Family Heirloom Problems: My Grandparents’ Corner Cabinets Are Ruining My Life

Yes, it’s me. I’m “that guy” on Craigslist. No, not the one who sends you a $1,000 check for your $100 pair of vintage deco wall sconces, and then asks you to wire the difference, immediately cancels the check, and disappears. I’m the other one.

The one who advertises a pair of vintage mahogany corner cabinets for $600 all-in, and then when his cell phone blows up decides to pull the ad and post it again…after doubling the price. And then when a handful of buyers quickly agree to pay $1,200, suddenly goes ghost for a week and reposts the ad for $2,800.

I had no idea how much the corner cabinets were worth. I only knew that I’d been lugging them around for more than a decade, from one apartment to the next; that they were absurdly heavy, and that they didn’t go with anything, even in a cool retro sort of way. This stuff predates midcentury “Mad Men” chic by a decade at least. It’s Victorian, candy-dish-and-doilies granny chic, which is to say it’s not really chic at all.

The corner cabinets have turned out to be an unusually maddening inheritance for a number of reasons, but especially because they can only fit in corners. That was bad enough when I had a single room in the center of a railroad apartment. Now I have my own place, the main feature of which is a loft-like living room/dining room/kitchen area that’s known as “open plan.” It’s a big rectangle, one corner of which is devoted to the front entryway, another to the bathroom door, while the third is occupied by a built-in bookshelf, and the fourth houses the kitchen sink.

Which is why one of my grandmother’s corner cabinets currently inhabits the basement, and the other is bunking unhappily in my son’s bedroom on the promise that its presence is only temporary. The last thing I want to do is pass on this “situation” to the next generation.

Because then there’s the issue of what you put in a corner cabinet. Books don’t fit on the pie-shaped shelves within. The lower recesses are perfect for fine china. Indeed, that’s what my grandparents put there, but of course I didn’t inherit their fine china (and if I had, I’d be bitching about that instead). Knick-knacks and tchotchkes are pretty much the only logical inhabitants of a corner cabinet, and I do have plenty of those – or I did, before the Knick Knack Wars.

The corner cabinets are excessively ornate, built of richly stained mahogany, with brass knobs and gently curved glass fronts. They are part of a full dinette set, acquired in the early 1940s, which included a massive oval table, six dining-room chairs, and a sideboard – all of it long gone. My mom was a child when the furniture was bought to fill a newly purchased home. The corner cabinets spoke to the class ambitions of a young married couple – a pharmacist in a Washington, D.C. soda shop (the local greasers called him “Doc”) and a high school art teacher – just starting a family amid the booming economy of the war years.

Seven decades later, they’re a pair of dust-collecting millstones that instead speak to the laziness of their grandson.

I’m not sure why I held onto the corner cabinets as long as I did. Part of it, no doubt, was about duty – misplaced though it clearly has been. (“My god, you still have those?” my mom exclaimed when I called her to ask about them.) Part was a reluctance to sever a connection to the past, however tenuous – the same reason I still have my grandparents’ black desk telephone, the one with the actual bell and the metal dial and the heavy-ass receiver perfect for slamming down after threatening, “I’ll see you in court, pal!”

The main reason I kept the corner cabinets, though, is that I just didn’t know what else to do with them. I figured nobody would want them. That they’d become obsolete, every bit as useful as the set of shiny aluminum CD storage stands I’d reluctantly set on the street a few years back. It turns out I was wrong. There is actually a market for this stuff. All of which is simply to say: They’re available on Craigslist (delivery not included). But act fast. At just $6,400 for the pair, they’re priced to move.

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