Why Do we Decorate?

I think most people have forgotten that the whole point of decorating is not to impress their friends or demonstrate a superior design sensibility.  The whole point of decorating is actually quite simple–it’s to make people feel welcome.

Growing up in a crowded family with five brothers and sisters and a frugal mom meant we never had new furniture.  Other people bought sleek Danish modern and we got their hand-me- downs.  Enormous Victorian chests of drawers with carvings and inlay, one drawer enough to hold a small child’s entire wardrobe, anchored our bedrooms. Colorful quilts hand stitched by long gone relations kept us snug in our beds while couches were slip-covered in polished cotton, concealing worn springs and sagging frames. Bright and cheerful on the outside, the fabric line dried, and broken in like a pair of old jeans, they were perfect for curling up with a book or sinking into an afternoon snooze.  All our rooms were for living, slightly worn, but always welcoming.

Our kitchen table was scrubbed pine, donated, I think, by an elderly aunt. It is impossible to count the hours spent at that table throughout my childhood.  Baking bread, eating dinner, doing homework, sewing with my Mom’s old Singer, and later, when we were older, having a few late night beers.  Dinner was at 6:15 every night and friends were always welcome.

When guests, which were frequent, pushed the number of diners over 8 then it was off to the dining room and the solid round oak table my mother found at an antique store in the early 60’s, when we finally moved to a house big enough to have a dining room.  With its two mismatched leaves in under the freshly ironed linen table cloth, we were ready for any festivity.The chairs were also mismatched, not by design, but by a kind of domestic Darwinism–only the strongest could survive in our household.  And if sheer numbers meant the weakest chairs were called to duty, you made sure not to wiggle, or worse lean back and cause the chair to implode resulting in laughter that always stung more the floor.

What makes a house a home is putting together objects you love with the things you need and then taking the time to enjoy them.  Once we delivered a hutch to a fabulous kitchen, recently renovated with every imaginable appliance and an incredible river view.  When I complimented the homeowner and asked what delicacies she had dished up lately she laughed and said none.  The kitchen was too perfect to use so she and her husband ate at the diner every night.  She’s divorced now.

I’m not sure what the moral of that story is except that kitchens and homes should be welcoming.  In fact, I think that is why we have been so successful selling our pine kitchen tables.  Even in the most modern of kitchens, a farm table is always appealing.  It takes the edge off and makes you feel like sitting down and having a cup of tea and one more nick or scratch just makes it look better!