It didn’t occur to me until recently how important it is to have a home you love. (It’s sad how ignorant that makes me feel, but the truth is that I just haven’t historically spent much time at home. I’m always out and about.) Home is the place you return to each day after scrambling through the chaos of work and traffic and errands and whatever else you’ve encountered. It’s in this place that you should be able to feel peaceful and at ease. Or energized and ambitious, depending on the day.
I should feel more me at home than anywhere else. I should be able to sit cross-legged on the kitchen countertop with my MacBook as I cook. Or blare music and dance with my vacuum while cleaning. Maybe stay in on a Saturday night and watch a movie, consuming an entire bag of potato chips in the process.
For the last few semesters of college, I rented an apartment all to myself. There was no one else to tell me how things should be. It was all mine. All the cheap IKEA furniture, outlet-priced couch and mattress, and handed-down items. I had maybe one pot and one pan. (I did even less cooking then than I do now.) But I was a college student. A nontraditional, living-off-campus, fulltime employed college student. But a college student nonetheless.
When you’ve been in your first “real” job for some time and you’ve surpassed the age of 25, the last thing you want to do is downgrade your lifestyle. This was the time I envisioned moving up in the world. I was supposed to be riding the success train. The one with the happiness caboose.
I don’t know if I missed the train or got the wrong ticket, but I’m 25 and I’m still just barely chugging along. But I’m not one to settle. When I want something, I usually find the means to get it. I’m not going to just sit around my apartment surrounded by IKEA furniture. I’m going to furnish like a grown-up.
Being my frugally minded self, I started with Craigslist. Until now I’ve been only a seller on Craigslist, never a buyer. I had my heart set on a chaise lounge, having bought and returned a new one years back because I just couldn’t stomach the price at the time. It was patterned with squares in all sorts of earthy toned colors. Green and khaki and burgundy squares. It was shaped like a horizontal semi-flattened ‘S’ – very contemporary. I loved it. So much so that it was still engrained in my memory five years later.
I typed “chaise” into the Craigslist search bar. I started clicking through the results, unimpressed by the lack of information sellers provide and even more so by images in their listings. If you’re trying to sell me something, please post a picture, and if you do, try using a decent camera. Most of the furniture I browsed through wouldn’t even appeal to a house pet. They’d take one sniff, look up at you and think, You can’t be serious. Several pitiful posts down, I found it. Some woman was selling the exact chaise lounge I’d bought and returned and had been imagining ever since! I must have called her four times, from two different phone numbers. I was borderline stalking this woman about a damn chair. And it worked. When I finally spoke with her, she told me that I’d better come quickly because she “had some other people interested.” Little did she know the other person was my fiancé whom I begged to join me in my chaise pursuit. Regardless, come quickly I did.
From the outside, her apartment community looked nice. It seemed this chaise lounge had a good home and hadn’t been left in a dirty basement to collect dust and weird liquids from leaky pipes (which is apparently my vision of all Craigslist furniture). When I walked into her apartment, the strong smell of incense reminded me of high school and slightly burned my eyes. This should have struck me as odd at the time, but I was too excited to see that chaise in the corner of the room. It was just as I remembered.
This woman had listed it for $150. I had $148 on me. Thinking that $2 wouldn’t make a difference to any normal person, I offered her the $148. I came to find that she was far from normal.
She looked at my fiancé and asked, “Do you have two dollars?”
When he replied no with a bit of laughter in his voice, she shook her head and stared at the ground in disappointment for what seemed like minutes.
“Oh, no. You need to work with me here. I am a single mom and I’m moving out of state. You know what I paid for this new.”
What I should have said was, “Look, lady, it’s a difference of two dollars. Two. Dollars. Are you really so broke that you’re going to shake your head at me over the equivalent of a pack of Trident? I have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt and I’m not telling you about it. And, guess what, you’re not the only single parent in the world and I bet the rest of them aren’t arguing with 25-year-olds over two dollars for their used furniture. That’s right, used furniture. What you paid for it at the store is irrelevant after you’ve spent years dropping your dead skin cells and who knows what else on this thing.”
