Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On Interior Decoration, Salvation Army Style

Truly. This is not a funny title for a politics post, but a post on interior decoration, or rather on fixing your place to be at least somewhat livable. It's caused by a book I bought at the flea market on Saturday, titled Flea Market Style.

The book, given to someone for Christmas 1999, has lovely pictures about interiors full of junk from flea markets and projects where you can take a lampshade, wrap it in some threads and then stick old postcards under the threads to make a lampshade which won't let any light through.

Another project tells you how to cover a vase with broken china shards to a lovely effect. I once read an article about a French man who covered his whole house, inside and out, in pottery shards, including all the furniture and his wife's sewing machine, including all the working parts. Now that is the essence of interior decoration gone haywire. But very fascinating, all the same.

For practical reasons I have always been a fan of the Salvation Army style of interior design. The prices are good, the selection pretty bad, but if you have some chisels, paint stripper and time you can get furniture that is better made than the new junk sold cheaply. Over time my house has developed an odd mixture of Salvation Army furniture and some very nice pieces I've inherited or bought during the more affluent times. It all goes together very well, given the general cover of dust, dog hair and spider webs.

The sad thing is that what I'd really love is a house full of air, space and a few modern furniture masterpieces. That apparently modest list of demands is actually a very expensive one. It's much cheaper to have a house full of Victorian monstrosities and books, and they age better than most modern furniture.

The main reason is the bones of the furniture. Older furniture tends to be made of solid wood and if it is broken it can be fixed at home. I always look at the bones of the furniture, the skeleton, really, and if those are good most other problems can be fixed: chairs can be reupholstered, horrible trim can be removed, casters can be added, veneer can be fixed, knobs can be changed. Of course all this costs me in time and effort and the need to learn how to do these things, so not every old piece of furniture should be given this treatment.

But sometimes one finds treasures this way. I bought an open-armed mahogany armchair for 35 dollars once. It was covered in dirty and cracked pink vinyl, so I reupholstered it. Inside the seat I found a couple of pieces of old jewelry and a little medal with the picture of Napoleon Bonaparte in it and a text saying "Napoleon Empereur". The chair looks lovely with a cream-colored linen cover on it. Or looked, until the dogs chewed rawhide bones on it. It looks a little like this chair except more Empire style with a fatter bottom and shorter legs:

What is the point of this post? Just rambling, probably. But I think many of those new and eager college students might do better than Ikea by checking out the local second-hand stores. They might even find something that will become the family heirloom for future generations.