Styling A Sentimental Summer Mantel
A few weeks ago I was missing my grandmother much more than usual. I pulled out a few pieces of her china to style a summer mantel montage using some of her favorite things- China, little birds, and green for color. The little birds in the nest were from her collection of Christmas decor. Everything else, the silver sugar and cream dishes, vintage books, hats, and vintage glass bottles are items that I have collected throughout the years. The green ribbon tied around the straw hat is similar to the accent color that she used in her formal living room. To this day, I can still remember that glamorous room as clearly as if I were there just yesterday.
It was such an elegant space with thick creamy white carpet, beautiful ceiling to floor custom draperies, in another shade of white which hinted at undertones of a green base. Nearly every piece of furniture in the room was heavily tufted and covered in rich white and green velvet fabric. She had a creamy white sofa that sat underneath large windows framed by the swooping and swirling drapes. Large gilded Rococo-style mirrors reflected light all across the room, bouncing light off of chandeliers that hung heavy with crystals.
There were large deep green accent chairs with no shortage of tufting that sat across from the formal sofa. In another corner, directly underneath yet another gilded Rococo style mirror, sat a set of swiveling armchairs arranged for a secondary conversational area. Those too had upholstering in a striking green and creamy white striped velvet fabric.
The cocktail and sofa tables were glass held by metal frames with fluted columns in a classical style with a champagne colored metallic finish.
Each piece of furnishing in my grandmother’s formal living room was Hollywood Regency Style. That happens to be another style of design that I greatly appreciate, although, it is secondary to my love of French country and Gustavian styles.
As a child, I loved being in my grandmothers glamorous formal living room. I remember feeling like a movie star when I was in there. Despite being told 854 times or more to keep out of there, I continually snuck through the wooden pocket doors so I could play dress up and sit at my grandmother’s organ. I would carry all my dress up items with me; clothes, shoes, hair brushes, purses, Bonne Bell lip gloss, and Babe Avon perfume. I believe the perfume alternatively might have been called bath splash, as the bottle didn’t have a spritz top, but instead was free-flowing and pourable once the cap was removed.
On one of many adventures sneaking into that room, I sat at the organ as I usually did, imagining I was playing for a big audience. Part of pretending to be a musician required having an open bottle of perfume, along with a hairbrush on the organ.
As a small child, I always sat next to my grandmother on the church platform while she would play the organ during services. She always kept a hair pick, lotion, Kleenex tissues, lipstick and a small pocketbook sized mirror sitting within reach of the keys. When I was at home, I had to improvise my sneaky dress-up sessions with whatever items I could find. Hence, the hairbrush, lip gloss, and a bottle of perfume to use in place of the lotion. I would crawl up on the bench, periodically splashing perfume on myself and carry on with pretending I was a musician. The reason for the perfume stemmed from watching my grandmother rub lotion into her hands while in between praise and worship songs.
I remember being super careful and trying to be as quiet as possible about my playing, but like all the times before, I was caught messing around in the off-limits room. This time, I’m certain it was the heavy scent of perfume that led her to find me yet again disobeying her rules.
My grandmother came flying around the corner faster than a bullet and madder than a hornet! Instantly, she noticed the open bottle of perfume and quickly reached to snatch it up. But before she could, my little hands grabbed the bottle first. I screamed out an echoing no, whipping my body away from her as I tightly clung to the open bottle. As I was spinning, the perfume came flying out of the open top, landing in a perfect crescent moon shape all across the white carpet. I still remember the feeling of quaking ripples of fear running through my body.
I ran quickly from the room and hid.
After some time, I felt brave enough to come out of my hiding spot. I slowly crept down the hallway, peeking around the corner into the living room. I remember watching my grandmother as she was on her hands and knees scrubbing the carpet. The look on her face and the sorrow that showed through as she rigorously scrubbed the saturated carpet are permanently etched into my memory. To this day, I feel awful for being such a naughty child. Eventually, though, this story became one of those funny “let me tell you about one of the stunts that my grand-daughter pulled” kind of stories.
You see, that room was very special to my grandmother. When my grandmother was born in the early 1920’s, in Louisiana, she was born in a small country house, without running water, or indoor plumbing. She didn’t want anything to do with country life, relics of the past, or antiques. More than once she told me that the younger generations could never understand how hard day-to-day life was before the advent of modern conveniences. She said if we had any inkling of the difficulties we wouldn’t want anything to do with any of that old junk either.
This photo was taken before the house that my grandmother was born in was torn down. I imagine condos probably replaced this rickety windowless shack.
I can still hear her strong southern accented voice saying, “When I was a young girl we used that old junk because it’s all that we had. I just don’t understand why in the world people would want old water pumps or anything that looked like it was plucked right off the back of farmers pick-up truck? Shoot.” Then she would just shake her head in dismay.
