Saturday, April 18, 2009
Fashion. It's such a bitch. No sooner do you prance about in the latest trend and before you even have a chance to send it to the dry cleaner, it's over. Same goes for furniture and decor. I know, some things never go out of style, but that doesn't mean your relationship with them stays the same. I want to set up a meeting with a shrink to discuss the state of my relationship with my furniture. When I studied the History of Furniture (quite intensely) a few years back, what had been a casual dalliance with everything French turned into a torrid love affair. I fell head over heals in love with Louis XV. I was smitten by the satiny curves of a cabriolet leg. I found sheer joy in the asymmetric carvings on an armoire door. I was completely ga-ga for down-filled bergeres. That was then. Now I gaze upon my treasures and the feeling, although not gone, is diluted. There are pieces saved for and collected over time that I know I will never part with. An armoire I found in Vancouver lives in my bedroom. The previous owners of our house, in an effort to expand the bathroom, removed the closets from the master suite. My armoire is my closet. It was as though when I found her, she knew how much I would need her one day. And I love her. She has three doors, the centre door is mirrored, and her interior is fitted with shelves and drawers and a hanging rod. Most women would find her completely inadequate. But what she lacks in space, she makes up for with her beauty. The patina of the old dark stained quarter-sawn oak cries out to be stroked. The carvings are swirling and feminine. I can stare at her for great lengths like a work of art, always loving what I see. She is older than my grandmother would be were she still alive. Yet she still serves a purpose, stands proudly, aging with dignity. Long removed from her roots in Belgium, she survived an ocean crossing, and an unknown number of homes before she came to me. How could I desert her? And what of the pair of bergeres that flank the fireplace? They sat in an antique store for 4 years before they came to live with me. I would visit them three or four times a year, hopeful with each visit that the price would be reduced. The shop owner had reupholstered them in a rich claret red velvet. Even I was unsure about the colour. The asking price was too high to consider changing them. I would have to accept them for who they were. After four years of mad flirtations, I fell. The owner (likely sick of them, and me by now) finally and begrudgingly slashed the price. I had never waited so long and so patiently for anything. And now they were mine. And now I want them to change. The red I once loved has to go. Is this wrong? Finally, the china cabinet. For years we had scoured the countryside in the west and the east. We knew we would know him when we found him. The day we met was one of the luckiest days of my life. An antique shop that I frequented in Toronto had just received a new shipment from Belgium. The store was stacked to the rafters with newly unloaded pieces from France and England. It was so crowded, almost impossible to pass through the aisles. I nearly walked by him. I stopped, backed up, slid my hand along his curvy bow front. But, wait, where was his top? There had to be more. I could see the marks where his bottom had held his top for many years. The owner's wife, took me to the storage warehouse where she said the top had not yet been cleaned. One look and I wanted him so badly, dust and all, I knew he was the one. He was tall (too tall?) and his carvings reminded me of my beloved armoire and the open centre for displaying plates made him less formal and more approachable. How much? How much? The shop owner's wife said she would have to call her husband who was at an antique fair for the weekend. She called him and described the piece and I stood and prayed that we would be able to afford him. The price was too good to be true. It was a miracle. A sign from God. I wrote the cheque. On the day he was delivered, I anxiously waited. I cleared the spot, paced back and forth watching for the truck. I was still in awe of my good fortune. I had seen pieces like this going for four times the amount I had paid. The owner and a helper brought him in - bottom first. He was a big boy. Had I made a mistake? He might overwhelm the room. The owner then told me that his wife had made such a mistake when quoting me the price and he could have gotten way more for this item. He blamed her for his mistake and went on and on about what a great deal we were getting. But he could not change the outcome. I had negotiated the price, paid for him and now he lived with us. After they left, I stood and faced him. He was magnificent. Tall and broad, perfectly weathered. His hardware sturdy and strong. He was Hercules. He would hold all my treasures safely, firmly and unmoving. He did overwhelm the room, but in a good way. He was the masculine opposite to my feminine armoire. Best they remain on different floors. They came from the same era. Both influenced by Louis XV. He was a little older - they would be a perfect match. After describing him, I am reminded of what I loved about him back then. And I do still love him. He has never failed me. He requires little from me. I give him a rubdown with orange oil now and again. He seems to like it. His monetary worth changes over the years. Right now, antiques are less sought after. Again, the fickle world of fashion toying with my tastes. So, what would a counsellor have to say? She would ask me - "What is it that first drew you to them?" "Their beauty, the craftsmanship, the decorating trend at the time." I would respond. "And has that changed now?" she would inquire. "Only the trend part," I would tell her. "Are trends so important to you?" she'd ask. "Not as much as they once were, but in my world, they still are," I'd admit. "Well, it seems to me you have a choice to make," she'd say. "Yes, I see where you are going with this. I need to decide what's more important, more valuable, more steadfast. Trends come and go. True beauty and craftsmanship will stand the test of time. If I hop on the next trend, I'll only need to do it again in another decade." "Exactly," she'd say. "Ah, but life is so short and there are so many choices and I want to experience them all before I die," I'd say. "But are you willing to toss the perfectly good pieces away for this so-called experience?" she'd ask. "No, I'm not." "Then go home and love your treasures. Forget about the world of trends and fickle fashionistas," she'd shout. "I will, I will! Thank you Doctor. You've been such a great help!" So I rush home and my beloved French antiques still stand there, waiting for me with open arms, hopeful I have not changed my mind about them. I walk over to them, caress them, apologize to them for ever having considered replacing them. I won't be a slave to fashion. I won't.