My Velveteen Chair, or: Why I’ve Given Up on the Idea of a Perfectly Curated Reading Nook

I’d like to think that I’m a relaxed, purposeful, and serene-looking reader,  a leisurely woman out of a nineteenth-century painting. Cushioned in velvet and satin, a pile of books, a pot of tea, and a vase of flowers artfully arranged on an elegantly draped table near-to-hand. Like this, more or less:

Louise Tiffany Reading by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1888

Louise Tiffany Reading by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1888

My delusions are so humble, aren’t they? The reality is a bit different. Okay, considerably different. For starters, it involves backaches and too much dog hair. I live in a sea of language, a blizzard of words. If I’m not writing, I’m reading. The former is done at the desk in my studio with neatness, solitude, and organization. The latter is a haphazard affair. I hunker down with a book or three in, on, or beside whatever can pass for a seat: my swinging sixties swivel chair; the bathtub; my too-lumpy bed; on the dining room floor; or, somewhat claustrophobically, on the couch crushed beneath a pile of scratchy dog paws and icy snouts. My solution? A dedicated reading space, of course!

We’ve been in our huge flat for 2 1/2 years, and my studio has been used as such from the get-go. Why am I so late to the party with this? I’ve always been a wallflower but this, this, is ridiculous. I spend far too much time on Pinterest to be ignorant of or  immune to the sweet siren call of The Perfectly Curated Reading Nook. The concept makes my heart sing with girlish enthusiasm. The effort required to make this over-the-top idea come true? Not so much. In fact, it makes me think of this:

John Everett Millais-Ophelia

My girl Ophelia knows how I feel.

What’s a writer-reader with bohemian taste, an absurd imagination, and lazy tendencies to do in lieu of actual work? Drag an old chair that has been in the family for 40+ years to the middle of her studio and call it a day.

Communing with the chair in the late 1970s.

Before: Communing with the chair in the late 1970s.

The Gold Chair is older than I am. It’s now missing a few buttons and is slightly threadbare in spots; it reminds me of a passage in The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) by Margery Williams:

“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day…”Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

“Does is hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand…once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

When I was planning my wedding 2 years ago, I discovered that using excerpts from this children’s novel as ceremony readings was a fad. Here I am citing it to illustrate my love for a shabby old chair, which, come to think of it, seems way more appropriate than employing it to declare my eternal love for a human being. Gold Chair reminds me of my late, great-grandmother (Nanny) and of my still-living grandparents; of childhood dreams, faded longings, and warm memories. I read hundreds of books in its embrace, clutched its hands as I rocked back and forth with childish glee, my laughter waltzing through the air.

The new reading spot smack in the middle of my studio.

Getting there: The new reading spot smack in the middle of my studio.

My feet still don’t touch the ground, but I have reclaimed a favourite childhood reading spot. Same chair, new home, evolved life, old memories. The experience is different, yet familiar: to the left, a photo of my Nanny smiling patiently sits crookedly on a shelf.

After: A few tweaks and all is well.

After: A few tweaks and all is well.

The Perfectly Curated Reading Nook will never exist in my home. That’s okay. I’m too involved in the acts of reading and rocking to care. When I sit in Gold Chair, partially dredged in madeleine crumbs and animal fur, I’m cocooned by books, memories, and words. Always words. There is no painter bowing before an easel, scraping his palette with a knife and wiping sweat from his upper lip, poised to capture the scene on canvas. I’m too busy reading to notice.

20 thoughts on “My Velveteen Chair, or: Why I’ve Given Up on the Idea of a Perfectly Curated Reading Nook

  1. I LOVE this post. You’re awesome, you and your gold chair. Love you (I think) the little blonde girl hiding in the gold chair. You definitely need to set it in the middle of your studio, like you did and let the world feed inspiration into your spot of sparkle. : )

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    • Thank you so much, Cassie! I love Gold Chair and feel almost like I’m its caretaker. It has been a part of my family for four generations. I am that little blonde girl. If I had to guess, I would say that I was probably being punished for my bad attitude. The worst punishment the adults could give me was to strip me of whatever books I was reading and send me to Gold Chair empty-handed. Ah, the trials of a bookworm’s childhood. 🙂 The chair is definitely staying smack in the middle of my studio, surrounded by too many cases filled with books and walls covered by snippets of inspiration.

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      • I love this. I would LOVE to see your studio, love it. I’m sure it’s a marvel of a modern bookish girl. Hate to say this, but I love your punishment – it’s the most horrible for a book worm. Your parents were smart. : )

        My aunt has a chair that’s also gold that’s been in our family for three generations and she keeps it in this lovely book nook she’s created. Your chair reminded me of that. Love hand-me-downs that have a really important function.

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      • Oh, you are correct! They were very smart and knew exactly what they were doing. Depriving me of books was a huge deal. Even as a toddler I carted armfuls around with me wherever I went.

        My studio is a work in progress. I’m always adding things to make it feel more homey, more “right”, if you know what I mean. I think it is as good as it needs to be. Thanks for the compliment. I would like to think it is everything you think it is; if not, that is certainly something to aspire to. A marvel of a modern bookish girl. Nice. We’ve been in this flat for 2 1/2 years and do not plan on renewing our lease. We will be moving in late April/early May. I shudder at the thought of having to start all over again. It will be easier next time around, though, as Gold Chair is definitely going to remain the center of the reading area.

        I love that your aunt has a gold chair. That’s a nice coincidence, although one that is helped by the fact that gold was quite popular in decorating 3 to 5 decades ago!

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  2. Pingback: My Childhood Sanctuary and “The Perfectly Curated Reading Nook” « three blind wives

    • Oh, that is awesome! Is the chair still in your family? My gold chair was my great-grandmother’s. I don’t know what fabric it started out with, but by the time I came around she had reupholstered it in this gold velveteen. I’m not sure I could ever change it, because it is all I know!

      I think it is the perfect choice, too. I forgot how comfy it is. I’m in it every day now, rocking and reading. 🙂

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      • Sadly, the chair is no longer in our family and I had forgotten about it until I saw your post. Suddenly, it all came back to me – the smell of her meatloaf in the oven and my grandmother sitting for a few, rare moments while she watched re-runs of “The Rockford Files”. (She had a huge crush on James Garner.)

        I hope the chair can always be gold velveteen. It’s just too good.

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      • Oh, that’s too bad! I’m glad that my family chair brought back your own childhood memories. (I’d forgotten about The Rockford Files. I have vague memories of watching that when I was very young.)

        I will keep the chair gold velveteen for as long as possible. I’m afraid that it wouldn’t be quite the same with a different fabric. I’m even reluctant to replace the 2 missing buttons, which is probably a bit crazy.

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