When my husband, Paul, and I were married in 1986, we didn’t buy any new furniture. Our bed was literally his bachelor pad, my mother provided an old dining room table and I toted along the faithful desk that had once belonged to my grandfather.

We did add new pieces over the years, but we also acquired more old items, such as my aunt’s secretary and an arts and crafts style magazine rack that once belonged to my in-laws. Thus, the ratio of old to new remained in favor of the old, which was fitting for the 1870s-era house we own.

Recently though, we demolished an attached shed and added a family room to our home. For the first time in my life, I had the chance to decorate a virgin room from the floor up. I instantly knew everything in it would be brand spanking new.

As I added each piece to the room — chairs, a TV stand, bookshelves — I was gleeful that everything coordinated. One thing about outfitting your home with family “heirlooms” is that it can create a hodgepodge effect. The lighting in our living room, for example, includes a mission-style floor lamp, a big blue Scandinavian design fixture and a genuine mid-century gem that I call the “bowling ball lamp.”

Is this charming or chaotic?

I enjoyed looking around my new room and seeing all the things I had bought with intention. This feeling was so different from the pleasure I took in using items that my relatives had owned.

The latter included pieces of furniture I had eyed and appreciated from a young age. When my grandparents moved from Massachusetts to Maryland upon their retirement in the 1960s, my grandfather gave my father his desk. It’s a walnut mission-style with built-in bookcases on either side. I would sit at it and draw and color at every opportunity.

Dad gave me the desk when I moved into my first apartment. He painted it, and a bureau that came from my mother’s family home, white.

I was thrilled to have the desk. It represented a literary heritage to me, a wannabe writer. My grandfather, who had emigrated from Brazil as a young man, had filled his desk with books as he educated himself.

Paul refinished both the desk and bureau a few years into our marriage, so the desk is now returned to its natural glory. It is one of my prized possessions, yet I have sometimes felt vaguely unsettled while using it. Could furniture have memories?

Meanwhile, my mother’s sister, my Aunt Stella, gave me her secretary. I had coveted it for years. The small desk with its flip-down writing surface had stood in the family homestead for as long as I could remember. There was never a chair in front of it and I never saw anyone sit down at it. The secretary was simply used to hold bills, receipts and important documents.

I thought of the secretary as my utility desk. Since it was downstairs, while my grandfather’s desk was upstairs, I tended to use it more, especially for quick projects. It was an imperfect writing spot for two reasons, though. The drop leaf was just big enough for my laptop computer, and I couldn’t get to the drawers unless I folded up the leaf, which meant moving the laptop elsewhere.

I wasn’t getting any literary directives from this desk. Perhaps, I thought, I should close it up and use it as my aunt did — for storage.

The construction of the new room offered me the opportunity to buy a desk. It is a simple table with one drawer, and It has room for me to spread out papers and books alongside my computer. I bought a task lamp and a real office chair to go with it.

The only message it carries is a stern “get to work!”

If I need a friendlier muse, I can always visit my grandfather’s desk, which rustles my writerly genes. When I must don my business cap, the secretary awaits. Yes, I have equipped it with an organizer that is stuffed full of, well, semi-important documents.

When I am ready to write, though, I leave my ancestors and old house behind and enter my 21st-century room. As I cross over to my sleek, black desk, I feel a sensation that is strange and new to me.

Is that the future calling?

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

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