The past life of things

Greg and I have a bad way of falling for old things. Anyone who has experienced the basement of our Halifax home knows it to be a reliquary of mismatched chairs, vintage scales, chrome barware, a 1977 Bally Eight Ball pinball machine (that works about half the time) and odds and sods to which one or the other of us has formed an attachment.

Shortly after we bought our first house, Greg spied a cool old pharmacy cabinet among an auction lot from a former military base hospital. His $150 bid scored us the white metal cabinet along with a pallet-load of gear that included an outmoded EKG machine, a blood gas analyser and an ophthalmologist’s chair.

The new property may well be the ultimate extension of many years spent rescuing dubious treasures from junk shops and flea markets. Or perhaps it is simply a place to keep them.

When we first saw the blue house it was sad and empty, the only signs of life a few groceries left behind in the pantry. The home’s previous contents were piled high in the barn, awaiting an auction that must have been terribly difficult for the former owner who had collected in staggering quantities.

The scale of her efforts aside, she was probably not so unlike us, imaging the possibilities of a different life in a little seaside house surrounded by totemic pieces of the past.

In the three months before we took possession of the place, Greg and I devoted an inordinate amount of time to searching out the items that would fill the house up again. Our criteria were twofold: character-rich and budget-friendly.

Among the first finds was a fat, round wooden gear cast, once used to shape foundry molds for molten metal. Greg had no sooner pictured it on the wall of the new living room than it was in the back of his pick-up. An oar with a leather-wrapped handle also met our loose criteria, as did a two-pronged fish fork of the sort Greg’s grandfather once used to unload cod from a Newfoundland fishing boat.

A long, sturdy table for dinner gatherings was high on our priority list. We found a quarter-sawn oak beauty in the man cave of a guy in New Glasgow. He rescued it from the TrentonWorks plant sometime after business at the former rail car plant dried up and he took up an on-again, off-again job in the Alberta oil patch.

I imagined contemporary chairs – black, preferably – cozied up to the eight-foot-long table. And, there they were, six perfect ones posted in an online ad from Marble Mountain, Cape Breton. Next, we found a fella who had an overriding passion for mid-century modern furniture. He had turned every room of his bungalow into something resembling a Mad Men set, then kept going until teak and rosewood pieces filled his basement and threatened to invade his backyard. We walked away with four low-slung chairs for a song.

With so much yet to do in the old place, our collection continues to grow – a slick brass bed, a Nova Scotia pine dresser, a few vintage oil paintings, sidetables and benches. Thank God for the barn.

4 thoughts on “The past life of things

  1. argette

    Your blog is lovely and your writing delightful. Funny, I started a blog with the same name on Blogger but never did any posts, and my husband’s name is Greg. Our teal-blue house is an 1896 cross-gable in Wisconsin; our red barn was a 1910 horse-and carriage barn, built along an old race track for lumber mill owners, that we converted to a garage two years ago. I just found you, and will enjoy reading your back posts.

    I’ll have to find a new name for my blog! 🙂


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