When the Old New is New Again

It was bound to break eventually. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t already – having survived decades of two sons, many visiting children and dogs, a dozen resident cats.

Yes, my grandmother’s Chinese vase she converted into a lamp lies in pieces too numerous to reassemble. My cats took off in the middle of the night, launching themselves off our bed, down the long hallway, into the living room, across the back of the couch – and crash! – onto the side table and into the lamp.

I got up in a hurry. What were they chasing? Nothing I could see.

I’ve heard this crash before and usually it’s the wood-based lamp on the other side of the couch. Also a Chinese antique, but strong enough to survive assaults. No, this time it was the turquoise and coral vase/lamp. I burst into tears, which set the cats running back down the hall in the opposite direction. Since then, I haven’t had the heart to pick up the pieces behind the table in a corner on the floor.

The vase was given to my grandmother by her father, a Scottish sea captain who brought it from China in the late 1800s or early 1900s. After retiring in Scotland, he came to live with her and my grandfather in GranMontreal and her home included many of his Chinese treasures – statues, plaques, screens.

My grandmother was a creative woman who loved to cook, sew and garden. She wrote letters to me that were little gems of poetry. If she were alive today, she’d be a writer or an artist.

She was also modern in her tastes, despite the Chinese antiques. In the 1950s, she redecorated her living room with lime green couches and blond, kidney-shaped tables. She made the housepainter repaint the walls because they weren’t the right shade of pale lime green.

When she and my grandfather followed us out to California in the ’60s, she furnished their tiny apartment overlooking the ocean with Scandinavian teak – clean, simple, elegant lines perfectly suited for their new, smaller home and lifestyle. A nearby store featured ultra modern home accessories and she became one of their favorite customers, buying items from Finnish Marimekko cushions to space-age Danish silver bowls to Swedish crystal glasses.

When she died, a year after my grandfather, my sister and I inherited several of her pieces. I loved the lamps because they fit in with my furniture as my own tastes and budget changed. I also adopted and immediately loved their two matchingmid-century friends Danish modern teak bureaus. My grandparents initially mounted them on their bedroom wall. Talk about streamlined! Then my grandfather added slim legs.

I used them for years in my bedroom and in recent years in my dining room as a side buffet. They too seem to fit in with any décor. My favorite was in front of a wall I painted orange.

Now this look that was once new and is now old is new again. It’s all the rage, mid-century modern. We want to go back in time to a simpler age.

As I scale down in my own life, I want to live with less, distill to the essence. I mourn the passing of 100 years, now in fragments.

I think I’ll move the teak bureaus back into my bedroom, get rid of the rattan monstrosity, and welcome in the modern spirit of my grandmother.


My Hope Chest

I recently started a trousseau. No, I am not about to take a bridal leap with my possessions. But I’d like to fly into a new perch and so I’m preparing.

I don’t love my current home and want to move within the next year. In order to not feel stuck and to find a home that is right for me, it helps me to visualize it. I imagine and focus on location, layout, light. I see the entrance and the rooms – and I furnish them too. Coaster 1Where will my couch and bookcase go? Should I trade in for scaled-down models? Will my new interest in mid-century modern translate into a newer, more streamlined living space? Should I get rid of my seldom-used dining table and bring my office to the forefront? Should I go for a mid-century modern theme in other rooms?

Without realizing it, I already have some of that look and it wouldn’t take much to zap it up. My grandmother, who was ahead of her time, left me a Danish modern teak sideboard and some small tables and my mother someCoaster 2 Metlox pottery pieces, which were made in our hometown of Manhattan Beach and where I worked while going to college.

Now when I’m out browsing, I keep my eyes open for these nostalgic pieces – old but ready for a new home, or new but with a decades-old design. For ideas, I’m visiting San Diego stores like The Atomic Bazaar and Boomerang for Modern. So far, I’ve purchased a set of coasters.

This is what I mean by a trousseau. Possessions for a new home. Visualizing and decorating. My hope chest. A symbol of meeting challenges and changes while still appreciating what I have and where I am.Coaster 3

As a bride, I didn’t have a hope chest. The idea for one occurred to me many years later, when I found myself in an unhappy relationship. I had moved in with a man too quickly and by the time I realized I’d made a mistake, I was stuck, at least for awhile until I could save money to leave. I began to visualize where I wanted to live. One day while out looking for something else, I fell in love with a kettle – bright iridescent red, green and yellow with a wood handle and space-age shape. I bought it and brought it home and tucked it away, gradually adding towels, spatulas, salt and pepper shakers in all the bright colors I imagined my new kitchen would radiate. (My boyfriend preferred black.)Coaster 4

It may seem like a silly thing, but gazing at that non-black kettle got me through some dark days until I moved it into my new home filled with light and ocean air and put the kettle on for a cup of tea.