Restoration: To See or Not To See – The Paradox of Old Spaces
Beware those who restore old spaces. The past will reveal itself at the most inopportune moment.
We have been working on the existing rooms, refreshing, painting, hanging new art. A facelift of sorts. Sore backs and necks stretch and reach. The room felt under attack, I am sure of it. Because it defended itself by dropping a huge piece of plaster on my head as I painted.
Now, this has happened to me before. What I had to do was get under the lifted plaster with a putty knife and remove whatever had loosened up. As I scraped, it became evident that someone, many years ago, more than a hundred, had painted the bare walls of the house, trying to make the space more lovely, more livable.
This is a country home. It's not a noble residence. These were farmers, not counts, that lived in these walls. I sat back and look at what had been painted.
Classic small stenciled patterns, carefully applied. Beige, brown, lavender and indigo blue.
What should I do? Replaster? Cover it up? Make it all pretty?
I couldn't. You see, this is not a design project, it is a life project. I must honor the past in order to move on to the future. After I lost the stairs to practicality, how could I just cover up something which revealed itself by falling on my head?
It is the twists and turns in this project that make the journey so interesting. I really, truly, can plan nothing. Things pop up almost on a daily basis, every time we touch something, that force us to change directions.
While I was sitting on the sofa contemplating a farmer's wife stenciling these designs onto her walls in the 1800's, I had a strange, random thought. I wondered if their knees hurt. I wondered what they would think if they knew that almost two hundred years later, someone could go into your knees and correct problems resulting from years of wear and tear on the farm. I wondered what they would think if they knew that people in the future would have their knees and every other body part cut open just because they don't look perfect, whatever that is. And it was at that moment that I new I could never cover up the stencils. That a farmer, or his wife, cared enough to make their space lovely despite cold winters and hot summers and long grape harvests and the fact that they had to cart water up to the house by horse astounds me. That thought has to be honored. I have to incorporate these windows to the past into the room design.
This has brought me to a new way of thinking, these incidents where I must confront the past of this house. We are custodians. We are caretakers. It is our job to take care of it and give what we find over to the next generation, who will hopefully preserve some of what we have done as well. If every generation does this, we can proceed into a future that is rich and multi dimensional, not just pretty and shallow.
Stay tuned for the final result. It won't be as I imagined it. Nothing ever is here. It will be something else.
Which is really ok.