Antique wood wardrobe

The year I slept in our dinning room and used an old wardrobe for a closet

I shared a room with my older sister Sarah for most of my childhood. I’m the youngest of three girls, two years younger than her and five years younger than my oldest sister Jenny. Both houses I grew up in only had three rooms so somebody had to share, and it was us! Jenny had her own room because… well, she was the oldest.

Sarah and I were buddies, like roommates for all of the years we lived together with our parents until we moved out to go to college. Well, all except for one year. That was the year I slept in our dinning room.

The inspiration for this story comes from a picture of a wardrobe that we had at the time. The actual wardrobe is now in Sarah’s possession. She sent me this picture in a text to ask me if I had wanted it a little over a year ago. At the time she was helping my folks who were clearing out the house I grew up in to get it ready to sell.

Here’s what it looks like:

Antique wood wardrobe
The Wardrobe

As you can see it’s fairly sizable, so moving it from their house to… well, anybody’s house… is something one has to consider carefully. I ultimately decided not to take it on.

My sister was always rearranging

The year I slept in the dinning room all started when my mom was out of the house. Sarah and I were home alone. I was twelve going on thirteen and she was fourteen. It was the summer of 1994 leading into the 1995 school year. I was going to be in the eighth grade and would be joining her in high school the fall of the following year. Jenny was going to be in her Senior year of high school and would be going off to college in a year.

Sarah had an idea.

Sarah was always looking at the home section of the newspaper. We’d get the Wisconsin State Journal everyday. She’d get out the floor plans and mark them up with a pencil at our kitchen table. She’d change things to be more “functional” or “flow” better as she liked to say. She’d even sometimes draw up her own plans, make notes next to her ideas and show them to me. She used the tiniest of writing, kinda like my Dad but neater. My writing was always pretty big and messy.

She’d wake up some mornings and say, “Wanna rearrange our room Annie?”

It never surprised me. She loved to do it, and if we hadn’t done it in a while it was like she had some itch to scratch. Seeing as I sometimes had nothing better to do, I’d agree to it.

We had tried a lot of things over the years with two twin beds, two tall matching white dressers, and one smaller white dresser with a book shelf attached to the top. Our best trick she came up with was dividing our room down the middle with those. I had the window side and she had the side by the door. Her tall dresser and the one with the bookshelf were facing her. Mine was facing me. We had a white wicker room divider sorta backed up to the ugly backs of her dressers so I had something a bit prettier on my side. But, I found out later she gave me less room on my side without me knowing! Either way, it was a way to give us each our own space.

It worked for a while.

I don’t have too many memories about sleeping in that specific arrangement because I don’t think it lasted too long. I do remember being on my side of that divided room though when I found out my mom’s mom had cancer. I remember crying on my side of the room and wishing I could be alone. I remember my dad’s dad coming over to my bedside one time when he visited and him trying to tell me it was gonna be okay, and sorta try to get me to toughen up. I knew he was trying to help but also that I was a bit mad and I wanted my own space even more.

The brief bed in the closet idea

So, quickly before I tell you how I ended up in the dinning room… I’ll get there I promise,  I just remembered Sarah also tried to convince me to sleep in our closet! Yup.

Our closet was a walk-in. I actually have a picture of it that I took before my parents moved out. Here it is:

Now as you can see, it’s fairly big. As kids we loved it! We could put a ton of clothes and shoes and even toys in there if we wanted. At one point dressers even went in there. But because it was so big, Sarah thought I could turn that into my room! She measured out my mattress at one point and I think it would just fit. She proposed the idea to me and I actually considered it!

She even started talking to my parents and telling them that technically they could cut a door into the bathroom that was next to it towards the back if they wanted to. I seriously think she had them contemplating that for at least a weekend. Needless to say, I never ended up sleeping in the closet or turning that into my bedroom.

Nice try Sarah.

Divide and conquer, with a wardrobe.

Like I said, my mom wasn’t home the day Sarah got the idea we could turn the dining room into my bedroom. At least I think it was her idea. I’m not really sure anymore. But based on her past attempts to remedy us sharing a room, I’m guessing it was.

She pointed out that it wouldn’t work unless we could add a “closet space” and it needed to be divided out from the living room next to it. There was an opening in the wall that would need to be closed up or blocked to separate the two spaces.

In the “old days,” people used wardrobes for closets. We had one at the time, which I showed you above. It was in the basement. She said that if we could just get that old wardrobe up the steps we could divide out the space and prove to mom that it was a great idea and would work. I believed her.

So we did.

We lifted that heavy wooden wardrobe all the way up a flight of steps by ourselves! I vaguely remember having a friend there to help too, I can’t quite remember. But either way we did it. We knew it wasn’t safe about halfway through and were feeling stuck on the steps, but once we started we knew we had better keep going.

So we did.

When mom found out we had done this she was not happy at first. I think she was absolutely shocked we even attempted it because it was such a large and heavy piece of furniture. But I also think she was not surprised because the two of us had come up with crazy ideas like this before. This wasn’t much different, and what were we gonna do now that it was already upstairs? I guess she just decided to hear us out and see what we had in mind.

So she did.