But I didn’t say that. I gave her a blank stare for a few moments. I had another $20 that I didn’t think I would need. But I gave in. “Okay. I have $160.”
She took it with a smile and didn’t offer change. We carried the chaise out of the apartment as quickly as we could to escape the uncomfortable encounter.
It wasn’t until we lifted it in the truck that I smelled it. It reeked of cigarette smoke. No wonder she’d lit incense. To cover the smell of her disgusting habit. Needless to say, I put that thing right back on Craigslist and got rid of it. No amount of professional cleaning could make me keep it in my living and breathing space.
Officially turned off from Craigslist, I began furniture shopping the foolproof way. It’s a shame that most furniture salespeople are paid on commission. They’d probably be pleasant people if they weren’t compensated for being pushy. Okay, some of them aren’t so bad. But you know the real reason they want to help you and it takes the sincerity out of the situation.
I went to furniture stores near and far. But not too far. A one-hour drive is my limit. In order to explain what I was looking for to each salesperson, I used hand motions to make the squished S-shape of the chaise lounge in the air. Trying to keep from laughing, most of them politely responded, “I’m not sure we have exactly that.” And they were right. They didn’t. With the exception of one, but they didn’t have it on display and I wasn’t fond of any of the few dozen fabrics they had to choose from. Call me picky, but if I’m spending $500 on a chair, it better be exactly what I want. While I was in search of only one item, I became easily distracted (as usual) and found other things to take home. Like oversized white throw pillows with inspiring, yet strange phrases printed on them in black script.
Since childhood, I’ve made it a point to collect unique things. Plaques with quotes I’m drawn to, unusual vases or candleholders, one-of-a-kind jewelry and scarves. But up until now, my furniture has been anything but unique. It’s been basic. Black, tan and white. My dad and brother always teased me about the plainness of my décor. I don’t know why it took me so long to listen.
It’s hard to resist a place with the tagline “furniture with a soul.” Nadeau is a store in Uptown Minneapolis with seemingly one-of-a-kind furniture. It might be mass-produced, but it doesn’t look it and that’s what I’m going for. It’s basically a casual version of Pottery Barn. I couldn’t help it. On my first visit, I left with two bedside tables, a coffee table, an end table and a picture frame. All made of wood and painted different colors, with the distressed finish that makes them seem antique. I’ve never been so excited about furniture. I felt like such an adult.
A few weeks later, I gave Craigslist a try again. But not for anything covered in fabric that can retain smells and all kinds of nasty stuff. I’d been browsing different blogs and sites like Etsy for “shabby chic” style furniture and thought, Hey, I can do that. Why pay someone for something I can do on my own? I was in need of a desk for my new reading/writing room and also a headboard and footboard for our bed. I found both within a few days and that weekend I went to work on them.
The desk was a truly vintage school desk. It has “Board of Education” printed on a metal plaque on the side. The owner said he was about to use it as firewood until his wife told him to try to find it a new home first. He said that once upon a time it had sat in the back room of a Baskin-Robbins his family had owned. I was sold. This ice cream store school desk must be mine. As I looked it over, I realized it was a bit more beat up than the picture had let on. So I made my first Craigslist negotiation. Listed at $75. I paid $60. That may not seem like a big difference, but to a girl with a problem not giving people what they want, it was a success.
Next stop – paint store. Being an inexperienced painter, I bought gallons when quarts would have been more than enough. A gallon costs more than double what a quart costs. Idiot me. I feel like I say this to myself far too often, but I thought, Ok, you live and you learn. You can always buy more paint. You cannot, on the other hand, return unused paint. Nope. When you buy too much, you’re stuck with it.
I sanded. Repaired. Painted. And painted some more when the color of the first coat didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. Eventually, it dried and I had completed my first DIY project in a long, long time.
I think my apartment transformation is evidence of my new sense of adulthood. Surrounding yourself with things you love…things that tell a story, about you or the actual item, can make for a happy home. And a happy home makes for a happier you. That’s what I’m after.