This past weekend I received seven emails from my father, each titled either “Art” or “Art?” and each containing an attached photo of a framed piece of art (or art?) from my childhood. “If you want them, they’re yours,” he told me over the phone. “If not, they’re going to the auction house.”
The auction house? Who would want these, I thought. Who would pay money for the painting of a steam ship that lived for years in the upstairs hallway or the photograph of fish drying on a rack that hung beside it? This art had meaning to me, of course—each piece evokes a different story and memory from my childhood—but the idea that a stranger would want these somehow baffled me. And then I looked around my apartment and realized that the objects I live most closely with and have come to feel so fond of, the things that I have collected over the years now lining my shelves all started out as other people’s stuff.
There’s the small wrought iron table I bought from an antique store when I was 22 that I’ve carried with me from apartment to apartment for more than a decade; the mismatched set of Duralex glasses that belonged to my grandfather; the ceramic pitcher holding dried eucalyptus that my father gave to my mother, my mother gave to my sister, and my sister gave to me. These are the things that define my space and, by extension, define me.
I love the way these pieces look in my home and I love the stories they contain, some of which are from my own life and some of which I’ll never know so I make up. I’m reminded of these words, from the great Laurie Colwin’s 1981 short story, “The Lone Pilgrim,” which perfectly sums up they way I feel about things:
Oh, domesticity! The wonder of dinner plates and cream pitchers. You know your friends by their ornaments. You want everything. If Mrs. A. has her mama’s old jelly mold, you want one, too, and everything that goes with it—the family, the tradition, the years of having jelly molded into it. We domestic sensualists live in a state of longing, no matter how comfortable our own places are.
Vintage objects hold within them all the secrets of their previous owners and places and functions, all the lives that touched these things before they came to us. Vintage objects, whether decor or appliances or dishes or furniture, are therefore not just things; they are lives lived and parties thrown and meals prepared, and now they are in our homes, along with all their mysterious history.
To freshen up your space, look no further than the past. A few choice vintage pieces will bring a special touch to any room. Here are some new favorites we're eyeing for our own homes:
How many pickles have these gorgeous jars held over the years? Did they cure cucumbers or asparagus, carrots, beets, or apples? I like them filled with long branches that allow the pale blue glass to catch the light, though a jar full of vintage marbles would be double vintage heaven.
These little, barely-green glass jars probably once held oils or vinegars, but they look très chic as bud vases on a mantel, grouped together as a dining table centerpiece, or scattered around the room as side table accents. Personally I like them by the bed filled with water, which makes me feel like I’m a houseguest in a luxurious chateau.
Rumor has it this vintage French stoneware crock was originally a vessel used to make duck confit. It would still work well for that job, though I think its rustic coloring and substantial heft makes it an ideal container for overflowing leafy plants or flower-covered branches—things that highlight the crock’s beauty through contrast. Of course, it also makes a very dramatic countertop container for all those long-handled kitchen tools cluttering up kitchen drawers.
It’s a good thing these bottles come in a set of two because they have so many uses. Kept in the fridge, they’re perfect for keeping filtered water cold and for chilling concentrated beverages like cold brew coffee and lemonade (or, even better, limoncello), and they make a dramatic addition to any table. But they’re so darn pretty, they should be shown off! Fill one with a brightly colored long-stemmed flower and it’ll be the star of the room. Whatever you use them for, you get to imagine all the people whose lives were saved by the medicines these bottles once held.
Do you have a special vintage piece in your home? Let us know in the comments!