I love vintage housewares. The aesthetic, the design, the craftsmanship, the sketchy wiring. Love it.
But not in the, “Oooo, original shiplap made of reclaimed wood from a barn in Kentucky hand-planed by a pregnant Amish woman!” way that HGTV wants me to be into vintage. I’ve never had the desire to restore anything I found at a yard sale, antique shops make me sad, and the only phrase that makes me want to punt a baby more than “reclaimed wood” is “midcentury-modern.” (I’m looking at you, Jo Ann Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Go on, say “French countryside” one more goddamn time, I dare you.) No, it’s a very narrow category of vintage housewares that find a place in my heart.
The vintage I love are items that came from my grandparents’ homes. And I don’t mean heirlooms, either. Heirlooms are precious and beautiful, but heirlooms are for preserving and passing on, not everyday use. Heirlooms get pulled out once in a while for special occasions or admiration, and then get packed neatly and safely back into storage.
No, the things I love are the everyday.
Take this clock.
This clock hung in my Grandma Dietrich’s dining room since…well, long before I was born. Before my dad was even physically capable of procreating. She bought it with grocery store trading stamps back in 1961, by her best memory. As far back as my dad can remember and as far back as I can remember, it’s hung above her table as our family sat down for dinners together. Several years ago, she asked for a large digital wall clock, as she was having trouble reading the small face on hers. Kyle and I bought her one that she was thrilled to receive, and immediately set my father to taking down the old one so her new one could hang in its place. I commented that I was sad to see it go, as that old clock figured so strongly into my memories of her house. “Well, do you want it?” my Grandma asked. “I was just going to stick it in the attic.”
Of course, I was thrilled to take it. Not only do I think it’s a beautiful sunburst clock, but every time I look at it, I think of my Grandma and all those Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners with her and my family. And that’s what I love about taking in my family’s unwanted treasures. I love that not only are they beautiful things that can find new life and use in our home, but they let me hold warm memories of the former owner closer to me. Our house is sprinkled with all kinds of gems…
The owl lamp from Grandma and Grandpa Bower’s house, outfitted with new wiring and a new lamp shade.
The coo-coo clock from Germany that Kyle’s parents bought for Grandma and Grandpa Van Sandt.
The decorative drink tray from Grandma Dietrich’s kitchen that I now use on my vanity.
The lovebird salt and pepper shakers from Kyle mom’s house that he’s pretty sure, before his mother, belonged to his grandmother.
Not that we take in every item proffered to us. We could fill multiple houses with all the beautiful things that family has offered to give us. And we appreciate every one of them, but we also want our house to look like it belongs to us. Besides, like I said, it’s not about acquiring nice things that people will give us for free. That part of our life is over, (along with that period during which we believed that empty liquor bottles constituted interior decor.) It’s about beautiful things that we love because they’re beautiful things, and love doubly so because they’re brimming with beautiful memories of people that we love.
Buying our house and decorating it over the last few months has been very much focused on the future. Who was are, how we anticipate growing, what we think our future needs will look like, and who we want to be. But it’s also warm and wonderful to have little pockets of our home filled with memories of people who love us and helped us become who we are.