Think back to your dorm days when you were assigned a boring, basic room with boring, basic furniture. That standard-issue room slowly became yours as you added a favorite blanket, photos of friends, maybe a poster or two. And as time passed, even that boring, basic furniture gained significance. When I think back to college, I forget about the white walls and stiff chairs. Instead, I think back to late nights writing at my desk, smoothie parties in my neighbor’s room, conversations in the long, sterile hallways. Basic, boring spaces became meaningful over time, thanks to our experiences and memories.
I love a Washington Post story about Ikea coffee tables for this very reason. In her article, Jessica Contrera describes the “life” of an Ikea Lack coffee table across a variety of homes and owners. Contrera uses Craigslist posts as her inspiration, imagining the circumstances around each table’s acquisition and subsequent re-sell. Her story is well-written, and her point well-made. In this day of mass-produced merchandise and chain retail, so many of us own the same things. But it’s how we experience and use those things that turns a “possession” into a “personal belonging.”
As I wrote in a recent post about antique fairs, I think objects gain their value from the realms of emotion, experience and memory. I do a good amount of in-home interviews for my job, and one of the most interesting portions is the home tour. Our respondents give us a brief tour of their home, explaining things that have particular significance. It’s not always the wedding photos or trophies or expensive clothing that makes the cut. It’s often the everyday objects, or the most-used furniture. I could see the same table in 6 homes, and I guarantee you I would hear 6 very different stories of how that table is used. I realize this may sound like marketing speak to some of you, but nothing is “just” an object. There are always more layers to be found.
You should read the entire Washington Post piece, but for now I’ll leave you with my favorite quote:
“Described as sparsely as it is designed, the Lack table is discarded on Craigslist for $10 to $20, as if its companionship during the disorienting time of 20-something-ness gave it no additional value. As if it hadn’t been such a reliable foot rest during sessions of scrolling on Facebook, silently comparing the new lives of college friends. As if it hadn’t been such an adequate plate holder for food that was a real, cooked meal, and thus, a victory.” – Jessica Contrera