I suppose, looking back, I must have decided if I were going to suffer through empty nest when my son went away to college, I might as well go all the way. I took it literally. I sold everything I had except for family photos, objects of sentiment and my personal belongings, packed my meager worldly treasures, moved in with a girlfriend and started writing. Truth be told, I was having somewhat of an existential crisis. I had owned a small business for ten years and was fed up with the rat race.
For the sake of brevity, I will leave the story of what happened between then and when I married my husband for another day. I will say that he was living in a bachelor pad and was definitely not a metro-sexual, which means we started from scratch.
Going into debt was not an option. We’d both had our fill of that. But there were things we had to have; a bed, two computers, two desks, high speed internet; you know--the necessities.
What do you do with an almost empty apartment and lean pockets? You bless the heart of Rachel Ashwell, who coined the term Shabby Chic, turning garage sales and flea markets into vogue. And I thank my Grandma for teaching me that you often CAN make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Over a period of six months my husband and I built a new nest together, a nest in which each room has a theme. Not the original plan. Maybe it was serendipity. All I know for sure is that it was fun and it didn't cost very much.
Our kitchen resembles a cantina. This was decided by the Mexican tiles on the bar and the two bar stools we ran across with ragged seats, $1.00 for both, with a bolt of forest green and white striped material sitting on a table next to them for $3.00. I recovered the seats with that beautiful material. I bought matching picture frames at a discount store, found two pictures online, a male and a female flamingo dancer, glued the material as backing for the pictures, and voila! Add curtains same material. Red, green and yellow tiny vases, again, bought at a discount store, which I filled with dried, colored flowers.
There is a cart the microwave sits on. In its previous life it was raw wood and lived in a garage, a table for tools. It cost $3.00. I cleaned it up, refinished it, and painted it forest green. On the wall is one of my husband’s finds; a clock. It is a little man in a sombrero, in his arms a timer.
Our bedroom is a trip back in time. I have a jewelry box which is at least 50 years old that my Grandma had setting on her vanity for as long as I remember. It is light brown wood, and has leaves and flowers carved on the top and the sides. There is a mirror on the inside of the lid. The glass is smoky, and the image you see almost feels as if you have stepped back into the past.
My husband and I found an antique headboard $50 refinished it. It is now a dark, shiny mahogany, and on the bed lays my grandma’s quilt. We bought an old manual typewriter for $5.00 that sits on the dresser we found on the street in front of our apartment, waiting with the trash. I kid you not, this dresser is gorgeous. It is real, not particle board, heavy wood. It had one thing wrong with it--a broken drawer--which my husband easily fixed. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t dumpster divers. We live in a decent neighborhood. Those people were just wasteful, and crazy, in my opinion.
With this theme so well drawn out, we set our garage sale sights on old fashioned things. On the wall hang two matching pictures of antique, two-seater bicycles. One of my favorite things is the Victorian lady who stands on my chest of drawers, a doll. She is made of paper mache. She has on a long, dusky pink dress with puffy sleeves. She’s wearing a straw bonnet and carrying a basket of dried flowers. I believe she cost $4.00.
I am very proud of what started out as an empty, antique picture frame and ended up a gold filigree mirror that takes up half one wall. I did all of the handiwork, then had the mirror installed. Total cost, $30.00. As we traveled around, I picked up different old fashioned tins and antique books. I found a 1950 Norton Anthology of Poetry for $4.00. The curtains I bought at a discount store for $20.00 are so pretty. They are gauzy silk, pale yellow, almost beige, with appliquéd yellow daises and green leaves, very sheer.
The living room is oriental. It started with two large matching pictures of Japanese geishas. I can’t describe how beautiful these pictures are. They cost $5.00 each, and they are very old, so old that the glass is not tempered. We had to have a couch, but we ended up buying one we really didn’t like, white and blue stripes, for $65. So, we shampooed it, went to Target and bought a nice comforter with an oriental design and draped that over it. The comforter was $50. We found a luscious oriental vase at a garage sale, brown ceramic with Japanese symbols in beige, for $2.00. Hobby Lobby had a sale on pottery, and we bought a big oriental pot for $20. At Home Depot, we bought a ficus tree for $15 to put in it. We are still working on this room--there aren’t many garage sales in the winter.
Decorating this way takes patience. Not just any old thing will do. Every piece has a special meaning. I am surrounded by memories of my grandma, and of past lives I create in my writer’s mind for people I never knew, plus the memories of the fun my husband and I had. When friends come over and compliment the beauty of our home, I almost feel as if we cheated, we enjoyed ourselves so much and spent so little. But mostly I feel like a proud, debt free, bohemian queen bee.