My Grandma Knew Style Before Style Was A Thing.
Some of you know that, as a freelancer, I occasionally photograph and write house tours for Apartment Therapy. My friend Jaime encouraged me to apply for the gig a couple of years ago, and my inner voyeur — the one who thinks dusk is the perfect time to walk the mutts because that’s when people turn their lights on but don’t close their drapes — leapt at the prospect of actually getting paid to look inside people’s houses.
It’s a sickness.
(And yes. For the record, I like seeing how the homes are decorated and laid out from an architectural perspective. I’m not interested in watching people. People only get in the way.)
I would photograph house tours full-time if I could regularly source people who were confident enough to have their homes publicly judged by millions of other house voyeurs. I mean, if I were brazen enough to do that, I’d have to be pretty positive that looks like this:
are design choices people might want to emulate.
And we’re not quite there yet.
When I think about the homes though, style-wise, where I’ve felt the most comfortable, I realize the feeling has little to do with the design itself, but how comfortable the owner feels in the space.
Their comfort is my comfort.
Modern minimalist isn’t my personal style, but Matt’s sleek Austin pad felt relaxed and inviting because Matt was relaxed and inviting.
And I wouldn’t have felt so at ease around Matt and Andy’s carefully curated collection of Fiestaware if they hadn’t felt so at ease around their carefully curated collection of Fiestaware.
Because really? Who else could make a harvest gold electric stove look chic?
For the last 8 years, Justin and I have been working to change and update our houses so they feel more like home. As owners, it’s the only thing we’ve known.
Yet when I drove to Wisconsin in June, I happened to have my tripod with me for an AT photo shoot in Chicago. And sitting in my grandma’s sunny kitchen one morning, her homemade rhubarb jam slathered on a piece of toast, sipping coffee from the same mugs my parents sipped coffee from thirty years ago, it struck me. This place was my home — the most consistent one I’ve had in my life (along with my other grandmother’s home as well), and I’d never taken the time to fully appreciate its charms.
But before we do, let’s get one thing straight —
Grandma cares not for style.
Her style is comfort, consistency, and a steady stream of homemade baked goods.
I went ahead and answered the Apartment Therapy questions on my grandma’s behalf, though I’m pretty sure my answers are very close to what she’d say if she had the patience for this sort of thing.
Location: Sparta, Wisconsin
Size: 1,500 sq. ft.? (excluding basement)
Years lived in: 70?
Grandma’s Style: Use-what-you-have-until-you-can’t-use-it-no-more.
Interesting Factoid: No one really knows how old the house is. It used to be connected to the house next door in a different part of town, but they were split and moved to where they sit now. Authentic log joists sit beneath the oldest part of the home, so likely it was built during the early 1900’s.
Favorite Element: Arched doorway between the kitchen and living room. (Oh wait, that’s mine.) Hers would probably be the fact that this is the place she shared with my grandpa. It’s where she raised her three sons. It’s packed to the brim with stacks of memories, and it always has room for more.
Biggest Challenge: One bathroom which, until 15-ish years ago, didn’t even have a shower. Just a tub. (There’s also a toilet and shower in the basement.)
What Friends Say: “I really love the brown spotted linoleum.” Just kidding.
Proudest DIY: Homemade pumpkin bars. (What? That counts.)
Dream Sources: Photo gifts from family and friends.
I don’t think I’ve ever passed through Grandma’s front door. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve stepped foot in her porch. Anyone who’s anyone enters through the side door.
That’s the door for VIPs.
When I think of my grandma’s house, I think of these floors. The colorful brown linoleum that looks like old carpet padding.
These floors are home.
I think of the sunny yellow walls. The knotty pine cabinets. The steady stream of birds at the feeder just outside the window.
The sink in which my mother, sister and I used to wash our hair, the pictures on the fridge, crocheted tissue box covers, and Grandpa’s old candy dish filled with Werther’s Originals.
Also, this doorway:
Of course, some things have changed. Gone is the old wooden floor television with the magical cable box where my sister and I watched Eureka’s Castle. Gone is the worn brown sofa where I threw up red Jell-O. Gone is the brown shag carpeting that felt so scratchy-soft against my face.
Gone is the bird from its cage in the corner. Gone is the cage. Gone is its song.
But some things.
Some things are like relics, too entrenched to change. The cuckoo clock my uncle brought back from Germany with its little bird that has ceased to tire after more than 30 years. The curio cabinet with the tiny figurines. Grandpa’s chair by the window.
