Sentimental Journey

The best things in life aren’t things, it’s true, but special objects are often tied to the heart — and the best things in life.

The best things in life aren’t things, it’s true, but special objects are often tied to the heart — and the best things in life.

I’m writing this letter at a desk that was in my bedroom as a child. It’s a Heywood-Wakefield beauty — solid as the shoreline rocks I’m looking at outside the window at my cottage Up North. My husband and I are here for our furnace’s annual checkup — what a non-cool reason to be at the cottage! While looking out to a frigid late-winter morning, I felt inspired to be productive and work on this letter. Earlier, I had started to type at the kitchen table, but that’s where my husband was organizing his own “office” for the morning. He suggested, “You’ve got your old desk in the bedroom all set up, why not work there?”

So I pulled out the teal-ish, chipped-paint spindle back chair, sat down at the matching desk with its familiar brass hardware, and turned on my laptop. I chose to keep the desk when we were dispersing most of my parents’ furniture a few years ago, but this is the first time I’m using it since it became mine again.

Sitting here takes me back to some of my most treasured years. I liked blue (still do!) as a child, so my mother chose blue carpet and blue furniture to adorn my room. During my “blue period,” I listened to Carole King, America, and Chicago over and over, sketched with my beginner’s drawing kit, played TV anchorperson with my friends, created new fashions with my Singer sewing machine, and worked out math problems and French translations. The desk was headquarters for all the important goings-on of a young girl.

Fast-forward to today. I know that if I were to ask a designer to reconfigure and update my sons’ bedrooms, I’d request that they work the boys’ antiquated, solid-wood desks into the designs. One of the desks was a wedding gift to my uncle from his parents in the 1940s; the other belonged to my husband’s father when he was a child. Sure, the boys often told my husband and me that the desks were soooo old-fashioned, but we kept them — and at night, when we’d pull into the driveway and look up into their windows, we’d see the boys sitting at their posts near glowing lamps, crunching out math problems or writing social studies papers (or trying to tighten a weakening desk drawer handle).

When I recently tried to explain to a friend how those scenes felt, she called it a sensation of safety and serenity: All was right with the world and the boys were using treasures from the past, where generations before them had also worked (or daydreamed).

What do their desks have to do with winning designs? One of our Detroit Home Design Awards judges told me last summer, “Good design is design that makes the homeowner feel good.” Celerie Kemble, of Kemble Interiors, says her priority is to express the personality and sentiment of her clients through interior design. We see that time and again in the pages of this magazine — all of the great homes showcase not only designs for their occupants, but also hint at heartfelt, sentimental beauty.

If you mix personality with sentiment, how can you not win? Many of the stellar designs in this issue feature spaces that have an emotional link or connection. (Check out the restored staircase in a small, historic Detroit kitchen that the homeowners insisted on keeping because they treasure not only its past, but the home’s original blueprint as well.)

Now, if I could get Celerie to take a look at my cottage bedroom. What would make my old desk look great? Certainly not a blue rug and all-blue furniture!

Congratulations to all of our winners!