Friday, June 24, 2011

Making a Home. . .

“From the owner’s point of view, it is obvious that the things around you should be the things which mean most to you. . . But this function has been eroded, gradually, in modern times because people have begun to look outward, to others, and over their shoulders, at the people who are coming to visit them, and have replaced their instinctive decorations with the things which they believe will please and impress their visitors. . . But the irony is that the visitors who come into a room don’t want this nonsense any more than the people who live there do. It is far more fascinating to come into a room which is the living expression of a person, or a group of people, so that you can see their lives, their histories, their inclinations, displayed in manifest form around the walls, in the furniture, on the shelves. .  . the artificial scene-making of ‘modern-décor’ is totally bankrupt.”

(From one of my all-time favorite books, A Pattern Language.)

* * * * *

When the sun does shine around these parts, this (above, in the photo) is a sunny morning spot, and it’s where I usually sit to have my quiet time (and drink my coffee on the days that I have it).  It’s nice to be able to sit again in the quiet for as long as I want, reading, writing in my journal, and sipping my coffee.

The chairs around the table are all cheapo Goodwill buys (at the least, they’re cheerful!) that will get me by at least until my furniture and belongings, including the beat-up round, pine table and chairs that I bought in England in the 1980’s, are brought here from their storage unit in southern Oregon.

The chrome table (in the picture above) is one that my maternal grandparents bought in the 1940’s, used in their home for a number of years, and then gave to my mom and dad when they were married in the 50’s. In the 1960’s, my paternal grandparents kept the table in their dining area, and I sat with my family round it for many a family Christmas dinner, eagerly devouring Grammy’s mashed potatoes and amazing gravy (and only the dark parts of the turkey). When I was married in 1980, my grandparents brought the table to our little apartment in a town near Portland, but when my family started the series of moves that would take us to England in early 1984, the table stayed behind. From there it traveled through a short list of other family members until it ended up back with me this spring, and it feels like the return of an old friend!

The old round table in our old home, and one of the feline offenders
who sharpened her claws on the legs.

But I love the beat-up pine table we used for 25 years in our home because of all the growing up my family did around it. Many long meals with stories and laughter and long conversations occurred at that table. We pulled babies in high chairs right up next to it so that they could sit with the rest of us to eat. Booster seats lifted our toddlers to proper heights for seeing and eating their food. Many a creative fort was built under this table, and artwork was created on top of it (along with some color crayon artwork created on the actual wood on the bottom side of the table!). It is where we wrote stories and letters and learned to do some math. Boisterous rounds of game-playing took place there, fueled by plates of cookies and sometimes tea with biscuits and jam. We sang Happy Birthday countless times around the decorated table and blew out candles and ate cheesecake. We constructed thrones for the birthday person by stretching long, colorful, winding strips of crepe paper from the back of one of the chairs to the ceiling. Many a relaxed, cheerful afternoon tea time was held at our table. We talked there, cried some, and laughed a lot. Eventually we welcomed sons-in-law, and then grandchildren to join our family life round the table. Various family cats have scratched the legs so that they are claw-marked and misshapen. The table saw its better days long, long ago, but all of this is why I love it and can’t imagine ever wanting to get rid of it.

Problem is, I’m almost certain the old table won’t fit in my new kitchen. I could put down its leaves, but then it’s not possible to comfortably pull a chair up to it, making it impractical for routine use.

Next weekend we’ll be moving my things from the storage unit in Klamath Falls to this house, and we’ll see about the table. After two years in an unheated storage unit, in an area where winter temperatures can dip well below zero and summertime highs reach into the upper 90’s, who knows what kind of condition it (or anything else, for that matter) is in anyway.

Whatever happens, I’ll find a use for the pine table somewhere in this house, and, in the meantime, for the kitchen, I’ve got this old chrome table that has a pretty special family history of its own. Because it is chrome, with a grey, marbleized top, it may not be perfectly ideal for creating a pleasant appearance because it doesn’t ooze warmth, but a home is not only about appearance. I would far rather have this table than a new one, even if its cool tones do contradict the warmth of the antique pine that will be sitting beside it.

