Why My Favorite Home Goods Store Is Actually My Parents’ Basement

published Sep 6, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Some folks love sports, or hiking, or fishing, or whatever activities are listed in the average dating profile. I even know a handful of people who, for whatever reason, are into clowning. But from my earliest memory, my thing has been home design. In preschool, I reorganized my playhouse to resemble the “Friends” apartment. In middle school, I played “The Sims” not to simulate bizarre social scenarios, but to build homes (rosebud;!, you’re the real MVP). And while other teens may have been spending Friday night down by the ravine, drinking in the back of their ’93 Cavaliers, I, on the other hand, was at home, perpetually rearranging my room.

As an adult, not much has changed in this respect: I still love to decorate and redecorate my space. And unlike the child-version of myself, I now have an income! Which is great! But with an income also comes responsibility. While I’d like to drop my whole paycheck at West Elm, I unfortunately have to pay bills, save for retirement, and attend all these dang weddings. That means my design budget is slimmer than ideal. (And before you get on my case, Baby Boomer, I sincerely have never eaten avocado toast.)

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

But thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a mother who has the organizational skills of Marie Kondo coupled with the preservation habits of a professional archivist. Our basement looks like the final scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where tons of top-secret cases are piled in a cavernous building. Except instead of occult artifacts, the labeled boxes contain random trinkets my mom has stowed away across the eras. On a recent excursion to the Magnuson basement I found the following:

  • a 1960s-era faux tortoiseshell ice bucket
  • a woven tray
  • Russian nesting dolls
  • albums
  • a rotary phone
  • a mirrored tray
  • a copy of the classic 1969 album “Christmas with Colonel Sanders” (Mom and Dad, I need answers!)

As you can see, my basement provides ample opportunities for taking part in the recent ’70s design throwback, the unrelenting mid-century modern looks, and even fashion’s current ’90s obsession. It’s an incredible resource for decorating fodder at the unbeatable price of free.

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

But what might be even more important is the second life these sentimental pieces are getting. While I could have picked up a replica rotary phone at any chain store to plop on my console table, this the only one that my great-grandmother used day-in and day-out. When my guests come and fidget with the dial, the number they see listed atop the circle is hers. I could have found a jackalope head at a thrift store to mount on my wall and if my friends asked if there’s any connection to my jackalope tattoo, I could say yes. But I couldn’t say it in the way I can now, since the jackalope that hangs on my wall belonged to my grandfather—and is my tattoo’s actual inspiration. I love that because it’s his, I have an excuse to share anecdotes about him pretty often. And when potential suitors ask me about our beloved “Christmas with Colonel Sanders”… Well, I just laugh because it has no emotional depth or background but is just so hilariously stupid that I just need it in my space.

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

I know I am extremely lucky to have not only a family, but one nearby with storage full of bountiful nonsense. While you may not have a meticulous basement to shop, you probably have friends you can trade decor with (a friend recently gave me an extra set of Dungeons and Dragons dice which now adorn my bookshelf) or a home full of cute clutter of your own you can repurpose. Have books sitting there waiting to be donated? Instead, why not pile them up or paint the spines? Instead of keeping those tarot cards in a deck or those comic books in a pile, frame a couple of them and create a kitschy gallery wall. Nail up your hats and old medals and roll up blankets as accent pieces.

While my family may be great, I think the moral of my story here isn’t that you need to be a Magnuson to make an apartment you really feel at home in. All it takes is a bit of deep digging—both in terms of sourcing and, you know, some of that emotional stuff, too. I love my apartment because it displays my interests, exhibits my quirks, and is centered in my family history. It’s me and, because of that, it’s awesome.

More great Real Estate reads: