Pedaling into the Past

I was recently pedaling away on a new stationary bike one of our sons gave my husband and me as a Christmas gift, and I felt fantastic as I looked around the space in which we’re now improving our health.

Iwas recently pedaling away on a new stationary bike one of our sons gave my husband and me as a Christmas gift, and I felt fantastic as I looked around the space in which we’re now improving our health. In a couple of hours, we transformed what was, until Christmastime, the aforementioned son’s bedroom (he’s flown the nest!) into an inviting and practical exercise haven. There’s now enough room for two yoga mats, weights and a weight bench, and the new bike. A couple of plants, a few storage baskets, and it’s looking good!

There’s also a large television so we can virtually cruise along a bike route — say, California’s coast. It sits upon what is the oldest piece of furniture in our home.

“That’s got to go, now,” one son proclaimed. “There’s no need to keep that old thing,” the other chimed in. They might be right, I thought, as I looked at the desk’s scuffed surface and chippy trim. It’s seen much better days — like when my uncle and aunt, who were married in the late 1930s or so, received it as a wedding gift from my uncle’s parents (my grandparents). Their family enjoyed it through the years, I’m sure, storing recipes in its drawers and writing letters atop what was once a smooth surface.

Whenever I look at the desk, I spin the wheels back a few decades to when I was in my mid-20s. One day, I told that uncle that I needed a desk for my new apartment. He asked me if I’d like to have his. So one Thanksgiving, my two younger brothers and I drove to his home in Pennsylvania. That was the first time my siblings and I hadn’t spent Thanksgiving with our parents in Michigan. I felt hugely grown-up and responsible journeying east with my brothers and spending Thanksgiving somewhere other than home. We treasured our time on the road (music blasting), and we adored sitting around the Thanksgiving table with our aunt, uncle, and cousin. We brought back Rolling Rock beer (long necks) as a souvenir, since it was locally brewed in western Pennsylvania. We also, of course, brought home the desk, and a chair to go with it (it had beautiful- but-frayed caning). Once home, I discovered a couple of gems stuck in the desk drawers. One was a cookbook that had been my grandmother’s and had her handwriting throughout. The other was a silver ink well. Treasures!

That desk stayed with me for many years (three apartments) before movers brought it to my current home more than two decades ago. “Whoa,” they said, “the back of this is really wobbly.” Unstable, maybe, but it still served its purpose as my home-office desk, and later a son’s homework station, and then his work base during the pandemic.

Sure, a sleek television stand would be the proper thing to have, but the flaked wood, warped drawers, and tarnished hardware are tangible pieces of the past, and they stir up memories of a treasured road trip. Furnishings — whether dishware, art, or desks and chairs — can take us to our yesterdays, but they also improve our present and make it cherished and meaningful.

The other night, I sipped tea from a porcelain cup that my mother-in-law and I discovered in an antiques shop Up North. Just looking at its thistle pattern reminds me of how lucky I am to have had her in my life. A cup in hand inspires gratefulness and smiles.

On a silver dresser tray (once my mother’s) in my bedroom is a tiny Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle that was my mother’s. I won’t ever part with that tray or the little eau de toilette; they take me right to my mom’s bedroom and the tray on her dresser. As a kid, I’d sometimes grab some coins from it for the ice cream truck. There’s about a quarter-inch of liquid left in the bottle, and it still smells as it did then — warm, floral, and spicy. I love the connection to my warm (and definitely spicy; her name was Ginger, after all) mom.

Reminders of the desire to connect to the past through our home environment are peppered throughout this issue — like the Cranbrook graduate who brought touches of Cranbrook design sensibility to his Harbor Springs cottage. Then there’s the Ann Arbor couple who built a home on the property where the man grew up. And, yes, David Burnstein’s parents still live in the old home on the property; Burnstein’s new abode is just a few feet away. He has so many fond childhood memories of playing in the ravine near the homes, and he can still play there.

As for my old desk in the new gym, it’s there to stay. As interior designer Jennifer Tysse said about a home in this issue that she transformed: contrast vintage and old with new. It’s a good look!