William Morris said that we should have nothing in our homes that is not useful or beautiful. That’s a simple adage that makes some sense, but I definitely add “meaningful” to his “useful or beautiful.” The chrome table is useful. In the right setting, its appearance would be just about perfect, too, but not necessarily here. What the table does have is personal meaning, and that trumps cohesiveness of design any day, if you ask me, because my aim is not to have a beautiful house but to make a welcoming home. Already, I’ve enjoyed feeding my grandchildren at this table, and, opened to its full length, we should be able to crowd a whole bunch of us around it at once. Who cares about elbow room—it’s way more fun to have everyone sitting together!

“House” is largely about appearances, what impresses others, and what takes a whole lot of work to keep stylish. “Home” should have some beauty too, and it can even be a mansion, but it’s primary aim is to be a place where we feel cosy, let down our guard, feel loved and safe, and open our hearts. It’s where we settle in and put up our feet. It’s where we live and grow and become persons. And home is a place that can be infused with the love of Christ, something that cannot be done in a mere house. A house shows off for people. A home loves them.

I’m eager to see what kind of home I can make of this place, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be hearing all about it.


  1. Susan,

    That second to last paragraph speaks my heart Susan. May I quote you?


  2. I love when you talk about making home and all things domestic. It's so soothing. Please don't ever quit blogging again (but no pressure ;)!!

  3. "A house shows off for other people. A home loves them." Amen, Susan.

  4. Beth, I love those lines, too! We just bought our first home last fall and I have been slowly trying to fill the extra space that we have with meaningful things. I want a house filled with stories...and love. Thanks, Susan, for the reminder.

  5. Hi Susan what a joy to find your post on High Desert Home. I have so wanted to be able to get in touch with you. I discovered your other blog about a fortnight before you ended it! I wanted to be able to thank you as it has touched me and inspired me in so many ways. I printed off all my favourite posts in case you closed it and my " book" is kept by my bed for inspiration.. So - thankyou!! With lots of love from Penny L in Dorset Uk xX

  6. Yes, the meaningful...I so agree! It's so easy to just get rid of our old things or "dated" things in our disposable culture and buy cheap replacements at the big-box chains. This is a good reminder of focusing on home and not "house".

    As an aside, I am dying to get that cookbook "Mad Hungry"!!! It's been on my wishlist for a while...just found out a few weeks ago that this 6th baby is yet another boy (that makes 5 sons!) so I know I have years ahead of me of making "man food" :) :)

  7. Yes, of course, Joyce! Feel free. :-)

    Laurel, you are sweet! I just don't know if I'll be able to blog and do my homework come the end of September. We'll see. I think I'd like to keep going, but I don't know if I can swing it and maintain a nice life-tempo. But I appreciate your sentiments very much!

    Beth, :-).

    "Aquarijenn," I love that--a house full of stories and love. That's really it, isn't it?

    Thank you, Penny! Very sweet. I'm glad you said hello!

    Oh, Aimee, whatever you say always rings with my own heart and thoughts! And about that book--have you looked at it? I really like it! The author is a wonderful cook! The book is full of healthy, delicious, sensible family food. I hope you'll be able to pick it up. And how fun to have a mob of boys! Congratulations Aimee!


  8. I just love that quote.
    Your home tells a story, the story of your ife and your loves.
    It is perfect when it happily relfects these things without striving to be something it's not.
    Your home looks beautiful.
    I love the well loved and cherished pine table :)
    Glad to see you blogging again too :)

  9. (life) oops typing with wriggly baby on one knee ;)

  10. again, so thankful you're blogging once again.
    you lend lovely inspiration to everyday life.


    p.s. when i quote you, i'll be certain
    to link back to your blog. :o)