The Shopkeeper Diaries ~ Mismatching Dining Room Chairs

I grew up in a family home where everything matched ~ chairs, tables, bedlinen, towels, curtains….

Everything in our home was made to go with everything else, as if to err on the side of clashing colours, textures, patterns and styles was not proper and not right.

The Italians call this “bella figura”, a term which applies the same sense of appropriateness and thoughtfulness to fashion design, grooming, manners and the home.

Yet when I left home and had enough money to buy my own apartment with my own things in it, predictably, I decided to rebel and go wild, and buy everything mis-matching. This was the late 1980s in London, where I lived at the time, and shabby-chic, flea market finds and recycled vintage was just coming into vogue, after a long period of being out of fashion.

I had a small flat off the Gloucester Road, and then lived in a tiny cottage in Spitalfields, and I would spend nearly every single Saturday going down to the Portobello Road in Notting Hill or the market stalls in Brick Lane and Spitalfields market, where I would source odd little stools, rejected chairs, wonky tables and bits of fabric remnants along with my fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs. I would carry one furniture piece off at a time, lugging my booty and weekend shopping awkwardly onto the bus.

I could not afford anything fancy, nor could I afford re-upholstery services. So I would cover all manner of ugly chairs with yards of Indian cloths, old linens or butter muslins, and atop of old tables I would place a jam jar posies of bright flowers and fruit bowls, to hide stains and dents on the wood.

My parents would visit my London flat and in a thick Italian accent would exclaim. “Silvana, it all looks so messy. Nothing matches!”

As the decades passed I never lost the thrill of the chase, the hunting down of old things and the creating of something fresh, clean and pretty with strong fabric, beeswax and elbow grease.

My husband and I also inherited bits of furniture, crockery and linens here and there to add to our collection, and our subsequent homes, both in Britain and Italy {where we moved to for four years} grew bigger, fuller and more eclectic. The mis-matching grew and grew.

Now that I have my own shop, I still stick to tried and tested ways. Mis-matching chairs, china and linens all add interest and character to a dining room. I have found an excellent upholsterer who refurbishes time-worn pieces from scratch, restructuring, refilling and restitching seats till they are firm and perfect.

If two chairs match in my dining room, I move them away from one another and insert a different style or pattern of chair between them. More comfy home than Ideal Home really, and more bohemian than “bella figura”.

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