From FAD to Fabulous
Take away tips from a resourceful Iowa decorator as she mixes family heirlooms amid repurposed pieces and reproductions to transform her 1960s home into a Colonial haven.
Reuse, repurpose and recycle is a common catchphrase practiced by many designers today—and country decorators are no exception to that movement. But, some pieces have such special sentimental value that they are meant to hold onto their heritage rather than undergo an upcycle.
A musical memento in Mary Lou and Gary Flack’s Nevada, Iowa, home is one such treasure that retained its authentic appeal. If the Flacks’ violin could talk, it would surely express gratitude for its current “living” situation, nestled in its original red-velvet-lined case and displayed with pride next to an antique writing desk. The instrument, which once belonged to Mary Lou’s grandfather, could very well have ended up as part of a novelty display—in fact, Mary Lou recalls her mother being cautioned not to use it as a planter, which was a trend in the 1960s! Fortunately, the violin escaped that fate and was passed down to Mary Lou, who observes that she has moved past the “cutesy country” look she favored in the 1980s to embrace the more timeless Colonial and primitive styles. She feels especially fortunate that she has many pieces, including furnishings and photographs, with a connection to her family’s past. “I love being surrounded by my family history,” she notes. “I have a lot of things that have been passed down through four generations.”
Although she considers it lucky she has many family heirlooms to treasure, Mary Lou, a retired nurse, also enjoys having more time to travel with her husband to search for additional items to add to her collections. “He’s good about taking me places I want to go,” she says of Gary’s patience for her passion. “He’ll come in and look around … and then he goes back to the car to lounge!”
Mary Lou’s shopping strategy is not all about antiques, though. With inspiration gleaned from perusing home decor magazines and participating in online decorating groups, Mary Lou has developed a flair for mixing reproductions and repurposed goods into her rooms, which allows her to get the look she loves at a bargain price. For example, she snagged her four-poster bed for a mere $10 at an auction, and then sanded and refinished it to give it an aged appearance. The living room mantel is a reproduction picked up in Missouri, but propped with pewter, samplers, old books, a photo of Mary Lou’s great-great-grandmother and other collectibles, it’s hard to distinguish from an authentic piece.
Mary Lou loves a good road trip, but she sometimes finds objects much closer to home—next door, for example. When she and Gary remodeled their kitchen a few years ago, a neighbor who was moving offered her a fold-down desk and an older-looking “dry sink” on wheels that she now uses as an island. If she can’t find just the right item to suit her style, she will adapt something to fit the situation; for example, updating accent furniture with black paint to complement other furnishings in her family room.
As Mary Lou’s collections continue to grow and reflect her evolving style, one thing is sure to remain constant—her ability to skillfully weave the old and new together to create a warm, welcoming home that pays homage to her family’s past.