In which I try to explain why I haven’t bought new furniture for a while now.
October 15, 2013 Updated: October 15, 2013 18:28:00
My husband and I talk about changing our sofa, in the desultory half-hearted fashion of long-married couples. We need to spruce up the house, we tell ourselves, marginally worried about middle age and inertia setting in.
But we do nothing because, you see, our furniture is no longer merely couches and tables, sofas and chairs. Each of these items has become a repository of memories and we have reached a point in our lives when we cannot bear to change them.
Consider the couch. We bought it a year after marriage, in Stamford, Connecticut, for $500 (Dh1,836). It is a Thomasville couch: a great brand that we couldn’t have afforded but for the fact that it was on a closing-out sale. It has held its shape and springiness all these years. But that’s not the reason we are holding on to it. This white couch is the one where I lie on hot summer days to take an afternoon snooze. It is the preferred location for my husband’s weekly tryst with The Economist. It is the place my children gravitate to when they read Nicolas Sparks’s books and lean over casually for a hug from their dad. This couch has been there in their lives since they were born, and even before. No wonder I am loath to change it for a newfangled one that will take its place and erase these memories.
Our dining table is another story altogether. It was bought at a time when I wanted to impress the neighbours and keep up with the Joneses, or in our case the Fabers. I bought it at a furniture auction in New York City. It came with an impeccable pedigree: a carved Georgian dining table with eight chairs. It was bought when I was pregnant with our first child and I still remember the purple Saks Fifth Avenue coat that I wore on that winter afternoon to go downtown to the auction house, giddy with delight at handling a paddle and raising it.
Just like that, with a simple raised arm, I was sending the price skyward. I ended up with our dining table after a furious round of bidding. It cost $1,500, just for the table; the eight chairs were $1,600. I walked home in the snowy darkness, wondering if I had overpaid, if I had been had and if the delirious rush of bidding at an auction house had taken away sense and sensibility. Too late. Two weeks later, the auction house delivered that giant table, taking it apart so that it fitted our apartment lift, and fitting it together in situ.
Perhaps because of its girth, our dining table too – as these objects are wont to do – became a centre of our household. Our children did their homework on it everyday. My husband did his taxes and, incidentally, we had our meals there too: simple family suppers and giant feasts for extended family and friends. Over the years, the chairs have become chipped and worn. I take them to antique restorers who repair them. The solid rosewood table, however, remains able to deal with the cream and grease that the children provide when they bake cupcakes on it. It looks large and occasionally unwieldy. When I visit chic modern homes with their narrow glass-topped dining tables, I think to myself about changing my old one. But somehow, I haven’t been able to. It has become a habit.
So here is my advice to young newlyweds who are furnishing a home. Buy the best furniture that you can afford. Buy classics that will stand the test of time. Buy for the future – as a honeymooning couple, you may veer towards an edgy dining table shaped like a tree trunk, but consider whether your children will like the same rough edges when they race around the table in their roller skates.
I didn’t consider all these things when I bought our furniture but, over the years, I have noticed one thing. When we moved houses (or continents), the items that got discarded or left behind were the ones we once considered “chic” and edgy – the S-shaped chaise longue that looked great but was not comfortable to sit on, the feathery lamp that was a pain to dust, the coffee table with sharp edges that looked architectural but was brutal on knees that banged against it.
The ones that stayed and the ones that became more than household items were the comfortable classics that allowed us to nest. That, after all, is what a home is about.
Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir