Moments of Discovery # 1: How Do You Furnish a House?

According to The Huffington Post, the median home price in the United States (2014) is $ 188,900.00. Even adjusted for inflation over the years, housing prices have increased enormously since the 1940s.

My parents were married in 1940. Until they bought their first home in 1941, they lived for a few months with my father’s parents, Henry and Fanny Longenecker, and then with a relative, “Uncle” Elmer Longenecker in the village of Rheems, Pennsylvania. The newlyweds’ first home of about 1240 square feet cost $ 5000.00.

Just as astonishing as the price of the house was the bill for their home furnishings from Eberly Furniture Store just above Elizabethtown. They outfitted this home for $ 425.00 including a dining room and bedroom suites with a mattress and box springs, a kitchen table, rugs and two utility cabinets.

Eberly Furniture receipt_150

Please note that table pads for the dining room and a third, smaller rug were apparently thrown in as a bonus. Milton was a happy man the day Ray and Ruth Longenecker walked through the door of his store. And the feeling was mutual. My Mother’s comment on the receipt says it all: “We bought this all at one time, but not these days. Isn’t this something.”

The Art Deco bedroom suite has been replaced with something more contemporary but not nearly as beautiful to my taste. What is left of the original purchase: the kitchen table and chairs and the Duncan Phyfe dining room suite.

BuffetMomChinaCabinet

Isn’t that something?

The “Moments of Discovery” series is Part One of a continuing series that will unfold as we sort through the contents of the house on Anchor Road. It joins other series on this blog: Purple Passages, Moments of Extreme Emotion, and 10 Tips/Secrets.

How do you furnish a house – traditional, contemporary, eclectic? 

Coming next: Secrets in My Hatbox

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34 thoughts on “Moments of Discovery # 1: How Do You Furnish a House?

  1. I like the way you are setting up different subjects and categories, Marian. Fascinating insight about relative costs and values then and now.

    Blogger question: I also like the way you use the first paragraphs of your essay to tease the FB reader to open the link. Is this a plug-in for WP?

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    1. Good observation about the opening paragraph. If I understand what you’re asking, I just provided a link, not via a special WP plug-in. Thank you for speaking up first today, Shirley. 🙂

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  2. My first mental response before I read this was, “you furnish it with love.” Of course that’s a given, where your mother (and you) are concerned, I’m sure. Love to see those old prices. I’ve been thinking about the $3.50 my father paid to buy my mother a copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook in 1951 for her 27th birthday (a publishing project I’m helping on right now–putting out a special 65th anniversary/historical edition in 2015). I know $3.50 was a huge amount to pay for a birthday gift in 1951. I especially treasure her old copy since he gave it to her the year I was born.

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    1. You have a double blessing with the birthday gift of the Mennonite Community Cookbook first to your mother and then to you. I look forward to the publication of the 2015 anniversary edition. And I agree the sentimental value far outweighs the material worth. I appreciate this anecdote, Melodie.

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  3. My folks both passed away at the age of 84 with a span of seven years in age difference, and time of death. They both still considered the prices of the 50’s still relevant and could never wrap their arms around the escalating prices of the 90’s. A different time and place, always concerned they would face another great depression. Life circumstances always affect us in some way, how we value things and people. Thanks Marian for giving us a glimpse into the past and pause for thanksgiving for the present. Enjoy your memories with your siblings during this process.

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    1. Obviously, your parents were emotionally marked by the Great Depression, as mine were and like mine probably practiced frugality all their lives. Yes, we are chipping away at unearthing possessions of the past and enjoying the process as much as possible. Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Caroly, and for the good wishes.

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  4. Marian –

    I find it astounding that the receipt still exists! The difference in yesteryear’s prices with today’s prices is jaw-dropping! Especially when you consider that today’s material goods (pick a product, any product) don’t typically have the same handcrafted care and quality built into them. The photographs of the remaining pieces are beautiful.

    You asked, “How do you furnish a house – traditional, contemporary, eclectic?”

    As minimalists with 600 square feet of living space, we don’t have a lot of furniture pieces, but what we do have is high quality. That can be said for our other “things” as well: kitchenware, clothing, technology, bicycles…

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    1. You are my role model for minimal living with maximum quality in more than one sense of the word. With the little glimpses I’ve had of your things via “Tuesdays with Morrie” I love your taste in cookware and all things utilitarian.

      As we sift through our parents accumulation over the years, we are finding the quality and craftsmanship diminishing with each decade, it seems. Thanks for commenting, tweeting, and all the encouragement you offer through social media.

