I swear that as soon as I walked into the furniture store Soho Retro in Homewood, Ala., I expected to see Aunt Helen stub out her cigarette in a glass ashtray on her Eames (-inspired?) coffee table and rise from her Hans Wegner-style sofa (although she called it a “divan”) to greet us. Which would be a great trick since she died about 20 years ago and had to give up smoking and her mid-century Modern home several years before that. Soho Retro, where the late lamented Red Rain eco-friendly general store was, definitely is time travel at its finest — not to mention a top destination for furnishing a space with all things 1950s. As my friends and I wandered through and admired, we began every sentence with, “I remember …” (Well, okay, my sentences also began with “Are we ready to go get some coffee now?” and “I really shouldn’t have had that second martini at lunch.”) I’m conflicted about the recent revival of mid-20th-century Modern style. On one hand, I love its sleek minimalism and function-equals-form industrial approach. On the other hand, since I lived it, I’m not sure about embracing it wholeheartedly 40 or so years later. It’s the same as in fashion: Just because I once wore pleated and tapered pants and long boxy blazers doesn’t mean I should do it again. No matter what Nina Garcia says.
Oh, yes. I’ll have one of each, please. Although, truthfully, that would be a lot of lamps. And pillows. Anyway, this is the home decor/interior design shop retropolitan, in Nashville, Tennessee‘s hip Hillsboro Village. Thankfully, you don’t have to be hip to go in and look around, which is what my husband and I did recently. We are in a continual dialogue about furnishing and decorating our new house – it’s the first house we’ve bought and lived in together and we want it to reflect both of us. And by “dialogue,” you know I mean me saying, “Oh, this is wonderful! It would look so cute in our living beside the front windows” and him saying, “Uh, how many zeros are on that price tag again?” But retropolitan is the sort of place where you so wish you had lots of zeros to spend.
Folks in my area of northwest Alabama-northeast Mississippi-southwest Tennessee will recognize Henco Furniture in Selmer, Tenn. This mecca of furniture and home-decor is known for its slogan, “It’s worth the drive!”, and for its creative layout: The whole store is arranged like a downtown’s Main Street, with Americana storefronts, trees, parks and even a fire hydrant. You really feel as if Andy and Barney are going to be around the next corner. (Note the famous “barber” painted on the barbershop window.) Staff is friendly and helpful, and customers include everybody from bargain-hunters to those with unlimited budgets. There’s even a fun family restaurant and old-fashioned ice-cream parlor, the Whistle Stop Cafe. Oh, and the furniture? It’s there, too. You stroll along and go into one “store” for bedding, another for office furniture, another for kitchen tables and so on. Husband and I were there in our continuing quest to figure out our married-together style so we can fill up the empty spaces in our new house. His style got sort of stuck in 1980s bachelorhood. My style has stagnated, too, after years of marriage to a woodworker who specialized in country-Shaker furniture and then after years of being a financially challenged single mom. So Husband and I have some work to do. At Henco, we walked along and I said, “Oh, I like that” and then we kept walking and a few minutes later he said, “Oh, I like that” and sometimes it worked out that we said it at the same time. But not so often. Sigh. This is going to take a while. More shopping needed!
This could be our dream house — literally, because it’s the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway in Tupelo, Mississippi. The giveaway is a national fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. You tour the house, buy a $100 ticket and hope for the best. In Tupelo the local partner is the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, which oversees the very cool downtown Fairpark development where the St. Jude house is. I love this house! And I know a big part of my instant love affair is the furniture and the decor, which naturally does not stay, but since we’re on a dream roll here, I figure why not imagine moving in as is? The decor was rich and elegant but worked perfectly with the family-friendly layout of the house. Dear Husband and I especially were impressed with the built-in desk in a kitchen hallway and the built-in bench and storage cubbies adjacent to the entry way from the garage. And this was the first shower I’d ever seen with a hinged door that could swing either in or out — brilliant! Why didn’t we think of that? Hope whoever wins this house loves it, too. The drawing was this afternoon and so far our phones have not rung — but we can still dream.
Did y’all have a great Labor Day weekend? Lots of cookouts and picnics and getting together? Bet you didn’t have as much fun as I did — I spent the whole weekend (and I mean the whole weekend, from Thursday morning to Monday afternoon)babysitting my 17-month-old grandson, Capt. Adorable while my daughter and son-in-law went to DragonCon in Atlanta. And besides all the incredibly good snuggle time I got with the Captain — and the chance to watch endless episodes of Sid the Science Kid, my new favorite TV show — I fell in love all over again with my daughter and son-in-law’s house. When my son-in-law, a high-school art teacher, got tenure this past spring, they decided it was time to move out of their apartment and into a real house. Frugal young family that they are, they had a budget and were determined not to budge from it. Their must-haves: A big fenced-in backyard for the Captain, three bedrooms, two baths and good storage space. It took awhile, but they found it — and under their budget. It was cute and in a good neighborhood and had a fantastic backyard. The bad news? Total square footage was less than their apartment. However, after living in it for a few days, I can attest that this house seems so much bigger than it actually is. The secret is a combination of design and decor. I love the archectural details that make this compact space live bigger: The soaring ceilings, the tiled entry way, closets tucked away in unexpected but efficient places, the big airy windows. It would have been so easy to have let this be a cheap and boring house, but no. And the kids have done everything they could to enhance the feeling of expansiveness — they added white beadboard to the eating area, knocked out some useless kitchen cabinets to create more open space and used paint to their advantage with the Captain’s bed- and bathrooms in bright oranges and yellows and the other rooms in soothing and calm neutrals. Adorable!
