Can I have a second helping of home décor?

I’ll eat just about anything you can put on a plate, but I won’t admire just any plate you can put on a wall.

Those plates must be historic. And Southern. And tell a story.

When my wife of 15 years and I were concocting our wedding registry, (OK, let me restate that more accurately: when my wife of 15 years was concocting her wedding registry) there was one item that popped up on the “must have” list I had never heard of.

“Honey, what’s a Georgia plate?”

That’s when I got that look. You married guys know the one. The look that says “Are you really so unrefined as to not know about Georgia plates?”

Louise Irwin
Louise Irwin, creator of the Georgia Plates, would be so proud of our living room wall.

It’s the same look, incidentally, that I received when I asked such questions as “Aren’t window treatments really just curtains?” and “What’s a toile?” and “Why do there need to be so many pillows?”

As it turns out these Georgia plates are so famous that practically everyone who ever attended a Transylvania Club of Sandersville meeting knows all about them.

What? You say you don’t know the story of Louise Irwin and the Transylvania Club of Sandersville? OK, well, maybe I don’t feel so bad.

You see, back in 1932, Mrs. Irwin latched onto the idea of creating a series of Wedgwood plates depicting scenes from Georgia’s history to sell as a fundraiser for the club. Clearly Mrs. Irwin envisioned that 80 years later suburban housewives would be assembling and reassembling them into artistic formations on their living room walls.

Nancy Hart on a pink Georgia Plate
Nancy Hart says to the Tories: “Don’t be bringin’ that Torie stuff into MY log cabin!”

These plates are actually pretty cool. My favorite is the one depicting Nancy Hart holding a bunch of Tories, whoever they are, at gunpoint. Nothing says “Georgia pride” like gun violence against men in wigs in pink Wedgwood.

I think we’ve eaten on these plates exactly one time. It was a special occasion, like Christmas or Easter, when it seemed appropriate to stare at James Edward Oglethorpe under a pile of mashed red potatoes infused with gorgonzola.

There is so much I don’t understand about home decorating, and I’m sure this essay only confirms my lack of sophistication and taste. I don’t know when it became a “thing” to put plates on walls, but ever since our wedding guests happily complied with my wife’s dreams of owning the entire collection, we’ve had Georgia plates on our walls.

Georgia Plates
A very symmetrical and orderly display of Georgia’s history in Wedgwood plate form on my living room wall. Ain’t I sophisticated?

I do think they add something to our home, though, in a weird museum kind of way. In good light and at the right distance, I can actually read them. And if I take one down, I can flip it over on the back and have marvelous dinner party conversation starters: “Did you know that in 1734 Oglethorpe traveled to London to present the Creek Indian chief Tomochichi to the Colony’s Trustees? Yes, well, they were accompanied by John Musgrove and his wife, Mary, who had served as the interpreter for Tomochichi and Oglethorpe. Can you pass the asparagus?”

Hmmm … maybe I’m beginning to understand why we don’t have many dinner party guests.

What I do think these plates say about the New South is that there is still an appreciation of history. In the Old South, there was a devotion to tradition. In the New South, we like old stuff to remind us we have roots, a foundation upon which we can innovate, but we aren’t held captive to it. Touches of the old accentuate the new in our lives reminding us that as much as society changes, we still have a narrative that unites us as Georgians and Southerners.

So, go ahead and put those Georgia plates on the walls. The Sandersville public library will benefit from the proceeds, and before you know it, there will be another day on the calendar appropriate for using them to eat, like Leap Day or Guy Fawkes Day.

What place do plates have in your decorating? Do you use dinnerware in your décor? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below, and happy eating/decorating!

Center of attention

The only two homes I have owned – or, more accurately, been on my way to owning – have had a fireplace. And with the fireplace comes the obligatory mantel.

Fireplace and mantel
Our lovely yet forlorn fireplace and mantel.

I will explore the wisdom and necessity of setting wood ablaze inside your home in a different essay, but today I am concerned more about the sociology of home spaces. There seems to be a waning tradition of gathering around the fireplace in the home and sharing family moments together.

This seems particularly out of fashion on 90-degree days in the South, but seasonal timing notwithstanding, the mantel doesn’t seem to have the same place of honor that it once had in the Southern home.

It has been replaced.

Sorry, mantel, you responsible older sibling who was trusted to hold our most precious heirlooms and photographs. There’s an exciting little baby in the house now that’s stealing all of the attention that once belonged exclusively to you.  You have been superseded by a younger, hipper piece of furniture that appeals to our societal ADD deceptively offering the antidote to our every need: the entertainment center.

There was a time in our home that my wife’s taste was to keep that unsavory device known as the television hidden completely from view, unless you were watching HGTV. Then, you
could retrieve the television from its secret location and watch it.

We have several pieces of elaborate furniture once designed to hold clothing now providing cover for the design-challenged box of nonstop noise and images.

But the television has come out of the closet.

Christmas of 2009, we received a new flat screen, high-definition television as a gift from Carla’s generous parents. It wasn’t grandiose, and it wasn’t the top of the line. It was a nice television that helped us move closer to the digital age. We are not early adopters
technologically by any stretch of the imagination.

This new flat screen, like all of the TVs before it, was tucked neatly away in a cabinet, an old wardrobe Carla picked up at a junk furniture store in Macon for $10. It still had the bar in it from which you hung clothes, presumably.

Our dream for our playroom and its multiplying toys was shelving. One cannot possibly think of shelving in the New South without visiting Ikea, so over the course of several years and a number of on-again, off-again flirtations with storage units at the Swedish home store, we settled on a Hemnes TV unit with Hemnes bookshelves and a bridging shelf.

Entertainment center
Our 'media solution' from Ikea and its load of magical items to hold our attention.

Now, our flat screen television, DVD player (no Blu-ray yet!), VCR (still), digital cable box and Wii game console all sit front and center to capture our undivided attention. And we have plenty of shelf space for books and games and bins of art materials and DVDs and puzzles and on and on and on.

I’m not counting, but I’d guess that we spend about two and a half minutes a year in front of our stately mantel with its plates depicting Georgia history and about two and a half hours a day in front of the “media solution.”

Todd Alcott’s poem “Television is a Drug,” which my videographer friend Beth Fulton set to video last year, says it all: “Look at me!” the television cries.

And in the New South, we happily comply.