The Perfect Den
Decorate your rooms with memories.
My friends have well-appointed rooms in their homes. Draped in high-end upholstery of the latest hues and adorned with carefully selected objects d′art, their beautiful interior spaces look like pages out of magazines. I admire their homes, and appreciate the time and effort that went into the creation of each room. And, truth be told, I envy their sense of style.
My own home lacks such a designer’s touch. It seems that the time and resources never aligned during my early years of motherhood and career-chasing, so our house remained a structure of function with very little form. Now retired and having inherited rooms full of family furniture and bric-a-brac, it feels a bit late to begin redecorating.
But I do look around my den this evening, wondering if I could at least brighten things up with some new pillows or lamps. Perhaps I should update the family photos that rest in small frames on my end tables. Or replace the 1990’s knick knacks, which seemed timeless then but are clearly dated.
To a stranger’s eye, I suppose nothing in the room looks very appealing. Just an average den, furnished eclectically and lacking finer touches.
On the wall to the left of my fireplace hangs a hand-painted Italian plate that was my mother’s. It rested on the wall of the den in the house in which I grew up in Miami. The area was actually called a Florida Room and it was full of windows and year-round tropical light. Each time I look at the plate, I see my mother amid her own eclectic collection of furnishings in the mid 1960’s. She was vibrant, creative, and more than a tad unconventional in those days.
In my own den, the plate now hangs above a pine bookshelf that stands next to the fireplace. The bookshelf doesn’t really belong in the den, and it creates a cluttered look on that end of the room. But I use it to house the satellite dish box and DVD player.
No matter what books or collectibles I place on the multiple shelves, the piece looks out of place. And the reason is that I cannot erase from memory the previous role of the bookshelf in my son’s room. Purchased unfinished by my mother, then stained and varnished by my father-in-law, the little piece of furniture was home to Taylor’s most prized possessions over the years. His favorite stuffed animals, his Little Golden Books, his baseball trophies, his video games.
A bronze statuette of a ballerina now rests atop the bookshelf along with the satellite box and some other items. The ballerina belonged to my childhood friend, Lisa, alongside whom I learned about the world - first as a child and then as a teenager. We were fellow equestrians before Miami became too large for horse ranches. Lisa was a graceful jumper; I preferred barrel racing. Astride our horses, we roamed the undeveloped acres of west Miami near the freshwater marl prairies and hardwood hammocks of the Everglades.
Six years ago, Lisa and her nine cats and dogs left Miami for a rural home outside Dawsonville. We reunited one Saturday at her new house and spent a whole day and night chattering about our lives and loves. I left Sunday morning, with our plans in place to once again be inseparable gal pals. Later that week, the phone rang and I was told that Lisa had died of a brain aneurysm about three days after my visit. She left my life as suddenly as she had reappeared. Thus, I am left with the ballerina, a few photographs, and memories of two Florida princesses galloping fearlessly alongside stands of melaleuca trees.
Less than six weeks before losing Lisa, my friend Jan lost her battle with lymphoma here in Woodstock. Her family members and I took turns sleeping in a chair by her hospital bed in the final days. In the middle of the night of my final watch, Jan awoke and looked around frantically, her body jerking in that state of agitation that often precedes death. Her eyes found mine and she gasped “Help me, Dee.” I held her hands and whispered useless words of comfort. Her soul left this earth about 48 hours later while I was held captive in some worthless meeting at work.
Two ceramic Chinese foo dogs now grace one of the shelves in my den. A gift to Jan from our mutual friend, Marian, the dogs represent imperial guardian lions and are male and female symbols of protection. Jan’s foo dogs stand guard in my den, a daily reminder of life’s precious fragility. They protect me from indulging in sadness.
My den is filled with countless other memories, of course. Not just of loss, but of so many other people and places and adventures that make up my entire life, including treasured times with husband Lewis and son Taylor.
It occurs to me now that my den, even with its outdated upholstery, is perfect.
Rooms should be an expression of a life well lived. They should tell a story of our most poignant experiences, the medley of moments that culminate in our current selves and that strengthen us as we move daily toward the future and all its uncertainty.
I still need to buy some throw pillows to make the room pop. Or maybe I’ll just venture into the basement where I stored a box of my mother’s handmade pillows. An assortment of patterns and styles await me, ranging from country quilted work to folksy applique to candle wicking. Every pillow was stitched with love, and they match perfectly the bright colors of a certain Italian plate.
They are my private and priceless objects d’art.