And a note to any other grandparents contemplating days of move-in babysitting: Line up visits from friends and family. I could not have made it without help from so many people who brought us food and new toys and drove over just to visit us. Thank you!!!
My friend Susan Cantrell and her daughter-in-law, Freda Brewer, have opened the most wonderful store in Sheffield, Alabama. Called Upscale Resale, it’s a furniture and home-decor consignment shop — but it’s so much more than simply a place to find a fantastic bargain. Both Susan and Freda are so creative and imaginative — there are delightful surprises everywhere you look: A basket of shells, an old door used to highlight hanging shelves, a row of colorful bottles that catch and reflect the light. And Susan and Freda emphasize the frugal use-what-you-have approach that helps you appreciate what you’ve already got. “We’re eclectic and a little bit funky,” Susan said. “We like to think that along with recycled furniture, we have unique investment items that will go up in value for the home — items you will not find at large import stores. Also, we do think it is a great idea to recycle what is already available on the planet. Remember: Reduce, reuse, recycle!” This is the place to find a whimsical painting that’s perfect for your kitchen, a pottery bowl that just fits on your coffee table or a simply chic chair that brightens the living-room corner. Or, do what I do and go to Upscale Resale for some conversation and relaxation — a visit always cheers me up and inspires me to actually decorate instead of arrange. Upscale Resale is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Call the store at 245.381.7773 for more information.
I love Ikea. I know, I know — you’re probably rolling your eyes and muttering to yourself, “Hey, Cathy — the ’80s called and want their furniture back.” It’s true that the Swedish home-furnishings company used to have the reputation of bland cookie-cutter cheap stuff, back when when the words “she furnished her apartment with Ikea” described someone without imagination or individuality. Fast forward a couple decades and you find sleek and smart furniture that’s affordable and fun. What’s not to like? My older daughter and son-in-law went to the Ikea store in Atlanta to shop for their new house and came back with, among other treasures, a bed with sliding bookshelves in the headboard, sturdy and colorful storage units for 16-month-old Capt. Adorable and some funky organic curtains and pillows that coordinate with everything. Plus, they brought me presents for babysitting the Captain: The Tecken teapot for perfect brewing, two cup-holder-sized coffee mugs, a cat-proof bag for cat food, wonderful black-and-white notecards I’m going to frame and put up in the kitchen and of course chocolate and coffee. Oh, and a lint roller — with four cats plus the occasional visiting feline, we go through a couple lint rollers a week around here. Anyway, the kids’ Ikea spree spurred me on to want one for myself. I love the modern design and the family-friendly details. However, my husband rolled his eyes and muttered quite loudly, “I think we’re past our Ikea phase, dear.” He apparently was heavily into Ikea 25 years ago when he was a cool bachelor dude, and he still associates Ikea with staying up all night drinking beer and debating Reaganomics. Ah, the good ol’ days! Check out Ikea at http://www.ikea.com/us/en/
Whenever we’re someplace where there’s a furniture store and we’ve got a few minutes to kill — which happens maybe every other year or so — my husband and I go in and wander around and pick out things we both like for when we (hope to) get a new house together and start from scratch. Right now we’re in the house I bought with my ex-husband years ago and raised my two daughters in as a single mom. It has a definite girly vibe with ex leftovers. My husband is a good sport and says he doesn’t mind for now but it’ll be good to have our own house together with our own things together. So on a recent weekend visit to Nashville, Tennessee, we did some furniture “shopping” and as always, I was surprised by some of my husband’s picks. For instance, I would have thought he’d dismiss this bedding set as too shiny, but he liked the sophisticated sleekness of it, I think. Sort of upscale hotel meets big-city loft — or at least what my small-Alabama-town imagination thinks that marriage would look like! He also approved of this white sofa with the blue and black pillows. Again, he said he was drawn by the simple yet substantial lines and peacefully quiet colors. Of course, my maternal inner housewife thinks, “White? Are you kidding?” And I’m thinking of myself here, since I can’t eat or drink anything without making a mess. I guess I’d have to sit on the floor. Or switch to white wine.