Chelle Summer

Mom's Decor Lessons

Michelle Rusk

I bought this mug for less than a dollar at an estate sale about a month ago and I haven't been able to move it from this spot on my desk. We didn't have the same exact mug (this one has FTD Flowers stamped on the bottom) but we had a similar one growing up. In the bathroom.

Mom decided at some point that the upstairs bathroom, the one us four kids shared, called "the hall bathroom" was going to have a rainbow theme. This was the late 1970s, long before our world in the Midwest associated rainbows with the gay movement. Rainbows were everywhere including all over my elementary school life– on back pockets of jeans, printed across t-shirts, stickers galore. And our bathroom.

She bought a rainbow shower curtain, made rainbow curtains with fabric she bought from a local fabric store, and filled the two-shelf wicker unit above the toilet with rainbow items like this mug (I also remember a rainbow bar of soap).

Mom was good about finding inexpensive but creative ways to decorate. We didn't go to garage sales or estate sales– that would come to me later in life when I moved to Albuquerque– garage sales were something we held at our house so Mom could unload things like crock pots and blenders that never got used (two items that I use often in my house). 

My intention was never to have my house filled with furniture from my childhood but it's worked out that way because as I got older, I began to see what great mid-century taste my mom had (and I probably should give my dad some credit here because they picked out the furniture together). The desk I'm working at right now is the kitchen table we ate off my entire life, bought when they built their first house in 1964. The couch I watch television on each night has had new cushions and been repainted but it's the one we sat on in the basement of the house. The coffee tables in the my living room are the pieces– also refinished– from our family room. In one of my guest rooms is the stereo, one day to be repurposed, but for now looking just fine in a corner of the room.

What I see now is how much she taught me, without outwardly teaching me, about having a sense of style and making something that's your own. I am lucky to have these pieces because they not only hold memories and fit well in my house, they are better made than much of what one will find in the market today.

Over time I've figured out how to merge the past with the present, putting my own spin on it, but I've only been able to do that because she taught me not to fear finding small, new pieces to make changes. Decorating isn't just about running out to the store and buying everything new. It's about working with you have and adding pieces that bring it together. It's a process to figure out how to do that as I have learned from my own experience. Then one day you realize it all fits. 

Including a rainbow mug.