I HAVE ALWAYS FANTASIZED ABOUT STARTING FRESH and moving into a house where I bring no décor baggage with me. I would visit all of my favorite stores and pick out exactly what I wanted, because in my fantasy, money grows on trees. The resulting space would be chic yet comfortable, juxtaposed yet pulled together, like something you would see in a glossy design magazine (ahem).

But alas, that is just my fantasy. My interior design reality has evolved much more organically, dating back to my very first college apartment. My roommate and I furnished it with
her secondhand brown couch with an unfortunate floral pattern and a papasan chair. My parents helped us add a little class to the joint by entrusting me with my maternal grandparents’ oak dining table and chairs and mahogany bedroom set.

The old oak dining table was pretty cool. It had a Houdini-like expansion mechanism with a wire pulley that would release the two table halves and flip over a suspended middle piece. I remember sitting at that table in my grandma’s kitchen when I was 6, watching her bake a cake. The mahogany spool bed and matching dresser had an oval mirror clouded by time, suspended by two curving arms. That set had lived in my grandparents’ guestroom, and when I was a kid, I’d look in the mirror and pretend to be the wicked queen from Snow White.

After college, I got married, and my husband’s furniture contribution consisted of Ikea bookshelves and a couch worse than my roommate’s. We didn’t have any money to furniture shop, so I ventured out to a storage unit my parents had kept for decades, filled with my paternal grandparents’ furniture. When I pulled up the creaking metal door and peered into the dusty space filled with items from generations past, I felt connected to them, even though I had never met my grandfather, and my memory of my grandmother was just a flicker.

Much of it was broken-down and desperately in need of refinishing or reupholstering, but I salvaged dining chairs with needlepoint seats my grandmother had stitched herself, a carved mahogany sofa with broken arms and torn green velvet upholstery, and a red velvet tufted settee with a caved-in seat that my dad said had been my grandmother’s favorite when he was a child. I fixed them as best I could, and in my home they went, next to the Ikea bookshelves and papasan chair.

As the years passed, we moved multiple times, and though the antiques came along with us, they were declining rapidly from their already precarious state. It was also getting harder and harder to make them fit in with my evolving décor style. When we finally settled in our current home, I realized, sadly, that the time had come. The needlepoint was disintegrating, the couch and settee were beyond repair, we had a new dining table, and my daughter was begging for a modern bedroom set instead of the old spool bed. As I donated the couches, disassembled the table, and moved the bed set to the attic, I felt sad in a way, as if I was dismissing the memory of my grandparents.

But then I looked closely at the dresser mirror and saw the outline of a heart. Years ago, my daughter had put a peel-and-stick heart on it that I just now realized had left a permanent imprint. This gave me an idea. I removed the mirror from its curved arms, attached a wire to the back and hung it on a wall in the middle of the vestibule, in the center of my home. Every day now, I look into the mirror and I know that smiling back at me are the memories of my ancestors, who will always be with me in my heart. *

Michelle Thompson is a children’s book author, freelance writer, marketing guru. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, two children, a dog and a tarantula.

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