a replica of my grandparents’ house, but built a completely new house, from the ground up.
We sat down only a few times and talked about the house. On Google Earth, we watched as the last remaining images of it disappeared forever. Ron whipped rulers around and did some kind of complicated mathematical and geometrical figures in his head while I tried to remember where the windows belonged. Then he started telling me, from his calculations, where the doors and windows belonged.
Nothing like this ever happened to me before, nor will it, I expect, ever happen again. I told Ron, and it is true, that I like the house as much as I liked my brand new 1972 convertible Mustang on the day that I got it. Every time I look at the house, I get a joyous and magical feeling.
Now, the real house, our grandparents and their children are gone. And just as they had to go on living as they lost their loved ones, our generation must go on, too. It is still hard. But, we were lucky to have all those people once and I was lucky when I came around that corner and, just by chance, met Ron Warwick.
Some nights, after I climb up the 17 stairs to where I sleep, I make a mad dash to get under the feather blanket where it is cozy and warm. And sometimes, in the dark, I stand by the house and angle a flashlight to shine in one of the windows, just as the street lamp did and I can hear Grandma and Grandpa, in the den, singing the songs of their youth, following the lyrics on the television screen as Mitch Miller* smiles and waves his hands in time to the music.
*In the early 1960s, Miller became a household name with his NBC television show Sing Along with Mitch, a community-sing program featuring him and a male chorus: an extension of his highly successful series of Columbia record albums of the same name. In keeping with the show’s title, viewers were presented with lyrics at the bottom of the television screen, and while many insist there was a bouncing ball to keep time, Miller correctly said this was something they remember from movie theater sing-alongs and cartoons.
Designing a cohesive, put-together shop with inventory ranging between the time periods of 1850 to 1950 has baffled me since I opened my shop. I’ve read dozens of design books and studied how other shops do this successfully on Pinterest, but short of renting a storage unit where I can accumulate things that go together, I haven’t learned a thing to make it easier.
Then I saw an article about a publisher looking for people to review Apartment Therapy’s new bookComplete + Happy Home. The ultra-bog, Apartment Therapy, features apartments designed by thousands of creative renters and home owners using flea market, antique shop furniture and furnishings mixed with new or newer furniture.
I could hardly put this book down. All of the principles can be applied to a shop just as easily as one would apply them to an apartment, split-level, ranch or six-bedroom house. I finally grasped something that has previously eluded me. The approach is to throw out all ideas of what Pottery Barn is selling, what is currently trending and what you know about design. Decorate to make yourself happy. Learn how to use what you have, what is comfortable, easy to clean, maintain and is affordable to you. In other words, don’t choose a painting because it matches the color of your couch. Choose one that you enjoy.
Read every page; don’t just look at the pictures and you will have a new eye and the knowledge to create a comfortable home for yourself, family and friends.
There is too much between the covers of theComplete + Happy Home to mention in a review, but the editors aren’t pulling your leg when they put the word Complete in the title. The sections on creating flow, energy, balance and mood helped me tremendously with arranging the shop.
Apartment Therapy contributors essentially live in rentals so they don’t take out walls and install new windows. That is what I love about this book. The point of the book is to train people how to look at their homes in a new way.
Say you just bought a first home with an old board and batten paneled dining room. The new owner envisions a sleek modern design. Bringing in a vintage 1950s red-painted table with steel hairpin legs and adding black modern upholstered chairs turns the room in a new direction. By changing the overhead light fixture to a pendant style with a pierced metal drum shade the room is transformed from hunting cabin to cozy modern in an afternoon.
For the shop, I learned how to unite multiple patterns by adding one color that unites the room. Do you see how the coral lap robe and a vase of coral-colored flowers unifies the bold mix of patterns? It is all about decorating with things that make you feel good and making the room congenial for anyone who visits. I could easily use this technique in the shop. For example, by adding five green linen pillows to the room, the entire shop looks united with the use of color. Of course, this is easy to do in a small shop like mine, but the idea works for any size room.
The book shines because it is realistic and it trains the reader to really see, just like an artist learns to see. Forget about what the neighbors have, what some marketing department wants you to buy, and get happy with your home.
I found a carton of 100 bars of black pumice soap for 2.00 at a recent sale. Last night, I rubbed a bar on the dried milk paint on my blue jeans and the paint came out. The pumice is very fine. It even smells great. I have a mind frame that anything made in America before 1970 is better than anything for sale in the stores today.
Everything in this picture was found at a rummage or garage sale and all but the crocks and the chair sold the first weekend I had them in the shop. These Victorian folding rocking chairs are only suitable for displaying a doll as the original upholstery probably wouldn’t hold up for to many more years. There are a zillion of these in the marketplace because they were popular during the Victorian era. But, most don’t have their original wool tapestry fabric. A woman could take one of these out on the porch on hot summer evenings, easily move it near the bed to read to a child or pull it in close to the stove in winter.
I found these windows at farm moving sale that my friend Janet talked me into attending with her. She said we would be gone for an hour and we got back six hours later. The windows were up in the rafters of a garage. Black with decades of dirt and in the dark recesses of the high ceiling, I almost didn’t notice them. The windows in the middle picture are truly that vivid. What a once in a lifetime find and all because Janet stopped over for coffee on the way to a sale. This is the first summer I ever went to garage sales. I fill my thermos with coffee, pack a couple of sandwiches and head out towards farm country. My GPS is the most fabulous invention of the last three decades as far as I’m concerned. I rarely have any idea of where I am but I never get lost. What a marvelous bit of technology.
I meet the friendliest people and have wonderful conversations. I never try to bargain people down from their asking price. If I think the price is too high, I just don’t buy it. The prices are usually so low that it would be an insult. I heard this conversation yesterday. A woman was selling a new attractive, fine quality set of dinnerware. It was blue and white in a floral design. This wasn’t Walmart china. It was good, hard-fired porcelain. The seller, probably in her early 80s was selling the set for 10.00 which she explained to an interested woman was 10 cents a piece. I heard the customer say to the seller, “Would you take 8 cents?” The owner said, “No, I wouldn’t.” and the customer drove off. One hundred pieces of fine china for 10.00 was not a good enough deal for that garage sale shopper. It makes me crazy. Well, it makes me crazier.
And, this is the roof I spent most of September on.
I was tuck-pointing, roof-tarring, glass-glazing, window painting and dealing with other issues that needed attention in the back of the building. (Let’s not talk about it.)
Besides this work and the shop, I took care of six of the village’s gardens. I added another garden to the list this year. Many people stop to talk throughout the hours, as you can imagine. Gardening is a social event in a small downtown area.
It is autumn and I have been washing and ironing the textiles I found over the summer. I still have more to do. These American quilts are wonderful, aren’t they? The blue on the Victorian postage stamp quilt is indigo dyed and the red color is the infamous Turkey Red.
Last night, I finished tucking in the last of the flower gardens for a winter nap. The night was warm with that kind of soft, wild wind that we have in Illinois in October. I wanted to cross the gardens off my list so I gardened until 8:00 pm under lamp and moonlight. The town is closed on Monday night so no one saw the crazy gardener in the dirt-covered blue jeans. I didn’t care if anyone saw me, anyway. It would be something to talk about.
And the “In a Pickle” dining room cabinet? I could have sold a half-dozen of them!