Placing the wardrobe and setting up the space

We positioned the wardrobe facing in towards the dining room so it blocked almost 75% of the opening into the living room. Sarah had the idea to use the white wicker room divider again for the rest. That helped cover up most of the back of the wardrobe too and make the other side still look good to my mom when she sat on her sofa on the other side. This was a “selling point” I’m sure Sarah made sure to emphasize. My tall white dresser was on the wall next to that, which we could even hang a mirror over! I loved that.

This was also the year I got my favorite yellow hair pick. I found a way to sort out my naturally curly hair that was getting more and more tricky to figure out. I’d stand at my tall white dresser in that room using my wide-toothed yellow hair pick. Believe it or not, I still have that hair pick and I wrote a post where it gets mentioned here: Three Bad Hair Day Stories: Say it…Feathered on the side? (Part 2)

Sarah gave me the lower white dresser, minus the bookshelf, to put my guinea pig on top of. His name was Herb. That went on the opposite side of the wardrobe, closest to the kitchen. I appreciated that. Soon enough, Dad helped moved my bed down and a desk got added to the mix at the opposite side of my bed. My mom agreed she wasn’t into a formal dining room anyway, never had been, and this was something we could try for a while.

Here’s a picture of the dining room looking at it from the living room. You can see the space we had to fill up and block with the wardrobe.

1980s house dinning room and living room
Our dinning room looking from the living room

The final curtain, with a tension rod of course.

The last thing to fix was the lack of a door going into the kitchen. I needed something for privacy. A curtain with a tension rod was the solution we came up with. Here’s a picture of it’s flowered pattern you can see on the left side. Yes, that’s me dressed as a hippie to go to school for either Halloween or a themed dress up day, not sure.

Me dressed as a hippie in 1995
Me dressed as a hippie in 1995

I wrote a whole blog post about the large colorful picture hanging over my bed called: How a Stitchery Picture Inspired my Bedtime Stories. The grandma I spoke about that was diagnosed with cancer made that picture and she was on my mind a lot that year. There’s also a picture of her with me and my cousins framed, just next to my pillow and tissue box. The pillow on my bed with the lace edge was also made by her and gets a mention in: Cream of wheat, with lumps please.

I love seeing the little white eyelet dust ruffle at the base of my bed, so typical 1990s decor. Also, the little bowl of potpourri next to my bed on the little wooden box. Another thing that was super common in our house then…oh scented stuff. I still have that wooden box with the heart on it too! Wonder what’s inside it now?

The little ladder like thing next to my tissue box held my earrings all organized, loved that. It’s probably from Claire’s boutique at the East Town Mall in Madison. I also see the tiny little Cinderella music box on top of my headboard shelf. I still have that too. I’ve always loved Disney. My mom probably put the plants there since they were in the room before it was where I slept for that year. I’m sure I didn’t mind. I’ve always loved plants too. Perhaps it was a small compromise for taking over part of her space as well. Seems like a win, win.

The wardrobe as a closet worked pretty good too

I have to admit, Sarah’s idea worked. That wardrobe did the trick. It gave me enough space for my clothes and I loved having all the drawers and space to keep everything just how I wanted it. I found ways to organize things in a unique way and get the much needed “me space” we both craved. It even had a little key you had to turn to open and close the door, which was kinda cool.

In a lot of ways, I think it fueled my independence and also taught me how to make the most of a space with all it’s quirky little details. Having worked in the past as a Professional Organizer for over seven years in my adult life, I’m sure I gained a lot of insight from this experience.

The only negative I’d say was that sound traveled. If anyone was up for a snack in the kitchen or if Jenny or Sarah had friends over to watch TV in the family room, I could hear it. My curtain provided privacy, but obviously did nothing to block noise.

It was sometimes funny seeing people’s reactions to my space behind the curtain. But generally they found it clever and were curious how I had it all set up. It really worked out pretty well though, and I was proud of it.

How we got that wardrobe in the first place

I’m not exactly sure how we got the wardrobe. I think it was my great uncle’s actually. It somehow ended up with us and we used it for dress up items for most of the years we had it in our basement. Later on it stored arts and crafts items.

If someone could say they bonded with a piece of furniture, I’d say that was the case for me and that wardrobe. That wardrobe gave me the freedom to be alone and have a place to process the changes happening in my family at the time. I’m very thankful for that.

A place to be alone at last

My Grandma K died in 1995, the same year I spent a year sleeping in the dinning room.

I wore a pink sweater to her funeral.

It was the first time I had ever lost anybody close to me. The next year I would go to high school and my oldest sister, who I looked up to so much, would be moving out for college. Although I knew I could then move back upstairs into her room, it was a lot to handle.

Immediately after my grandma’s funeral, my bedroom in the dining room held a lot of the flowers. Some of the flowers sat on top of my white headboard, some on top of that wardrobe. It was beautiful.

Having a place to be alone helped. Having a place to express myself without getting approval from anyone else allowed me to grow into myself. At thirteen, I think it was the perfect time for such an unusual set up, and all thanks to… an old wardrobe.

 

What’s something you did as a teenager that was out of the norm for your family? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below.

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