Where I swear sometimes I still smell his pipe.
Hey, furniture cubes. My grandma was on it whole decades before CB2 knew what was what.
The view from the bottom of the creaky old stairs used to scare me. When the carpet was brown and the hallway was dark.
I don’t remember these things ever not being here:
And picturing my tall dad and his brothers growing up in these two rooms makes me laugh:
This ceiling has seen countless bumped heads and bruised egos.
When I think of old homes, I typically think of immaculately kept Craftsmen bungalows. Intricately detailed Victorians. Stately trimmed Tudors.
But Grandma’s house has its place in history, too.
And while the faces entering through the VIP side-entrance have changed over the last hundred years, the house, it seems, has stayed very much the same.
Tell me about a house like this in your life — one you wouldn’t dream of changing.
Lovely tribute to your grandparents, Katie. Loved it because it brought back similar memories from my own childhood! Have a great day!!
Thanks, Judy! Grandma’s are the best. (Looks like you’re getting some great quality time with your grandbabies now!!) You have a great day, too. :)
I was going to say what Judy said – what a tribute to your Grandma! Hope she can read this. It also reminds me of going to my paternal grandma’s house. Lots of good memories! My uncle lives there now with a lot of the same furniture. Thanks for writing about this beautiful simplicity!
I’m glad you liked it! Thanks and you’re welcome. :)
Awww! She would kill you if she knew you put pics of her house up!
No she wouldn’t. She’d kill me if she knew I put pictures of HER up. ;)
What a nice article about your gramma! And she has the sweetest smile ever. You are so lucky to have her in your life!
And one last thing. The beautiful antique green and white wash bowl and pitcher set on top of the dresser is quite valuable, especially since it is a complete set. Don’t ever let it get separated.
I don’t know why, but that pitcher set always creeped me out. I think it has a dark and sordid past. I should probably ask my grandma. ;)
And yes. I’m very lucky to have her!!
Ask about those things now before it is too late! I am finding a few things at my parent’s house and wishing I knew the story behind them.
I will! I hate asking my grandmothers about things in their homes because I don’t want them to think I’m asking because I want those things when they die. I know that’s weird… but I just don’t want them to think that.
Aw! I loved this. It makes me miss my grandma and her unstylish house. And feel slightly bad about the fact we just closed on a house & plan to change so many things (the style & fixtures, not the old house bones). The elderly woman who lived there cried at the closing & referenced how young we are (compared to her) & how this was the last time she’d ever by a house. And of course, she’s someone’s grandma too. (On the other hand, your post about the plumbing fixture closet makes me excited & gives me ideas…)
I don’t think you should feel bad — while I’ll be horribly sad when my grandma can no longer live there (she’s 93), I’d consider it some serious luck if a young couple moved in who would love the home and make it their own. The worst thing that could happen is that it gets neglected or torn down (which is a definite possibility in her area), so for sure — don’t feel bad. You’re loving the house by making it yours. :)
P.S. Let me know if you attempt the closet! It’s a tough project, but so worth it when everything comes together.
Such a grandma house. Love it.
My grandparents’ house is this for me… and I never go in the front door either, always in the back from their porch.
Thank you for sharing this… also I’m a total voyeur too and agree- people just get in the way!
This totally reminded me — my friend was digging around in her mother-in-law’s storage room and found a sign that said, “Back Door Friends Welcome.” Me, being as mature as I am, thought it was HILARIOUS and begged her to steal it so I could put it on my back door. So far, no dice. ;)
Reading this post made me reminisce about my grandparents house. They lived in for close to 40 years. Being an Army brat I didn’t see them much so every one of those trips was special and included all the elements of your grandma’s. When I moved to CA to go to school, I stayed with them for two summers between school years and I would drive their every other month or so to do extra laundry and get some of my grandma’s Portuguese beans, she would make extra for me to freeze. The house was amazing, my grandparents entertained the whole family and extended family there for holidays, there was a bar and a rumpus room and so many crazy stories. There was also one of those scary set of stairs and I can still tell you every picture on the wall as you climbed them, nothing seemed to change, even though I know they updated things here and there. Such a magical place. When they got too old to live there and moved out after 40 years, I was devastated. It was not too long after that they passed away. Funny thing the house is still there and maybe about once or twice a year I get an opportunity to pass it and it makes me smile. Thanks for the special peek into your Grandma’s house and the peek down memory lane!
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