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  5. What a quiet, thoughtful piece, Marian. As I read of you sorting through your mom’s treasures with your siblings, I am reminded of the many movies I’ve seen over the years that open with that same scene. So Big was the first; Bridges of Madison County … I could go on. I’m eager to hear more, as with Shirley and her box in the basement. Cheers to you both. 🙂

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  6. I love that not only do you have the furniture, but you also have the receipt with your mother’s comment. I know when my parents married during WWII, they didn’t have much, but I have no idea what furniture they actually had. When my husband and I first married, we had a bed and dresser that we bought from my mom’s cousin (that she had had made, but never used). We didn’t have too much more than that–lots of kitchen stuff, but only a borrowed card table and chairs for the longest time in our apartment. Our style is definitely eclectic! 🙂

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    1. Yes, a couple has to start with a bed and dresser. We have our priorities right in the beginning. When more accrues, at some point it becomes too much, which is where we are right now. I guess I would define our style as eclectic too.

      I always look forward to how you share parallel stories with me and other readers. Thanks so much, Merril.

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  7. Marian,
    Looking at the interior of your folks home brought back delightful memories. As a neighbor and childhood playmate, reflections of the past ceased to grace my mind – almost like an old movie on replay. Facing the furniture I noticed a sitting room through the archway on the right. The archway to the left, which joins that room, use to have a piano against the wall – or perhaps at the window -is it still there?

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    1. Paul, what a delight to see you here. You know the layout of this house and very well remember the living room with the piano at one end. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, Mother gave the Marshall & Wendell piano to one of her nieces so the children could take piano lessons. The piano had great acoustics, and I miss it when I visit home.

      Here is another post you and your brothers would enjoy seeing as it displays postcards of the Clearview Diner era: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2014/09/27/10-things-my-family-did-or-didnt-do-on-sunday/

      Welcome! Do visit again for more memories we share.

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    1. Thank you for pointing out the stark contract which is so obvious as you unearth these treasures. Duncan Phyfe with the lyre back chairs are apparently worth something, if not monetarily these days at least in pride of craftsmanship.

      Stay tuned for more vintage, Debby.

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  8. Our furniture is “late attic, early basement”. (That’s not original with me.) Because I moved 450 miles from my childhood home I was not involved in the cleaning out of the house many years ago. I did, however, become the happy owner of a bird’s eye maple flat to the wall cupboard which lived in our summer kitchen. My parents had it stripped in Ontario and I refinished it in PA. At one point I was describing to my husband where it was located and he commented that he remembers the ceiling being very low and slanted, wondering how it fit in that spot. On further investigation we noticed the top right side had been sawed down a bit to allow the piece to fit. A trailing philodendron now hides the “adjustment”! For many years we also used the table that was in my childhood home. It was fun to show my husband the ledge where I hid my bread crusts. In the downsizing process that table found a home with my niece. I found this post very interesting. Thanks for sharing the treasures and reflections.

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    1. And thanks for two wonderful anecdotes, Ruthie. I’d love to see a photo of the bird’s eye maple cupboard, especially with the trailing philodendron “adjustment.” I guess it would fit in with the shabby-chic antique look that is all the rage nowadays. And the ledge where you hid your bread crusts. How cool is that!

      I’m always happy when I see your name in comments because I know my readers and I will be treated to some wonderful reflections too.

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  9. Marian … Some of our dining room and bedroom furniture has a Shaker look. In our kitchen, a cute little French-style table with a glass top and metal legs. Perhaps, the total style is eclectic, but I love it.

    You’re so right about the cost of everything going up. Our first home cost $16,500 in 1971. When we sold it – maybe 1986, it went for $55,000. Quite a steep jump. The sale of the next house did not go as well. We lost money on it during the “buyers’ market.” Ah well!

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  10. We had a similar experience with first home buying and selling in a similar era. Then we bought a house as investment property just before the dip. I guess you have inspired me to say, Ah well, though I’m more prone to exclaim Woe is me!

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  11. What an interesting post Marian. I love the look of that furniture.

    On a darker note, my blog has been hacked. I’ve lost most of it, at least for now. I did have some back ups and I’m trying to retrieve what I can. If you haven’t done so already I’d urge you to back up! It would be a shame to see your beautiful work go the same way as mine. I have just started a new blog http://www.iwalkalone.co.uk and will try to add some of the better posts from the old as and when I can.

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    1. My heart sank as I read of your plight. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a blog backup. Thanks for the reminder. I look forward to new posts from you. In the meantime, I will “follow” the new website. Thanks, Marie.

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