A wise man once said that we notice ugly features more so than the beautiful ones because if something is beautiful it looks right; it looks how it should be. It’s why when something is ugly, it’s clear that something’s wrong: her socks are mismatched, the portrait looks out of place, the decorum is gaudy. The sad reality is, we notice the things that are off-putting, more than we notice the ones that are pleasant. This is why truly remarkable furniture goes underappreciated. If it fits, if it goes with the house, then most people won’t notice, they’ll simply see it as an ensemble.
That ensemble however is so important. Furniture is a concrete way to measure one’s lifestyle. Whether you’re going back hundreds of years or even going through someone’s house today, all the elements say something. Burns on a pot mean it’s used a lot – and perhaps there was a learning curve. Mugs with chips imply some kind of sentimental history – or else you would’ve thrown it away. Perhaps most importantly is your various furniture pieces that seem to have no meaning at all anymore. Ever seen a worn family board game that’s missing pieces? Better yet, a board game with substituted parts? How many families lose the metal figurines to Monopoly, so they supplement them with their own objects? Perhaps the pieces from another board game or actual thimbles.
For many people, that’s true of furniture as well. You’ll find a chair with pennies glued to a bottom leg to aid in balance. You’ll find different tones of wood in the back of cupboards – perhaps those glasses were seldom used. Similarly, how many people keep an appliance that’s lost its use? Or how many people have a solitary chair at their dining room set? One chair that is potentially a layover from a previous dining room set.
Furniture tells a story, and more importantly, it tells your story; it’s a biography of your life. Especially when it comes to wood furniture, your house is a living, breathing entity. This means it’s just as much a part of you as it is an ensemble to your house. Moreover, furniture has a much longer lifespan, so a coffee table with various stains may contain several generations of stories. Your family tree is carved out of your furniture.
Furniture: A Personal History of Movable Objects
This is one of the things Ian Sansom explores in his series of essays titled, Furniture: A Personal History of Movable Objects. Sansom talks at length about how our furniture speaks volumes about who we are and cites some incredibly provocative figures. For instance, consider C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. The wardrobe is the catalyst for the story. The furniture piece allows the kids to be transported to a different, timeless world. It’s a place where the imagination runs rampant. Of course, a collector of fine furniture such as this would see the scuff marks of children playing in a wardrobe, but a historian would see a wardrobe that’s been lived in.
Similarly, Sansom considers Van Gogh’s famous paintings of two chairs. Gogh painted his own chair and Gauguin. When you see them side-by-side, you can get a portrait of who each man was and what respect they held themselves to.
Van Gogh’s chair is rickety, uneven and plain. It serves a purpose and has taken its share of damage and abuse. It’s a chair that no doubt reflects the painter’s personality. Even the wood beneath the chair looks scuffed. Perhaps the chair has fallen many times, but it is still standing.
Meanwhile, Guaguin’s armchair looks elegant, regal. Its dark wood coloring on an incredibly ornate carpet is adds a weight to the scene. The austere nature of it is palpable. The chair is balanced, even, and stable.
These two portraits even give an eye into the level of luxury the two lived in. Gauguin’s chair looks expensive and it’s large in an even larger room. Gogh plays with perception, making the ornate carpet larger in the foreground and smaller in the background to imply the scale of the room this chair is in. Meanwhile, Gogh’s uses the converse effect on his own chair. The wood flooring is hardly made to scale, which makes this rickety chair feel cramped inside the image.
Furniture: Who We Are, Who We Think We Are
Ultimately, if Gogh’s two paintings teach us anything, it’s that our furniture is a depiction of who we are (or think we are). Oftentimes, when someone passes away, all the dirty laundry comes out about a person. More than that though, we can see where they were humble and where they splurged. Oftentimes, you’ll find people who lived on extremely meager incomes and yet had a bed that was worth a fortune. For that person, it may have been an inheritance, but more likely, sleeping was held in the high regard – i.e. worth spending more money on.
This isn’t merely an aesthetic appeal either. Everyone can feel it. If you’ve ever been a museum that’s recreated a Victorian bedroom, there’s a regality you feel when you enter the room. That’s because of the furniture, not the time period. Oftentimes, this is what leads people to turn away from the cheap, single-use furniture they’d grown accustomed to; it feels like it cheapens your story.
What are your values? Beliefs? How do you want to be remembered? If the Stickley historian taught us anything, it’s that we should always preserve the story of our furniture because it’s our living history. Stop by Paul Schatz Home Furnishings’ furniture store, we’ll help you find your story to be passed down for years to come.
Author Bio: Lili has been with Paul Schatz Home Furnishings for well over 10 years. Lili has a great design talent for understanding the wants and needs of each client in creating their space. She also has a wonderful way about herself at making each and every one of her clients feel special. When Lili isn’t working on one of her many design projects, you can find her taking long walks or dining with good friends.