I have a love-love relationship with furniture stores and how they showcase imagined and real family experiences.
I wrote a book that includes more than your average number of references to furniture, and for good reason, given my devotion to writing about how home objects tell stories about family life that we often don’t notice. That book is another story, but for now, suffice it to say that in it I reference a slogan from a furniture store in my childhood hometown in rural southwest Minnesota that still resonates. Larson’s Furniture’s slogan “Feather your Nest with a Little Down” is forever etched in my brain and still resides, in its perfect giant sort-of cursive, above the display windows showcasing the latest trends in couches, chairs, TV cabinets, and couches and chairs that hold TV remotes. You should buy furniture there. I mean it. And while you’re at it, you should visit the local park, swim in the local pool, and put a quarter in the slot machine at the nearby casino where my wedding reception was held. If you need a cup of coffee perfectly preserved in a thermos at an optimal temperature even a day later, you can visit my mom. She can show you the pictures of her grandchildren in her lovely living room.
The furniture store slogan (“Feather your Nest with a Little Down”), as you may have glossed over, is, in my estimation, one of the most clever plays on words in our midst. “Nest” is a word we family scholars use to talk about home lives — as in, leave the nest, empty nest, and even feathered nest (to refer to the fancy people who can afford 600-thread count sheets). But it wasn’t until I was a grown-up who had to offer a DOWN payment on a first house, a car, and a kitchen bistro set that I figured out the whole meaning of the phrase “a little down.” FEATHERS! And also, a small amount of money to hold the stuff in furniture not-yet-paid-for-purgatory.
As my friends will tell you, I sometimes figure out joke punchlines a decade after I hear them.
Anyway, that small town furniture store meant a lot to my family. It was the place where we roamed and sought possible future couches (which is funny, because there was never going to be a future couch, except for the one we bought after I threw up while lying down on the old one; both were olive green chenille, btw; throw up defies gravity if the canvas upon which it lands is olive green chenille, btw).
As a teenager, Larson’s was a place I drove by hundreds of times late at night when it was closed as I cruised the town in cars with friends — evenings dimly lit by the window displays of aspirational grown-up living room ensembles that we didn’t know we wanted. It was the place where my dad and I picked out living room coffee and end tables to surprise my mom in a moment of unplanned “Let’s surprise Mom with furniture” spree, which in hindsight was a really bad idea. But maybe, in hindsight, this moment represented a surprisingly astute sense of timeless design for a fifty-something weird dad (whose design aesthetic was somewhere in the midst of black lacquer meets fake opulent German farmhouse) and a teenage weird kid (whose design aesthetic was somewhere in the midst of Lisa Frank meets 1970s TV trays) assessing wood and glass quality. That those pieces are still in my mom’s living room is a testament to her graciousness and generosity, and perhaps a tiny testament to my dad’s and my taste. Either that or she has figured out that they were good enough to display the oodles of grandchild pictures that are the living (room) objects that really matter to her. The tables are not as important as what’s on them. You’d know that if you sat down and had a cup of day-old steaming hot coffee with her.
It’s been decades since I’ve cruised the street adjacent to the Larson’s furniture displays. Fast forward to my own meandering among furniture store fronts in the town I live in now, also lit at night in an amber light with aspirational living room ensembles that have made their way into my adult décor brain. An adult décor brain that is hard-pressed to stay up late enough to window shop after it’s dark, and more likely to dismiss the rural furniture aesthetic than to consider it aspirational. But that, too, is another story.
Fifteen years ago, I recall seeing a rocking chair in a window in my current hometown downtown in a store that no longer exists (save for the store’s current iteration in a different location and its concomitant and seemingly incessant radio ads on the station I listen to most often). I special ordered that chair with a special order fabric when I was pregnant. Did I mention that it was a special order?
The fabric was stylish and soft and olive greenish. Chenille, actually. But here’s an important part: I was unnecessarily rude to the store owner when I, pregnant with what felt like seventeen bowling balls that was really just my giant baby son, expressed concern about the fact that special order fabric meant this chair could not be returned if it didn’t work out (but what if it didn’t work? what if I couldn’t rock? what if I didn’t get the right accessory to showcase my ability to be a good parent? These questions remind me that I still owe that furniture store owner an apology for my unnecessarily anxious views of future chair woes — I should buy a couch from him despite his incessant radio ads).
Anyway, the chair arrived and landed itself in my son’s baby room. It was where the two of us plopped to sit and relax and drink (usually both of us) and be Mommy and Baby. It was where we read books together. It was where he plopped his little body when he was learning to read. Now that he has a different chair and prefers plopping in his bed to read, the special order olive greenish chenille soft rocking chair sits at the foot of my bed, sometimes as a spot to plop to read, but mostly as a spot to plop my clothes that don’t fit nearly as well as they did before I had a kid.
This year I’ve spent dozens of hours sorting and sifting through boxes and furniture pieces that have been stored in the nether-regions of our surprisingly ample storage spots. I considered getting rid of that rocking chair. But no. Of course I’m keeping it. Too much to plop on it.
That chair really was a special order. That chair, of course, is not as important as what has sat on it. That’s why it’s staying in my nest. I think I’ll sit on it and have a drink. Maybe some day-old steaming hot coffee.