As a child, I was fascinated with my mom’s desk. It was a refractory table that was part of our living room. I was usually the first one awake at my house and I would sit in her seat and pretend to type on her typewriter or get out one of her legal notepads and start “taking notes” early most Saturday mornings — always with one of the same fine felt tip pens that filled a handmade pottery cup on her desk. I’d watch her early in the morning before school, working on her books, with her green ruler out, going over each line to check for mistakes before turning her work into her editor. After school, I’d sometimes go to her office, where I had a fort under her desk. Really, I was just emulating what she had on her own desk, in my fort, to try to be just like her.
It was more than that, though. More than just her desk where she wrote from. It was the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that lined the wall. The wingback chairs that sat in front of the fireplace, power clashing in the best way. One was a blue gingham and the other was mauve, grey and maroon in a British fabric pattern I’ve yet to ever see again. She had a delicate shell lamp next to the front door and brass floor lamps on either side of the velvet sofa, long before they were cool. Her attention to detail was obvious to me, even as a child. Everything was displayed or arranged with purpose. Nothing was there just because. When I moved into my first home at age 18, in a sort of rebellion, my home was a hodgepodge of thrifted goods and hand-me-downs. It felt busy and hindered me from feeling comfortable. I didn’t want to be at home and as I began to peel back the layers of why, I realized that I hadn’t brought my mom’s aesthetic with me. I slowly started to edit my apartment, arrange it with purpose, and it began to feel more like home. My mom’s home. I started to think about how everything that I bring into my home needs a place to live. Otherwise, I might just not need it.
She has always been a great collector of art as well, often buying from young artists before they had made it big. She had the keen sense to see their talent long before they might have even known it themselves. My mom has continued to combine art picked up on her world travels with her everyday aesthetic, too. She carefully curated her walls the way she did the rest of the house, all things hung with purpose. I have been lucky enough that she’s gifted me some of her furniture and art over the years, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s those pieces and art that start the most conversations when people come over to my house. Even art that she’s bought for me that never hung in her home gets the most feedback. She has an eye that was never fully utilized. I often wonder what would have happened if she had taken the design route rather than the media route. I can only imagine what she would have created. While her walls are white, the art and goods that bring her home to life jump off the walls, bursting with color.
When I began working on my first book, I knew that I was going to need to have my desk in my living room, just like my mom did when I was a child. I wanted to carry on the tradition that my mom set up and also let my son see me working at my desk, secretly hoping that he’d be as intrigued as I was as a child. My mom, Dorothy Abbott, now lives just a couple of blocks from us, and her house — even though there have been several moves since I was a child — still has the same feel. Many of the same pieces have moved around the country with her, and the traditions have carried on. Scroll below to get a peek into my mom’s current house, and I hope you find as much joy in her aesthetic as I have all these years. —Erin
Photography by Erin Austen Abbott / @erinaustenabbott
Image above: Dorothy’s collection of books has grown. Custom-made bookshelves line the converted two-car garage, giving her a library room on one side with a wall dividing the home gym on the other.