Welcome to Innisfree: My Love Affair with Silver

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Silver and me, we’ve been together for over 30 years, and our love affair is still shining bright. Nearly everywhere you look in my cottage, you’ll find evidence of my enduring passion for this precious metal: trays, urns, candlesticks, boxes, you name it! Like a lot of us who fall in love, I was set up by a friend.

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Nancy is 20 years older than me, and we became fast friends when I was in my late 20s, just starting Nell Hill’s. I was still evolving my personal decorating style then, and in the blink of an eye, Nancy, with her fresh take on feathering your nest, became my muse and definer of all-things-cool in interior design.

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The first time I visited Nancy’s home in the country, I was like a sponge, absorbing everything I saw in her impeccably decorated home. I’d never before seen anyone approach decorating like Nancy did, mixing together the rustic and the refined to create a visual contrast that was intriguing, yet satisfying in its simplicity.

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Before I met Nancy, I thought that formal pieces like silver serving trays and tea sets should be displayed with deference in a china cabinet. But here, on a rustic farm table so worn it looked like it might cave in, Nancy had placed an elegant five armed silver candelabra and a huge blue and white porcelain bowl filled with natural treasures she discovered on her treks through the countryside: a beautiful pebble, a fallen bird’s nest, a pine cone. In her kitchen, a gleaming silver food dome that looked like it belonged in an English manor home rested on an old washed pine sideboard. It was mixed up, and I loved it.

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For a girl who watched Out of Africa at least ten times in order to drink in the romantic décor of the African plantation home (and maybe Robert Redford!), Nancy’s home was heaven. And, the soil from which I grew my own style.  I started to collect silver pieces and experiment with how to display them in my home to create a feeling of relaxed elegance.

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To my delight, I discovered that my mother-in-law Mimi was a kindred spirit when it came to silver. She, too, had collected it for years. And, to my even greater delight, she wanted to share it with me! I told her never to shop for me, to instead hand down to me pieces in her collection she no longer wanted.

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For Christmas or my birthday, if I was on Mimi’s good side, I would unwrap a piece of her treasured grape-leaf-pattern silver plate. When I was in the dog house, I received things like an old dusty basket that had been buried in her garage for years. One year, she gave me her divine silver tea set, which I displayed in my Atchison home for years. When we moved to the cottage, we just didn’t have a spot for it in our snug little space. So I passed in on to our daughter Kelly, who now displays it on her dining room buffet. Some day, it will be my granddaughter Maeve’s.

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When we moved, I had to carefully curate my new little home because we didn’t have a lot of spots to display my treasures. The silver pieces I could not bear to part with are the highlight of my displays.

Tiered silver servers hold delicacies when I entertain. You’ll find silver pieces dotted about in my bookcases. A silver coffee urn and silver candlesticks perch on a shelf above my stove. Silver trays and platters are the base for many of the displays on my tables.

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Some people really like the aged patina of tarnished silver, but for me, the more brilliant the shine, the better. Bright, sparkling silver is one of life’s little luxuries. So the silver gets a good polish every few months — and always before Nancy comes over — making my whole home feel a bit  more inviting, a wonderful place to welcome guests!


Next Week … Want to make your bedside tables beautiful? I will have four looks to inspire you.