Both of my grandmothers are fearless decorators whose influences percolate into my home on a recurring basis. Although, at the time, I may not realize that I chose that color or love that pattern because it recalls something from one of their homes, I eventually put the pieces together.
For example, my Nana’s living room is a sea of densely layered grays. I look around my own living room and see dove-colored walls, a charcoal sofa, chairs upholstered in monochrome patterns, and a faux concrete fireplace. Clearly, I borrowed that palette.
I can also trace my love of swag curtains to her living room, where the entire back wall is swaddled in elaborately draped valances and panels, concealing sliding glass doors.
Element 1 of Granny Chic Design: Elaborate Drapery
And Nana is no stranger to the gallery wall. Like most grandmothers, family photos germinate on every surface–vertical and horizontal–of her home. Mingling among them and proudly displayed are my mother’s paintings–everything from portraits to landscapes.
This likely has something to do with my love of art and the eclectic works that pepper my own walls.
Element 2: Family Photos
However, it’s the home that my Grandma Olga lived in before my grandfather passed that I recall (through the lens of a nine-year-old) with utter fascination if not razor-sharp accuracy. After my grandfather died, Grandma Olga moved to a smaller house and sold much of her furniture, erasing the evidence of the wonderland in which I spent countless holidays.
A two-hour drive from where I grew up, going to that house usually meant that presents or egg hunts or just plain good food was on the horizon. It also meant that I’d see my cousins, who–along with my sister–were my favorite playmates. So, it’s not surprising that I remember it so fondly and probably with exaggerated grandeur.
The house sat at the far end of a quiet cul de sac in the New Mexico desert. Still, the architecture was completely out of place and not at all telling of its location. We’d enter the house through an enclosed courtyard, beneath a canopy of scrolled wrought iron where succulents overflowed from their beds and Brandy and Peaches (two miniature poodles) rushed out to greet us.
Did I mention that I’m a rather indulgent chihuahua mama?
Element 3: Lap Dogs
The front door would swing open and the house would smell of roasting meats and simmering sauces. Instantly, I’d feel hungry. Hugs and kisses were exchanged as our eyes adjusted to the light (or lack there of) inside.
Grandma Olga had one of those formal living rooms that never really got used. However, I was somewhat preoccupied her settee. It had deep tufts of chartreuse velvet that I thought looked like moss. Of course, growing up in New Mexico, moss was something I’d only seen on TV and in books and I wondered if it had the same irresistible texture of velvet.
Last year, I designed a headboard that I had custom-made by a local upholsterer in a fabric as close as I could find to that of Grandma Olga’s settee. Unlike my gray living room, this was a deliberate and conscious allusion.
The settee was flanked by small trees or shrub-like plants. I can’t recall if they were artificial or real. Regardless, fake roses adorned their branches, affixed with twisty ties. This was the aftermath of my grandfather forbidding Grandma Olga to get a Christmas tree; and so, she compromised by hanging ornaments (and fake roses) on the flora she already had. Afterwards, she thought the roses looked too pretty to remove. So, they remained as permanent fixtures, imitating the blooms in the oil still life on the wall.
Element 4: Still Life Paintings
The theme of rather opulent seating carried into the dining and–to be honest–is the only thing I can remember about it. Gold-painted, old world chairs with more tufted velvet upholstery are among the few pieces of furniture Grandma Olga still has.
Coincidentally, antique chairs are a particular weakness of mine.
Element 5: Opulent Seating
One of the other surviving pieces of furniture from the home is a three-foot-tall figural lamp of a Grecian woman carrying a cornucopia. That piece found its way into my home a few years ago. Score!
Element 6: Over-the-Top Lamps
The hallway that housed the bedrooms had no light fixtures and would have been impossibly dark had Grandma Olga not mounted a mirror at the far end to reflect some light down the shadowy corridor. Beneath it was a low-slung shelf with a single silver vase holding–you guessed it–a fake rose.
Element 7: Florals
On the other hand, the bedroom I slept in was surprisingly bright with white walls and a large window above the bed. Nearly every time I visited, the room was outfitted with different textiles. The only constant was the use of jewel tones and exuberant patterns like paisley and Jacobean, which I still love.
Element 8: Exuberant Patterns
The backyard had a swimming pool, which–to my recollection–never held water. Still, it was guarded by two enormous concrete lions that conveyed an air of both majesty and ferocity.
These superfluous creatures may very well explain my sister’s penchant for foo dogs and my own ongoing search for an oversize panther statue.
I’ve noticed other grannies tend to amass porcelain menageries not unlike Grandma Olga’s frozen sentries…
Element 9: Animal Statues
And that’s about where my memory abruptly ends.
This mother’s day, I’d like to thank my grandmothers for (among other things) creating enchanting backdrops for my childhood. When I think back on the decades in which they grew up, worked, and raised children; I realize that life could not have been easy for these strong, Latina women and that they (and my grandfathers) worked very hard for every stick of furniture. I owe them an enormous debt–not only for the creative inspiration they’ve afforded me–but also for the opportunities I’ve enjoyed as as result of their labor and progress.
Readers, thanks for joining me on my walk down Memory Lane. I realize this was a bit more personal than my usual posts, so I appreciate your attention–especially if you’ve made it this far. I’d love to hear about how your mothers and grandmothers have inspired you. Please share your reveries in the comments section below. Happy Mother’s Day!