Last Saturday I read a wonderful article by Frances Schultz in the Design and Decorating section of the Wall Street Journal. The piece was titled Decorating with Mama's Things and describes how, after the passing of their mother, she and her sister went about dividing her many cherished furnishings.
The piece was particularly timely as I too will soon be adding some lovely things to my home that were passed down from Aunt B.
There were a number of important points made in the article. First a quote from Frances' mother (whom I gather was 'a real character'): "Please don't you all fight over my things. Just take what you want and throw the rest away."
Aunt B had a similar attitude and often said, "Inherited things can be a burden." She made me promise to be honest with her and only take the things that I truly wanted and leave the rest behind - along with the guilt of not taking things I didn't care as much about! She cautioned me to remember that the things of hers that I cherish might not hold the same value for my daughter, and so not to burden her with them unless she really wanted them!
Aunt B was speaking from firsthand experience: she was an only child (as is mine) and the burden fell squarely on her shoulders.
Another point Ms. Schultz made in the article was how she felt their mother had given her children permission to toss what they did not want. In other words, if it wasn't important or didn't fit, then by all means get rid of it! Each realized that their mother's things were not their mother, and that getting rid of them was not the same as getting rid of their mother's memory. Giving her things to charity or to friends was a great joy. That's BIG!
Once a few months had passed and the sisters both felt they could 'deal with' her possessions, Ms. Schultz and her sister set out to amicably divide up the contents of their mother's home. Each took what made sense for the way they lived, realizing that they could not keep everything.
I love her description of the old items she did keep and how she's made peace with her mother's belongings. She fully understands the value of inherited items. Most often they are neither new nor perfect, but each item has soul, a history, and a story to tell. I love that.
I also loved how she felt that in order to make some of the pieces work, she'd need to "Encourage them in the form of painting, repurposing, or outright re-imagining them." How many of us have inherited things and then feel guilty about changing them to work for how we live? I'm with Frances on this one and I know that Aunt B would surely agree!
Towards the end of the article, Ms. Schultz suggests some great tips for how we might incorporate newly inherited items into our homes. A few of her suggestions include:
- Don't act in haste but give yourself time to carefully decide
- Carve out special display places that won't add clutter
- Avoid 'pigeonholing' period pieces (in other words - give them a chance)
- Re-task items (read about her mother's lime green kitchen table!)
- Don't be afraid to break decorating rules, (this is fun), she painted an 18th-century table gloss white!
I'll add to it by saying that for the most part, the things we inherit from those we love were given out of love and not intended to be burdensome or that we should be made to feel guilty by having them or changing them.
Thank you Frances.
In the coming weeks and months, I'll share with you what I plan to do with some of the things that were given to me by Aunt B. I know she'd get a kick out of my plans - I hope you'll stay tuned.