Growing up, it was my dad, that taught me the more practical DIY side, from how to hold a hammer to how to use an electric drill. Mom was all about Mrs. Interiors.
She included me in all the decor planning. We’d pore over fabric swatches, paint chips, and decor magazines, and I felt so important because somehow my opinion mattered.
I’m the age now that my mother was when she was began involving me in picking out the decor.
My first time
It wasn’t until I turned 10 and it was time for a total room makeover that I really got to make the big choices. Mom said she’d make me a new comforter for the bed, curtains, and we’d paint and wallpaper. Boom! Big new room for a big girl. Now, what did I want?
Oh, boy. Well, I picked pink paint, and a pink-green-and-blue striped wallpaper, as well as a blue-and-white pin-striped wallpaper, and a couple coordinating fabrics featuring green.
My mother was daunted by the assortment, but agreed: They technically all worked together. Same colors, same tones, lots of geometric lines. Would it look good, though? Surprisingly: Yes.
But she later confessed she’d thought it wouldn’t work. Two different wallpapers, one matching a primary fabric, but two other fabrics too, and pink paint on two walls?
It worked! My room became funky and fun, and was the coolest out of all my friends’ rooms.
That early lesson of taking risks with decor and having ‘em pay off big never really went away. At age 10 I learned that it was about finding what you liked and bringing it together. If you love all the components separately, and they coordinate, there should be no problem. Lesson learned. Thanks, Mom!
Foundations for a lifetime
The lesson was bigger than that, though. And more lasting. I was taught to love my home and the world around me.
My parents didn’t just move into a pretty house and decorate it. Dad and Mom designed and built our home from scratch. Frame by frame, nail by nail. We have photos of the empty lot, the poured foundation, room after room rising. I can recall photos of my dad sweating under the summer sun as my then-big-brother of two ran around with his toy tool belt and plastic hammer.
As the years passed, Dad ran a construction company on the side and Mom was onsite for most of the jobs. When we wanted new hardwood floors, Dad tore them out of demo homes and refinished them. Stunning oak everywhere. They plastered, painted the whole place. They designed a gorgeous kitchen with a counter-top Gen-air stove and an in-the-wall oven I’d love to own even now. We enjoyed a stunning sunroom. We had everything, and it was all made by hand — their hands.
One day, my dream home will have the kind of love and attention to detail that my parents put into ours. Even our landscape was chosen with care. Mature trees on our lot were protected and the rest of the landscape designed around it. An evergreen hedge, a row of lilac trees, a Japanese maple, shrubs of all kinds. I remember Dad in rubber boots with a shovel in hand a lot.
The interior design, though — past the wood floors and trim, it was all Mom.
Home isn’t about the money
With carefully chosen art, furniture, and colors, it was a well-put-together home. We didn’t have much money, and never would, but it was a time when antiques were undervalued, and Mom and Dad bought investment pieces by auction and from great undiscovered antique shops.
They taught us then that not having money didn’t mean you had to look like it. Instead, it meant you had to work harder to find smart ways to spend your money. You’d have thought we were the wealthiest family on the block, but I’m sure all our familes were in the same financial hole.
Four decades later, I hold on to those cheap newlywed antiques. And I design spaces with my mother’s eye and tackle the tasks with my father’s get’er’doneness.
Learning to value your world
Spending money and time on decorating isn’t a waste of your parenting resources. It’s not some unjustifiable line in your family budget. It’s about teaching your children that they’re worth living in a place that’s beautiful, letting them experience a sense of ownership over their space.
I think you dream of a bigger life when you love the space around you. I believe there are some lessons that will last your children their entire lives — teaching them to love reading, love cooking, and love decorating.
When I was younger, I would dream of having my mother help me decorate my first real apartment much like other girls would dream of their mother helping to plan their wedding. Unfortunately, she passed away before that could ever happen, except for helping me paint a short-term home in the Yukon.
My dad made up for her absence in my first real apartment, though. He built me bookshelves from scratch, one of the last home projects he’s done, and to this day it’s the first thing any visitor comments on — “I love your bookshelves.” Me too. They’re the only ones like ‘em in the world and I can see them in my life for decades yet.
Decor as a tribute
Last year, when I moved into this home, I thought a lot about my mother, the things she taught me with decorating. I thought how much she would love to see her well-chosen antiques displayed in a gorgeous 1931 apartment like mine now. I thought about how I’d grown up to be my mother’s daughter.
If you’re planning any work around the home this year, involve your children. They might love it more than you think. And some day, some Mother’s Day 30 or 40 years from now, maybe it’ll be them thinking about painting the kitchen for a new year, wistfully remembering all the times they helped you in their childhood.
What kinds of decor projects did your Mom involve you in?
What important skills did you learn that you now carry with you?
What projects have you taken on with your own children?
Tell us about it in the comments section of this post.
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