Living With Our Regrets – And Learning From Them

I was relaxing in my living room at the end of a long day, my feet propped up on a footstool, a glass of red wine in my hand, my eyes scanning our modest collection of Arts & Crafts furnishings, my head making a list of things I needed to do: replace a missing tack on my footstool, move the magazine stand that is now catching a full afternoon of bright sun, wipe the dust out of a copper bowl, and put out a few more drink coasters.

Our Arts & Crafts collection is a combination of refinished antiques, a few precious pieces with their original finish, a dining room table and a floor lamp I made in my workshop, and works by contemporary craftsfirms: Michael Adams, the Stickley Company, Door Pottery, Dianne Ayres, Laura Wilder and several others.

I made a decision years ago that has since defined our collection: we could only buy those pieces we could actually use, while raising two sons and several dogs and cats in, as it turns out, five different houses over the course of thirty years.

And over those thirty-some years I have stood in front of hundreds of thousands of pieces of Arts & Crafts furniture, pottery, metalware and more. I have missed numerous bargains, most of whom I did not recognize at the time, and I have walked passed many sleepers.

But out of all of those hundreds of thousands of pieces I have seen, one in particular stands out – one alone has always stood unchallenged at the top of my list of “My Greatest Regrets.”

It was 1994 and I was in Minneapolis, on my way to the airport when I stopped by a small antiques shop I had seen on my way into the city.

As it turned out, a few days earlier the owner had plucked out of a house in St. Paul the sweetest piece of Gustav Stickley furniture I had ever seen: a 1904 circular tea table, just 28” high, 24” in diameter, with a dark, original finish, arched cross stretchers, exposed tenons and, best of all, a near-perfect, hard leather top.

It was a true gem, and within minutes I had fallen in love, but the $1200 price tag had me sitting on the fence, not knowing which way to go. I tried to concentrate on other pieces in her shop, but all paths kept leading back to this petite, perfect tea table.

I was smitten, but instead of following my heart, I followed my head. I talked myself out of it: it was a lot of money, the cost of shipping, the risk of damage, keeping the leather top looking great in our active household, blah, blah, blah.

And so I left for the airport without it.

Almost immediately I started feeling the regret. I nearly called her back from the waiting area at my gate. Had their been cell phones back then, I probably would have, but the line at the small bank of pay phones kept me in my seat.

Two days later, back at home, I came to my senses, but, of course, it was too late. The table had been snatched up by a smarter, more confident collector. It was gone.

I try to live by the motto “Given a lemon, make lemonade.” Well, that little table was burned into my memory. I may have left it back in Minneapolis, but I learned something from it. Even though I have never seen it or another table identical to it since then, that little tea table has been responsible for many of the pieces I did buy and do appreciate and do truly enjoy each day, for since that experience I have often reminded myself of this:

“The best time to buy a piece is when you see it.”

Until next Monday,

Thanks for stopping by!

Bruce Johnson