/ by Kelsey Burrow
Instead of combing Pinterest and West Elm, Craigslist and IKEA to piece together a personal aesthetic, I rented a U-Haul and loaded mine up at a barn in North Carolina.
My Gigi was an antiques collector and dealer my mom’s whole life, and mine. I grew up around old things. More than a business, it was her obsession. I think she would’ve been perfectly happy not to sell a thing. She devoured the past through antiques and designing her home true to period.
Hide-and-seek at Papa and Gigi’s house felt like playing in a Colonial Williamsburg museum, replete with 1700s iron cookware and dried herbs hung around a walk-in fireplace, stuffed pheasants taking flight in the study, old pine covering the stainless steel of kitchen appliances and staged rooms we never once gathered in. As a kid, I was fascinated, but hardly appreciative. That took time.
My mom inherited Gigi’s love of old, fine things, but her translation of it was much more informal. We used the stuff! We stained the silk dining room chairs and our markers bled on the pine table, but mom didn’t care. There was no shortage of Oriental rugs or corner cupboards, but not without pottery, painting or craft from artisans she’d discovered, warm floral upholstery and family photos. It wasn’t a museum, it was home.
When I was in middle school, mom opened an antiques store called Cabbages & Kings in Aberdeen, North Carolina, that mixed antiques with craft, like bird feeders and wind chimes made of sterling silver spoons. I cared more about the old-time candy counter than the world she’d created, but now at 30, I can see it as a portrait of both her acceptance of Gigi’s passion and independence in making it her own.
I, too, would inherit this love for antiques, but mostly for story. And when it came time to make my own home, equipped with the truckload of treasures from Gigi, I realized that I didn’t have a millennial aesthetic at all. Unlike my peers, my style couldn’t really be defined by trend.
I liked old things: the rich oak and pine of side tables and benches, Blue Willow china, lamps made of tea canisters, Staffordshire dogs, the felted desk that had been saved for me since I was young. These were my building blocks and I began to style each room in a way that I hoped would do them justice. We bought a couch that matched the rust and navy of our Oriental rug. I’d been given a few dozen yards of crewel fabric by Gigi, so I reupholstered my mom’s wing chair in it, mixing in blue velvet to match our couch. Weekly produce sits in a cast iron and brass kitchen scale on our counter. I’ve made my own mark too: a 4x4Pollock-esque painting I made with leftover shutter paint and newspaper collage anchors our den; our bar stools are yellow. When Gigi visited a few months ago she rearranged the mantle, but overall, she approved.
Last year, I decided to wallpaper and redesign my home office, which I work from daily. I knew I wanted color and I wanted to feel happy, transported even. I wasn’t sure where this conviction was coming from, but the wallpaper had to be chinoiserie, the European interpretation of Asian motif. The wallpaper clerks were just as surprised as I was. But we know where it came from… Gigi.
I chose “Asian Scenic” from Thibaut, a mix of fuschia, lime, royal blue and rust, with its whimsical trees and watermen and rich texture. Everyone said it would be chaos, but it made me happy. Now, amidst a global pandemic, I sure am glad I chose happy. I’ve learned that rooms have the power to transport, despite a shelter-in-place mandate, and my office has brought joy into the bleakness of uncertainty (and certainly color into Zoom calls).
Another room in our home brightens these days too, a nursery. In August, we’ll welcome our baby girl, a third generation bound to inherit Gigi’s taste. It’s a strange time to be pregnant, but I am grateful for a constant reminder of hope and good things to come. On our changing station— an antique dresser made from walnut— I framed a quote from my favorite children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, that reads “Courage, dear heart.” It’s come to be more for me, than her.
Kelsey Burrow is a writer based in Atlanta, she works with kitchen and home brand Food52 and Chai Pani Restaurant Group.