When she said, shoot, it was her way of saying something was utterly ridiculous or a ridiculous notion. The manner in which she pronounced shoot had quite a bit of impact. It sounded like shoe-ew-yewt.
As much as I love old antiques and vintage collectibles, I tend to think we do romanticize history. We are enamored with and capitulating in the nostalgia of living in simpler times but doing so without real firsthand experience in living the lifestyle. Regardless of the sentiments expressed by my grandma, I will continue to wax poetic about by-gone eras. Not everyone feels as strongly as my grandmother did. Here is an article about a man who currently lives as if he is in the 1930’s. Read Mr. Thirties. It’s a fun read.
I believe this photo of my grandmother was taken sometime in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.
My grandma was quite a looker.
I was very close to my grandmother. All through elementary and high school I would spend almost every weekend with her. We would watch Hee-Haw and Golden Girls and play games of Uno and Skip-Bo together.
My love of baking comes from her. She taught me how to bake from scratch, cook good old-fashioned southern soul food influenced by Cajun flavors. We would spend our time sipping sweet tea, eating soft tacos, and baking all sorts of various sweet treats. Usually, it was Mississippi Mudpies that we made together. She was infamous for that pie, making it for all holidays, picnics, family gatherings, church events, and her co-workers. That pie, in particular, was the most requested one of all the various types of desserts that she made.
Sadly, I am unable to enjoy this decadent dessert anymore, at least not until I figure out how to adjust the flours and find a decent butter substitute for the crust. Several years ago I learned that I have Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease. Since my blog is a lifestyle blog with a focus on my business of faux finishing, style, and decor, I will occasionally be including some of my cooking adventures with you and developed recipes. I will definitely use my Grandmothers Noritake Ivory China for styling and photographing the food I make. If you happen to suffer from Celiac disease, NCGI, or have intolerances to dairy subscribe to my blog by email so you won’t miss anything.
One of my tasks as a teen was washing my grandmother’s dishes after holiday dinners. She never allowed anyone else to lift even one dish off the dining table. She said no one was careful about handling them. I’m not sure how or why I became entrusted to care for her China, but I always felt like it was a privilege and an honor to be allowed to wash them. When she passed away several years ago, my aunt made sure that I inherited her dishes. She said that in all the years that my grandmother had them, it was only fitting that they were given to me since I was the only person ever allowed to touch them. On the rare occasions that someone else did handle her dishes, my grandmother would hover over them like a hawk on the trail of a rodent.
The dishes, with their small chips and the green color, are something that I will always cherish and treasure.
Here is a close up of the pattern
Only once have I used my grandmother’s China since shipping it to my home in Alaska. It was used during a Thanksgiving dinner the year that she passed away. Not one piece has ever seen the inside of a dishwasher. Each one has always been hand washed, immediately dried, then stored again.
I’m pretty sure these dishes older than me. Because they are a sweet reminder of all the times spent with my grandma, I keep them safely stored in a kitchen cabinet. I worry they might be broken or gain a new chip. I’m not sure I how I would handle that if it happened.
Hanging plates on a wall, much less above a fireplace mantle, was not something my grandmother would find attractive, but I happen to like gallery style walls that use plates. Afterall, dishes on walls are common occurrences in French country decor. The difference is; the French folks pull theirs down and use them. Ha, ha. I do regularly use other pieces of vintage China, just not these. I used a toile transferware pattern set of dishes on my French mantle here.
In fact, just yesterday I used this collection for serving breakfast to some friends that are here visiting us from Arizona. I hauled this set of four place settings back home to Alaska all the way from South Carolina. The pattern is a favorite of mine. I do have a bit of an obsession with pretty dish sets.
I also happen to love the heck out of white and chandeliers too. As far as green goes, that was my more my grandmas favored color than mine, but using the color was a refreshing change for a summer vignette.
As we move into the fall season, things will begin changing around here. The fireplace is in desperate need of an update. I want the entire space to be more of a focal point. This large project might involve getting covered in some sawdust, a faux finish, or maybe even hauling river rock and grout upstairs. Currently, I think the blah-grey-blue tile is an eyesore. Thankfully I already have plenty of inspiration to help make a decision.
Thank you for sharing in my story. If you are blessed to have your grandparents with you, be sure to give them an extra hug today and tell them that you love them.
Oh and Mantel versus Mantle are really doing a number on my fingers. I keep typing the wrong mantel for the fireplace. Oy vey!
I like to make a Pinterest-worthy graphic for each blog post.
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last, but not least….
This week I will be sharing with each of these wonderful bloggers. As I said in my last post, these links will lead you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You will find hours upon hours of inspiration when you click each of these links.
Katherines Corner- Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop
Knick of Time- Angie- Vintage Inspiration Party