Making a home a home: A fight over furniture & craftmanship

I turned the Phillips head screwdriver and I could hear my father in the back of my head. He would’ve hated the cheap feel of the table. He would have questioned if I had picked up anything that he had taught me.


When my father was alive, he used to restore antique furniture. He would pick up an old piece of junk along the side of the road—an old chest or dresser, that looked like it belonged in a junkyard, rather than a sophisticated mansion on Society Hill—and nurture it back to life until it was returned to its former glory. He’d sell the piece to a local friend or acquaintance for a pittance of what it was worth or the time he put into the piece. Thanks to his hard work and a word-of-mouth, he built up enough of reputation from his little hobby that he started to get a regular flurry of business from wealthy clients from as far away as 60 to 90 miles from our house.

Thanks to what he learned, he would lecture me for hours on different types of woods; the mathematical genius of dove-tail joints; and the beauty of natural grains. I remember getting dressed for my high school baccalaureate ceremony and him lecturing me on why he thought you should never paint a piece of furniture. He thought painting over an antique killed the piece, like it was a living, breathing being. Stain and varnish, yes. Painting over the beauty of the wood grain, never. I remember thinking the whole time: “Yea dad, I get it. This is a big day for me, can we go now.”

I picked up a few things, but I was finishing up high school and soon off to college and busy with homework and future plans. In the years since, I’ve come to appreciate antiques, but my own tastes, if I even have any, run to the modern or contemporary. (Now my father really is probably rolling over in his grave.)


Fast forward to today

I’m really rather simple in my tastes. In any event, my wife was out shopping recently and stumbled across two smallish tables that fit in perfectly with our new sectional. We needed new tables to match a new sofa that we purchased, but we also didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money. She thought about it for a while and ended up buying them.

The Ikea-like tables, of course, needed to be put together. You know the type of piece I’m talking about, something that comes in a flat box and you have to put together with dowels and screws.

I looked over the instructions. In large font, the instructions said that it would take 35 minutes to put together. Two and a half hours later, I put my screwdriver down.

(The craft of writing instructions has certainly gone downhill and that’s a blog for another day, but let’s just say it took everything I had to put the tables together. I came close to throwing both pieces in the trash heap more than a few times, but my wife and I figured that if we were going to live with backaches for the next week, we wanted something to show for our hard work.)

The tables came out nice, frankly better than I expected. These are certainly not the finest pieces of furniture we own, but they fit our purposes. In fact, I don’t have a lot of antique pieces in my house. I’m the classic example of the cobbler’s children having no shoes, but we do have a few pieces that my father handed down to me or my wife picked up over the years.


An interesting conclusion

I thought about the knock-off tables and then compared it to the old chest and quilt stand that my father restored for my wife. The pieces obviously differ in quality and craftsmanship. In the end though, I came to an interesting conclusion.


Yes, my father would prefer the older pieces, but what’s more important is the purpose: we’re creating a home, not a furniture showroom. I would love to have a house full of valuable antiques, but I’m more concerned that my kids, whether my middle schooler or my two in college, feel comfortable coming come and putting their feet up on the couch and enjoying themselves.

In short, I want the finer things, but I’m more concerned about creating a loving environment. My father might not agree with me on a furniture styles, but I think that’s one thing we most definitely would agree.


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