I’D MUCH RATHER find things than buy them. If I wait long enough, what I want usually appears, though I might not know I want it until it does.
Whatever it is will be lying about in discarded splendor, or given to me (since people know I have a magpie’s delight in cast-offs, the shinier the better,) and would be quite satisfactory or even better than what I might have bought. This is why I rarely buy anything (besides food—I have yet to dumpster-dive for celery and steak).
There are wonderful wrought-iron Alice in Wonderland chairs in the dining room that once belonged to actor John Heard’s mother, Helen, a long-ago friend who gave them to us (please don’t tell her son, he might want to snatch them back). She also gave us a pen-and-ink drawing of a race horse that may or may not be Important, but that I happen to like.
The chair backs are high ovals with the metalwork knitted into a loose basket weave. They were a tad rusty, which is both good and bad. If your back itches you can rub up against them, which feels good. Doing so in your best cashmere sweater is bad.
Despite Princely huffing and puffing, I didn’t bother buffing out the rust. I sprayed them with red primer—as I’d read somewhere that red is the undercoat for gold leafing, which you can see for yourself if you have a gold-leafed object that’s sufficiently worn, or maybe has a nick or dent that exposes the layers.
Over the red I sprayed antique gold, thereby creating a gilded effect. There were no seats, so you could conceivably insert a chamber pot and turn one into a powder room, if you were so moved. Instead, we (and I say this loosely) inserted rounds of plywood topped with foam and leopard-printed velvet. I should like to describe this in French while waving a jeweled cigarette holder, which would sound most exotic.
This is in line with the way we’ve acquired most of our chairs. Among them are two made of teak—wide of seat and needing just a bit of glue in the leg joints and a coat of taupish stain—that we picked up on the sidewalk walking home from dinner one night and that now occupy the front porch most handsomely.
A wing chair, covered in black linen with a muted floral pattern, a hint of red, a little gold, showed up among the Sunday-night garbage cans in Rehoboth Beach. It’s in the living room beside the fireplace. Happy as a cat.
The brown leather club chair that sits for no particular reason (no one ever sits in it) in front of a Chinese screen in a corner of the dining room was found waving at us from a pile at the Washington dump, on a trip to get rid of some detritus or other. At least we were tossing something as we were acquiring.
Most recently appeared a pair of iron outdoor chairs, photographed here and on the front, and found deposited in a nearby alley. For the trash.
Can you imagine tossing such treasure?
The wonderful busyness of the iron, the mesh of patterns, so pleasing. Particularly delightful in the gloom of a foggy morning a few minutes into spring. And the color! How perfectly coordinated is verdigris to the hint of rust where the hand rubs the arms, and along the edges of the seat. Not the color so much as their wabi-sabi* mood.
These chairs had been in storage, who knows where. They are intended to fold, but are rusted open. I’d like to see them hanging on hooks on some wall, maybe in our basement guest room that is insisting on developing a Mediterranean style: beamed ceiling, whitewashed brick walls, concrete floor stained to an agreeably mottled burnt sienna hue.
It would be nice if the French doors could be flung open to a patio and not the underside of the back porch where ages of bikes are heaped, waiting for someone here to be inspired to oil one, inflate the tires, climb on and ride, which is neither here nor there but unlikely to happen.
My Prince, pinching his nose and going all authoritative, says these chairs must be sanded and the rust spots primed and he will get to them soon, or shortly after he gets to everything else that needs fixing. Perhaps he can even make them open and shut. And no, I can’t do it because I’ll just make my usual mess.
Which is so.
On the other hand, it’s amazing what a can of spray paint can do. It’s been 20 years since Helen gave us the dining-room chairs and that they’re nothing more than gilded rust the Prince has conveniently forgotten.
Anyway, the end of a perfect afternoon: At lunch yesterday at LittleBird Nancy’s house, I happened to complain about my hip pain, which could of course simply be misplaced back pain. Which is neither here nor there. Anyway, I was whining, and Nancy started talking about an episode in France last fall when friends she was traveling with got tired of her limping and wheezing and ran out and bought her a cane (two canes, actually, but that’s a whole other story). Nancy popped up from the sofa, looked around her cluttered living room and spotted one of the canes sticking out from behind . . . something. What a difference a cane makes when you’re limping around in pain!
I happily gimped down the street to my car and back to Capitol Hill, with another successful found object in my possession, received rather than purchased. No spray paint required.
*Wabi-sabi is an actual term, neither made-up nor Yiddish. It’s a Japanese concept, an acceptance of transience and imperfection. This excellent thought lets you affect an artsy posture when you just don’t feel like fixing something.
LittleBird Stephanie writes about gardening when she feels like it. You can read earlier columns by typing Green Acre in the Search box at the top of the page.