Where do creative ideas come from when decorating your home? With websites like Houzz and Pinterest, the possibilities are exciting, inspiring and endless. At times however, the abundance and often the absurdity of the images available on the web today can make the creative process a little overwhelming. That's why when a home decor idea comes to you from out of the blue, it often ends up being the creative idea that brings a homeowner the most pleasure overtime. Though it's a bit convoluted, one of my favorite home decor ideas came when I least expected it. I started collecting sterling silver sugar shakers after, Annie Groer, a reporter with the Washington Post, mentioned Liz Workman's book called, "Dr. Johnson's Doorknob."
One morning seven years ago, Annie Groer wrote an article for the Home Section of the Washington Post called, “Secretary Albright’s Sugar Shakers: And Other Significant Parts of Great Women’s Houses.” She was inspired to write the piece after British writer-photographer Liz Workman published her book on great men’s furnishings called "Dr. Johnson's Doorknob: And Other Significant Parts of Great Men's Houses." Much to Groer’s dismay, the book featured personal effects and architectural details of eighteen famous dead men. Not one great woman was mentioned in Liz Workman’s book!
Liz Workman’s book featured many photographs and few words. The forward was written by Germaine Greer, an acclaimed feminist, she explained in the forward that “most of the houses in this book were inhabited and run by women, whose influence has been obliterated by history.” Even in the “modest dwellings” that later became the museums of these famous women, “there is nothing designated Jane Austen’s chair or Charlotte Bronte’s desk." "These women did not have property or space of their own” because women were not allowed to.
Times have changed and Annie Groer's memorable piece in the Washington Post brought “focus on things that are, or were, “significant parts” of the domestic lives of five great women.” Of the five women Groer chose to spotlight that day, three were still alive at the time. The women included in the article were Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opera singer Denyce Graves, educator Mary McLeod and suffragette Alice Paul.
The photographs of these five women and the “significant parts” of their household were remarkable. These women were doing great things outside their homes and at the same time setting the tone and direction for their home decor. In particular, the photos of Madeleine Albright’s collection of antique, sterling silver, sugar shakers were quite beautiful. Secretary Albright liked to place them on a mirrored tray and they were used as a centerpiece on her dining room table when she “ran through her official flower budget" as UN Ambassador.”
Secretary Albright's silver sugar shakers looked so elegant and simple standing on a polished silver tray. It was a fabulous idea for an exquisite centerpiece. Naively, I thought I could achieve Madeline Albright's home decor idea by quickly going on eBay and buying up each and every sugar shaker that came up at a bargain price. I thought, "Who uses sugar shakers anymore? These relics will be a dime a dozen!" Unfortunately, I soon discovered that some antique sugar shakers were a bit more expensive than others. Who knew that other folks, besides Madeleine Albright, collected silver sugar shakers? On eBay, they sold anywhere from $50-$1000 per shaker. I suspected that Secretary Albright must have used her "personal budget” when buying sterling, silver sugar shakers to adorn her dining room table when she entertained diplomatics at her home in Bethesda, Maryland.
Fortunately over a number of years, it was possible to slowly accumulate an antique sugar shaker collection of my own. They were found on eBay, consignment shops and antique stores. I have never paid more than $75 for a shaker. My collection of sugar shakers are less elaborate than Ms. Albright’s, but everyday now my collection quietly stand on the piano on a mirrored tray in the living room of our home. On mornings when sunlight pours in through the windows dancing through my small, cluster of shakers, it reminds me that this home decor idea was inspired by a great person who was the first woman in American history to become a United States Secretary of State. I also thank Annie Groer for writing her Post article. Her story still reminds me how fortunate we are to be women living in the United States today. It wasn't that long ago when “women did not have property or a space of their own.” In many countries throughout the world, this is still the case.
I'm also truly grateful to all these women who were able to share their creative ideas both inside and outside their homes. As the world spins all around us, it's often these small treasures in our houses that sets the warmth and tone of a home. Home is where we should feel safe and sound, where we should be treated with kindness, dignity, love and respect. Out the blue, it's nice to be reminded how lucky we are.