House Proud – Redo Me! The Toronto Sun

I’ve been moving into a new phase of life that biologists have previously overlooked. This evolution is taking me from a shopaholic into a recycle-and-renewer.

Not everyone goes through these phases or experiences them in the same order. In fact, there are some younger women I envy — not for their wrinkle-free skin or their ability to eat a slice of birthday cake without gaining five pounds but because they’ve realized earlier in life that older stuff can be worth saving.

My first apartment looked like it was decorated by someone with no style or taste, and it was. I did it myself. Oh, I had help from my equally decor-challenged roommate, Shannon, who I am happy to say has also come a long way in the past couple of decades. We were both 21 years old and scraping by on entry-level wages, spending our meagre after-tax income on important things like beer and take-out food. All we knew about decorating a home would have fit on a gnat’s insole.

When Shannon and I pooled our bits of furniture and housewares, we realized we had enough stuff to furnish one of Posh Spice’s handbags. Neither of us even owned a clock. So I eagerly embarked on a hunt for just the perfect item to tell us the correct time and to display our personalities to our many guests.

We needed a clock that said we were classy but down-to-earth.

Apparently, I was ahead of my time in considering wall adornments with dual purpose, because after an exhaustive search lasting perhaps five minutes at the local mall I returned home with a beer company’s gaudy mirror clock.

I say without pride that I moved that clock to several homes, where it devolved from a living room showpiece to a basement eyesore as I slowly developed a sense of my own style that didn’t include a tribute to hops and barley. Less consumption of the product which the mirror advertised certainly helped the process, as well.

In those days, I couldn’t wait to open my wallet and fill a swath of wall or the corner of a room with something — anything, really. Someone ought to have called PETA on me. Not the animal rights group but People Against Tacky Accessories. Along with the beer clock, they would have confiscated my waterbed with the heavy bookcase headboard and my pink fuzzy-topped footstool.

These days I’m more likely to stumble upon someone else’s tossed-out tacky whatnots and envision them as something better in a next life.

I recently found a dainty and dirty metal-backed vanity chair in an antique shop. I hauled it home, removed the seat and the ancient covering. I replaced it with a sedate tan pinstripe fabric after spray-painting the chipped gold finish with a tan-coloured rust-resistant paint. The stool now sits in a small corner in our kitchen, where it provides a practical place to tie one’s shoes. If I could have a do-over with that first apartment, the fuzzy footstool would be quickly recovered in a durable and neutral fabric. The beer clock’s mechanism would have been removed and the entire face and its loud logo covered in a mosaic of mirror pieces and grout. The frame would have been painted a glossy black. The result would be a funky, shatter-effect mirror instead of a low-rent advertisement. The waterbed — well, I would still sell it or give it away.

I no longer see the need to rush out and buy, buy, buy all things shiny and new when a little imagination can turn something perfectly good (or perfectly awful) into something acceptable. When I look back at old photos of my single-girl homes, it’s an attitude I only wish I’d adopted a long time ago.