Thursday, March 08, 2012

Remembering my very first decorating job

I'm preparing for a photoshoot of a just completed project this week. So, I was standing here, ironing the white cotton/linen shams with ragged ruffles and the beautiful white cotton Annie Selke's Pine Cone Hill Petite ruffle pillow cases with mini-ruffles and I got to thinking of my first professional decorating job.

During my high school and college summers I would babysit and clean houses to bring in some money. My small town had little to no industry, so summertime work was hard to come by. We did, however, have nice people would were willing to pay a haphazard teenager a little money to swish a broom around and clean toilets. One of my clients was an elderly European widow lady (I forget, or wasn't paying attention, to which specific country) who had very exacting standards for how she lived. One of her "things" was that she used nothing but rich, heavy white cotton flat sheets on her beds. One of my tasks was to mist and iron those beautiful sheets on a weekly basis. Think of it - hot and humid summer days spent at the ironing board with a hot iron and damp, steaming sheets. It was my below-stairs Downton Abbey time. Speaking of below-stairs, she would make me lunch but I always ate in the kitchen while she ate in the dining room. She wasn't mean about it or demeaning in any way.  It was just what she was used to and as a girl who was raised to respect her elders, I never questioned it.  But, one thing I truly loved was the smell of the steaming sheets and the satisfaction I got from seeing their beautiful, snowy freshness when neatly piled up.  That's the memory that flooded back today while ironing the the white bedding for the shoot.

And, it got me to thinking about how much we do in our client's homes that's not really decorating or design work. I've cleaned a lot of glassware and polished many family heirloom silver pieces for open houses, parties or show house tours. We want things to look just so and if it means rolling up our sleeves, then so be it. An industry colleague commented today that he's washed more toilets in other people's homes than he has in his own. Whatever it takes to get the right shot!

Oh, so, about my first professional decorating job. So, even though I ate my lunch in the kitchen, the nice elderly European lady (whose name I have clearly forgotten), let's call her Mrs. Starch, did spend a lot of time talking to me while I would work. When Mrs. Starch found out that I could sew, she asked if I could make bed skirts for the twin beds in her guest room.  The room was dark and she wanted something cheerful. So we went with a bright yellow cotton duck. I wish I'd taken pictures. I recall that they were gathered, not straight. I must have asked the ladies at the fabric store to estimate yardage for me.

It's funny how a scent from long ago - like steaming cotton sheeting - can bring back all these memories of hot summers, hotter irons and Mrs. Starch. 

I'm spending this afternoon at my client's house doing the final accessorizing, pre-photo shoot. Actually, these clients have been away since November and during these months, I've had several pieces re-upholstered, a ton of seat cushions made and have been sewing several throw pillows myself. I also managed to a break a piece off of an antique chair and have had it repaired. Always something! Photos to come!

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