Found Furniture   5 comments

Tell us about your favorite piece of furniture. Does it have a story behind it?

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While I really had to stretch to talk about wardrobe, I warmed to this topic of furniture.

BuffetWe have tried over the course of our marriage acquire furniture that has character and doesn’t cost a lot. But we like good quality, so most of our furniture comes from garage sales. A great headboard with a new mattress, a sofa recovered in slip-covers, six oak dining chairs around a table that could match, but weren’t purchased together.

My favorite pieces of furniture, however, weren’t purchased at all. My parents lived in several houses when I was growing up … when I say several, I mean about a dozen. They were renters for the first decade of their marriage and so we always just had whatever furniture came with the house. Mortgages were hard to get in those days here in the frontier town of Fairbanks, but the 1967 Flood changed that — the federal government guaranteed loans as part of the disaster relief. So my parents bought a little frame cabin that proved quickly to be too small for three people, so they bought another house with bedrooms.

Book shelfWhile we were moving in, the neighbor told us that the house had once been a showplace, owned by a son of the Nerland family. The Nerlands owned a furniture store in town — the furniture store really, before JC Penny opened. My mother loved to walk by their display window and point out the things she would buy if she just had that sort of money. But, of course, she knew that was never going to happen. She and Dad just didn’t make that kind of cash.

My folks had bought this house as a rental investment from a contractor friend of my dad. They’d scarcely closed on it when the renters decided to move back to Beaver. So, we moved in. The house had once been a showplace with plaster walls and a tin ceiling, but like every other house in town, it had required extensive remodeling after the Flood. The only thing truly impressive about it was that it had a parquet floor in the living room and actual built-in bookcases at the bottom of the stairs. We got about cleaning it up from the renters and while Mom was sorting through the junk they’d left in the cellar, she pulled a tarp off some items in the back corner and got really excited.

Coffee TableHeywood-Wakefield designed fine furniture in the 20th century and, of course, the Nerlands had brought some of it home. Why it ended up in the cellar when the house was sold after the Flood — well, I learned from the niece that her uncle and his wife had decided to move to the Lower 48 and couldn’t take all their stuff with them, so probably the furniture was just left in place and then moved to the cellar during the remodel. Either way, Mom got her good furnture. It included a wonderful gateleg table that was too large for our original home, so Brad traded it for the coffee table after several years of it sitting under a tarp in our shed. The rest of the collection became my mother’s and is now mine.

End TableThe buffet is my favorite. It was also too big for our original home, so it served several years as my clothes dresser to justify its existence, but it is now proudly displayed in the kitchen. It holds all kinds of things – overflow from the pantry, light bulbs, place mats and napkins, grooming supplies for the pets and the top is a perfect place to display my milk bottle collection and some family photos. The book case and two-tiered end table are in the livingroom along with the (unfortunately refinished) coffee table that serves as a television table now – we prefer a ottoman to a coffee table.

Because of my parents’ sort of nomadic existence when I was little and the 1967 Flood, I don’t have a whole lot of things that belonged to them, but even though these items were latecomers, my mother truly loved these pieces. They made her feel rich. She didn’t know how rich. At one point in the 1980s, I learned that my collection was worth more than my parents paid for the house it was found in. That was impressive, but I never intend to sell them. I just love their lines and sturdiness, their dings and the story behind them and I hope one of my kids will be willing to adopt them when I am no longer using them.



5 responses to “Found Furniture

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  1. I love the little yellow table!


    • That was the one that had been refinished before Brad traded the gate-leg table for it. It’s a nice table, but it’s missing all the patina that the others have and it’s yellow, rather than the tradition mellow brown of the suite. It is why we have never had the other pieces refinished, for fear the refinisher won’t do it right.


  2. I love this story. And I love old furniture. We put our household together with second (or third or fourth, haha) hand furniture. It’s fun!


  3. Amazing story.



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