This past weekend, I spent the better part of a day sifting through antique shops in the vicinity of my new home on Vancouver Island. There is a kind of dampness on the coast that needles its way into your bones, and on this particular day I felt a chill settle deep in my core. However, as soon as I opened the door of yet another antique store, I found myself drawn in by the warm invitation of the pieces on display. Almost instantly and repeatedly, I was transported by the well-worn items. These antique shops (well, all antique shops, for that matter) hold a level of magic and allure that is arresting for me. I am drawn to the nod of a slower and less complicated era where there was time to create with love and craftsmanship. My steps lighten, my voice quiets, and I embrace a curious reverence befitting of a sacred space.
But beyond the feeling that I have in these stores, there is something about the charm of antique furniture that often transcends concrete explanation. I love to run my fingers over an antique chair or table and explore all of the flaws, scratches and dents that have gathered over time. It is a feeling I either get or don’t get when it comes to furniture. I feel it with an antique bookcase, for example, but never with one from Ikea.
“It’s the patina,” a friend said to me after we explored this topic together.
“Ahh, yes…the patina,” I nodded approvingly, and then asked, “you are totally right, but what the heck is patina anyways?”
For me, patina remains an elusive word used to describe an item that has grown more appealing with use. The flaws and imperfections acquired throughout its life ripen into the elusory glow of patina. What is imperfect about the piece is what makes it beautiful.
The essence of patina rings true for us as human beings as well. We too develop our own patina brought about by life experience—success, pain, joy, disappointment, loss, fear and discovery. Our own mixture of attributes, characteristics, shadowy bits and talents are precisely what gives us our unique light, our personalized stamp on this world. These so-called imperfections or flaws are really hints to our magic and power; they give us an authentic luster that entices others with interest or awe.
But so often we hide our dark or unruly bits amidst the rush and busyness of our day-to-day. Our patina becomes cloaked within a prefabricated version of perfection endorsed by our modern world at every turn. We are told how to look, where to live, what to wear and what to do. By moving fast, we hope those around us won’t notice how incredibly flawed, uncertain and unworthy we really feel. But what we often don’t realize is that amid this overriding pressure to measure up and our sometimes-frantic attempts to be seen as worthy and enough, our inner shine is dulled and the luster of our patina becomes lost behind a well-crafted façade designed for others and not for us. Like an Ikea bookshelf, we boast clean lines and pragmatism but are left feeling a bit shaky or soulless.
It has been almost a week since welcoming new antiques into our home, and I continue to think about the power an item’s patina has on its environment. The glow of a well-worn piece is powerful, engaging and inspiring. Visitors to the house stop to admire and my own eyes consistently fall upon these pieces, exploring what is wholly imperfect and beautiful about them. Their presence reminds me to take the time to connect with and celebrate my own version of patina—the stuff that often feels out-of-place, painful or unlovable within me and to live a life that allows these scratches and dents to become a more integrated part of my essence.
After all, don’t we owe this to ourselves and each other - To allow our own unique patina—a hodgepodge of quirks, fears, hopes, joys, talents, and dreams—to shine forth so that others can bask in its glow and feel inspired (perhaps over and over again) to live their own lives with more fullness and grace? Perhaps so.