My coffee table is distressed. It’s been that way since my husband and I found it in a New Jersey furniture store. It was in a room with a sign reading, “distressed furniture,” surrounded by end tables, chairs, and dressers. I’ve watched enough episodes of This Old House to know that distressed furniture comes with marks, not emotional and psychological pain needing urgent attention. Still, it’s hard to use the term without a smile or a laugh.
Why did we buy a pre-dented and dinged table? Well, it’s a great table – stable, just the right size and shape, with rounded corners and turned legs. And we didn’t want a table so perfect that we wouldn’t use it. Who wants to wreck a perfect finish by putting the first scratch on the top? One scratch alone is obvious and terrible; one scratch among several is not even noticeable. No need to worry when the cat runs across it or when my sons play ping pong on it.
Does the table look beat up? Not at all. The finish is warm. The imperfections make it interesting, especially when the sun touches them. It cleans up well. Chip and dip, homework, books, candles, and Legos all find their way to the coffee table – and so does my family. The table is well used and appreciated, a valued part of the living space we call home. Distressed by design, imperfectly beautiful and worthwhile in reality.
Distressed in human terms is something else. It’s what happens when we get overwhelmed, sometimes so concerned with our own imperfections that we cannot function. Mistakes and shortcomings are character flaws that embarrass and paralyze us, not things that make us interesting and beautiful. Spring cleaning my table reminds me that usually I choose the kind of distress I live with: surface imperfections that make life interesting and worthwhile, or innate flaws that cripple the heart and soul.