When she came home at the end of the school year in May to find moving boxes still on the floor of her mother’s office and pictures stacked against the walls, my youngest daughter finally realized she needed to take matters into her own hands.
By that point, we’d been in the new house for well over a year and had ample time to settle in. We’d bought it in the beginning of 2016 and officially moved in that March, but some remodeling continued through April. So, while there were new carpets and refinished hardwood flooring and pretty much every square inch of wall space and trim had a fresh coat of paint, I still couldn’t bring myself to hang pictures on the walls or find a home for boxes of knickknacks I’d dragged from our old house.
In the past, my home interior design aesthetic veered towards the busy; I loved color and patterns and whimsy and never met a picture frame or window treatment I didn’t love. But in the new house I was hoping to tame those baser instincts and instead go for a cleaner, more grown up (if you will) vibe. I painted all the walls a pale, pale greige and only put blinds on a few windows for privacy purposes. I had no problem unpacking boxes of pots and pans and office supplies, but had no idea what to do with all the sentimental doodads I’d amassed over the years, which then sat on the floor of my office for months.
I had a big moving box filled with all the photo albums I carefully curated throughout the 1990s to document my children’s lives — which they then thoughtlessly pulled apart in the following decade — leaving countless empty plastic sleeves and visual gaps between Christmases and Easters of long ago. There were smaller boxes filled with all the overflow photos from a time when you’d pay a little extra to get doubles when you got your film developed, and then ended up with more copies than you’d ever need of people looking away at the last minute or errant fingertips.
Another box contained binders full of news clips I’d written over the years. Carefully clipped articles I wrote for my college newspaper were stuffed in folders alongside pieces I’d written for journalism courses, typed on thin sheets of typing paper with comments along the margins from various professors who suggested stronger ledes or less adjectives when describing, say, the university’s mineral collection.
And then there was the box holding all the weird chatchkas I’d assembled over the last 25 years. The colorful collection of wooden cats my younger daughter and I had taken to bringing home for each other from trips; the street sign from the first house we lived in the town we’ve called home for almost 23 years; a jar of seaglass I gathered off Stanley Beach on our last day in Hong Kong, amazed that there could be so much worn down glass in one place – a seemingly never-ending supply – and wondering how exactly the Chinese people disposed of glass bottles and jars; and a weird amount of signs with positive affirmations folks have given me over the years ranging from “Don’t Forget to be Awesome” to “The Ocean Fixes Everything.”
As is my wont, I learned to accept the boxes and wall hangings that took up a fair amount of real estate in my new office and went about starting and abandoning a host of other projects. It’s pretty standard that I’d go through the entire moving process – from getting my old house ready to sell to packing up 13-years’-worth of Legos and hair elastics to overseeing a new kitchen and bathroom remodel – but stall at the very end. Like, after picking out cabinets and appliances, why was it so hard to hang things on the walls?
One of the things I love about our new house is that it has lots of nooks and crannies for people to get lost in. It’s a Tudor-style built in 1929 and unlike houses built today, with big open spaces, our house has lots of clearly-defined rooms separated by walls and doorways. And while we struggled in the bedroom department – I needed to figure out how to stuff 5 grown people into 3 bedrooms – there was a fair amount of living space to spread out in.
Initially, I thought I’d make the sunny room running along the back of the house another place to watch TV. The former owners took advantage of the great light the room gets at all hours of the day and used it as a kind of sun porch; a great place to sit and chat or read or watch TV. But I already had one or two of those rooms and really, who even watches TV on a TV nowadays? Then, when I was trying to figure out where to set up my writing desk and wondering whether I could squeeze it into this new sitting room, it occurred to me that THE WHOLE ROOM COULD BE MINE. I could make it my office and fill it with all the things I love: my books, my pictures and my doodads.
I bought a couple of bookcases from Ikea (the Liatorp) to hold all my books and my printer and some office supplies. A set of drawers from World Market to store smaller supplies and stuff like notecards and stamps. And a super groovy and comfortable Lucite desk chair from IKEA that balances the heavy desk that was from my younger sister’s childhood bedroom but that I’ve repainted and repurposed a number of times since I acquired it 25 years ago.
And then, I proceeded to store anything I didn’t know what to do with in the room for six more months until I bought a reading chair from Ballard Design and needed to make room for its arrival. It’s my dream piece of furniture. Something I’ve lusted after for years. I fantasized about curling up on a cold winter afternoon to read a good book or propping myself up on pillows to work on my laptop. In other words, it would become my downstairs bed.
But to prepare for my beloved’s arrival, I needed to get hella boxes out of my office and this coincided with my younger girl’s arrival home for the summer, who helped get my butt into gear. She’s
super a little bit bossy and a lot taller than I am so she uses that height to her advantage. She’s all about threats and intimidation. She said she’d help me create a picture gallery on the wall near my desk but told me that first, I had to get to work unpacking those final boxes.
So one weekend in May, I got tough on a lot of the crap I’d been hanging onto for years and filled up a number of contractor’s bags with signs about cats and picture frames I bought at Marshall’s in the late ‘90s. Then, I went to Target and bought a long storage piece with 8 baskets into which I shoved all the photos and wooden cats and other things I couldn’t figure out what to do with but wasn’t willing to part with, either.
And then we went through all the pictures stacked on the floor and finally found places to hang them on walls throughout the house. When we were done, all that was left was my collection of really special pieces that friends and family had given to me that I’d been dreaming of making a wall gallery out of for years next to my desk.
So that’s what we did. We spread them out of the now-clear floor of my office to figure out how they should be grouped and when it seemed a little finky (adj: a word used by a friend’s mother to mean not enough or sparse or just plain lacking in something), we grabbed things off my bookshelves to give a little oomph to the project. I threw in a sign my baby from another lady embroidered for me along with that old street sign and grabbed my favorite sign about teenagers that sat on the windowsill in my old kitchen for years. We finished it off with a random mirror I bought at an antiques store last summer in Woodstock when I had visions of recreating the amazing Airbnb we stayed in; and finally, we added a framed illustrated print my bestie gave me of all-time-favorite books from my childhood (hello Forever).
To make sure the display would transfer from the floor to the intended wall, my daughter traced each object on a big roll of brown paper, which she then cut out and arranged on the wall using blue painter’s tape. We moved them around a bit and adjusted the spacing and when we thought it looked just right, used Command Strips to hang everything up on the wall. That part was my girl’s job because she is all about measuring tape and a level and I am all about taking chances and regret.
We kinda think we killed it.
We were so impressed with ourselves, we made another gallery situation on another wall in the office, this time using picture frames I’d bought at Target, like, three years ago that sat in the basement of my old house. Sadly, they’ve been up for about two months and – true to form – I still haven’t put pictures in them. The daughter is not pleased.
And for our final act, we decided that all the remaining signs of affirmation and children’s artwork I’ve been clinging to all these years would look perfect on the stairway leading down to the basement.
And it does (although this picture is horrible due to the tight angle of the stairway).
We’ve taken a break from our mad wall gallery making and buying bulk packs of Command Strips at Costco. I’m thinking we might be at our gallery limit for one house but then again, I am a firm believer that you can never have enough of a good thing. I’ve got my eye on the wall along the stairway leading upstairs or maybe on one of the halls on our upstairs landing, which remain blank while I ponder my options.
Obviously, I need to hurry up and make up my mind about what I want to do before the girl goes back to school next month because I have no idea how to work a level. Or measure, for that matter.
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