Monday, March 1, 2021

Old Made New

Several years before I was born, my imaginative parents bought a one-room fishing shack on a country lake outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, and began to transform it into my childhood home. 

Took them ten years of major renovation - including digging our basement with their very own hands  and two well-worn shovels - but eventually they created an interesting and unique house.

But back on that fateful day when they got the keys to the castle from old Mr. Gunderson, there were two small items abandoned in the house. Uh, fishing shack.

One was an old wooden dresser, slathered in a two-tone paint job of jolting turquoise and white, that my mom eventually refinished and gave to me. It's been a part of my life ever since. 

The other cast-off was an old-fashioned wooden wall sconce. 

When I was little, this was the light in our attic. My mom hung it casually over a random nail, and there it burned, sans a lampshade, casting out a blinding light by which I read my mom's old Peanuts comic strips (she clipped them from the newspapers for years) and tried not to fall through the rafters. 

By the time I graduated college and was ready to move to Chicago, my mom had refinished the base of the lamp but hadn't put it to use. In a fit of adult-onset-induced sentimentality, I asked if I could have it. She said yes. 

For a few years during my mid-twenties, it hung on a wall in my bedroom. I managed to buy it a proper shade, though I never did figure out how to hang it securely. Once I moved to Seattle, the little sconce was tucked into a box, and logged decades of darkness. 

Until last weekend.

During the late 1980s, when I was wrapped up in the heady challenge of decorating my first official house, country style decor was all the rage and I spent many hours combing antique sales in the Midwest. One of the popular items of the day was an old pottery crock fitted out with a stylized shade and electrical components to serve as a lamp. I bought one with a rust colored shade that was perforated to create a design of a little house in the woods with a winding path leading up to the front door. 

I kept it on a cabinet in the corner of the family room near my kitchen, and for many, many years, the first step in my dinner routine was to switch on that little lamp. It became quite dear to me.

But that lamp shade became problematic. I mean, perforated shades are hardly a timeless style, but the bigger problem was that the rust paper faded, though the trim around the top and bottom of the shade did not. Yikes. The overall effect became a bit of an eyesore, and at some point in the 2000s, I decided to retire this old friend. 

Well. I retired the lamp shade all the way to the garbage can, but I kept the gently curving, natural colored pottery base, always with the hope that someday, I would grab a new, neutral shade and give my beloved a new lease on life. 

Last week, someday finally happened.

When I first met my now-husband, he was a well-established bachelor who'd been living in his own place for ten years. His Chicagoland apartment was a little on the spartan side, but he had a few really nice pieces that impressed me with their style and flair. 

One of those stand-out objects was a handsome brass lamp. A Stiffel lamp, as he pointed out the brand name to me. 

Shoot. Stiffel lamps are the real deal. I was impressed that he owned a Stiffel lamp, and even more impressed that he knew that was cool. 

Once we were married, the Stiffel became a mainstay of our living room, and easily made the jump to Seattle. However, in a surprise turn of events, our much-loved first dog, Casey, had a real penchant for destroying lampshades. 

I have no idea why. 

But I can say with certainty that he trashed at least two or three different shades on the beloved Stiffel before I gave up and put it away for awhile.

And "awhile" turned out to be quite a long time. 

* * * * *

I love buying new things as much as anyone else. 

But much more deeply satisfying to me is the process of taking 

something old but timeless,
something that I've loved in the past,
something that has fallen onto hard times,

and finding a way to truly and properly fix it up.

Last weekend, I discovered an old-fashioned, full service, family-owned lighting store in Seattle, so I packed up my trio of beloved shade-less lamps and sent myself on a mission.

I cannot properly express how satisfied and deep-down happy I am, now that all three of my old lamps have been made new again. 

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