Decor With a Good Story

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Decorating to create a meaningful home.

Some of my favorite items I decorate my house with are new, trendy and colorful. These items update my surroundings to keep it looking fresh, which I like to see. But it is not the only type of decor I like to have in my house. I like another type even more.

Faux green plants grouped together on a coffee table

On a deeper more meaningful level. The decor that truly makes me smile are the pieces I have in my home that have a story behind them or there is a very fond memory associated with them.

Like the brass turtle who happily moves between my living room and foyer depending on the season. Or the library drawers I chalk painted and are now in my bedroom.

Last week when I was being too lazy to paint the inside of the party closet I told you I was going to do, I decided to go to a local thrift shop instead that is only open on Friday’s between 1:00 – 4:00.

There is always a long line outside the store waiting to get in as they have new stock every week for thrifters to find treasure or whatever it is they are in search of.

Vintage glass insulators on a thrift store shelf can create meaningful decor to make a house a home.

Once I got in, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and was just browsing when I spotted a shelf filled with these glass insulators.

Seeing them stopped me in my tracks and fond childhood memories came flooding back. I have not seen a glass insulator in a long time.

Glass insulators found at a thrift store that can be used in decorating a home.

I picked one up to hold it in my hand and smiled when I remembered the adventures my siblings and I had when we went to visit our maternal grandmother in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania.

Huckleberry bushes near train tracks where glass insulators were found.

My mom and aunt would take my cousins, siblings and I to go huckleberry picking along an abandoned train line that was overgrown and dense with bushes and weeds, but filled with berries. We would collect them by the bucket-full to take back to our grandmother who would then bake something delish with them.

On these berry picking adventures, my aunt and mom really used berry picking as an excuse, as the real reason they took us out along the old train line was to find relics from their past and green glass insulators or any insulator that may have fallen from the old telephone poles.

They made sure to tell us kids to keep our eyes open for them as we went from bush to bush picking berries since the era the train line was used mostly had green glass insulators on the telephone poles that ran along the tracks.

Where the train line ran was close to where they spent their summers with their grandmother as children back in the 1930’s in a town that was no longer there. The town and street where the house stood was long gone and forgotten, just an overgrown wilderness and the abandoned train line left.

They enjoyed searching for pieces of their past and on one trip actually found the front steps to their grandmother’s home where my mom was born under lots of decay and overgrowth.

I remember how excited they were to find them. If cell phones were a thing in the late 60’s and 70’s I am sure they would have been taking selfie’s of themselves sitting on the decaying steps with big smiles on their faces.

Vintage green glass insulator on table that can be used to decorate a home in a meaningful way.
This emerald green insulator are rare to find.

Both my mom and aunt were into decorating and at the time glass insulators were a hot collectible, especially the green ones. Finding one along the train line was like finding gold.

Train on track lines with telephone poles with glass insulators along the top crossbars.
Photo showing clear glass insulators on poles along train line.

Insulator collecting really started getting popular in the 1960s, when I was a kid as more and more utility and electric power companies started running their wires underground. The old glass insulators couldn’t be used anymore so they ended up being discarded or simply fell off and were left on the ground for treasure hunters to find. :-)

What were glass insulators used for?

Insulators are the glass or porcelain domes you see on the tops and cross-arms of telephone poles. Their purpose is to insulate the electrical wires they carry, so that electricity (or telephone calls) don’t leak into the pole and into the earth.

Decorative Uses For Glass Insulators

As with anything collectible there are always creative ways to use and or display them.

I, of course did not leave the thrift store empty handed. How could I leave behind something that brought a huge smile to my face and such fond memories. I bought 3 of the glass insulators. for $5 a piece. One for me and one to give each of my sisters.

Vintage find a telephone wire glass insulator becomes meaningful home decor when placed on a stack of coffee table books.

I placed one on a stack of books on my coffee table. It is a clear glass insulator manufactured by Hemmingway. A perfect place for something that has a story behind it that can spark a conversation when we have friends and guests at the house.

Vintage glass insulators can also make a nice paperweight for a desk, but look what else they can become….

If you have a few DIY skills, you can make pendant lights out of them.

Vintage glass insulator inspired light fixture.
Insulator Sconce

When I went in search to find more information about glass insulators I found a few light fixtures inspired by the vintage glass insulators. Isn’t this light fixture unique?

You can even buy insulators online… like the 1930 Beehive Aqua glass trio being sold over at One Kings Lane.

Where Can I Get Insulators?

Meaningful home decor found at a thrift store.

You can also get glass insulators at flea markets, auctions, garage sales, antique and thrift stores.

Other Decorative Items I Have With a Story Behind Them

When I talk about a story behind a piece of furniture or decorative item, these are not just hand-me-downs from family that we find a use for, but the more interesting pieces that as they came into your home, came with a fun or interesting story behind them. In my home I have a few…

Library Drawers

Ed’s parent’s owned a knitting shop in Baltimore and when they first set up shop the library drawers were left by the previous shop owner. Years later, when they closed the store, the library drawers went to a packed storage room in their house.

After Ed’s dad passed away and we were helping his mom sell and pack up their house we unearthed the library drawers. His mom didn’t want them which is how they became a part of my house.

Vintage brass turtle that opens to hold matches is one item that has meaning to me so I always keep it on display.

Brass Turtle Matchstick Holder

This little trinket was always on the coffee table in my parent’s home. It was one of only a few decorative accessories that made it through my mom’s decorating changes and styles through the years. When my parent’s passed away it was a tough call which one of my siblings and I would get the turtle. My sister’s decided since I liked decorating so much like my mom did, I should get the turtle.

Fall-decorating-ideas-for-dining-rooms

Mantel With No Fireplace

The freestanding mantel that was against the wall in the dining room of my previous house and now is in my bedroom was from Ed’s father’s boyhood home. It was the only thing his father could get after his parent’s passed away as there was a problem with caregivers of his mom taking everything in the house.

When he found out and all that was left was the mantel, he literally ripped the mantel from the wall and carried it out of the house as it meant so much to him. During the depression when there was no money for Christmas presents. His parents would hide an orange behind the mantel for him to find. There is a little ledge behind the firebox opening on the left hand side just large enough to hold something small.

What can you do with a glass insulator? Why create meaningful home decor to make your house into a happy and loving home.
Coke Bottle green Hemmingway Insulator

And now I have a glass insulator to add to my list…with a story behind it.

Do you have decor or furnishings in your home with a fun or interesting story behind it?

Make you smile style decorating ideas.

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28 Comments

  1. I have a gold/amber glass double candlestick that was in my grandmother’s collection, until she realized how much I liked it, and handed it to me! She said she wanted to make sure that she gave people a few special things *before* she was gone! I love pointing it out to her when they come to visit, and she likes seeing how I use it in different seasons. We also have one of her paintings hanging on the wall. It’s a snowy scene, but we love it, and keep it up all year round!

    A recent addition to my decor, is a set of the snowball votive holders that you have posted about here!! I got them as a gift, and squealed – I was so happy!! My mom actually found the two of them at a resale shop, so it was even a win for bargain hunting! :D Thank you for your amazing blog, and for reminding me of all the sweet memories that go with each piece. Sometimes it’s a memory of shopping a junk fest with my bestie, and sometimes it’s a project piece that actually worked. Either way, decor is much more fun when there’s a story behind it!

    1. Hi Jolene –

      How nice to have a few special items of your grandmothers and use them for different seasons. Even sweeter that she gets to see you enjoy them. They bring love and life into our homes and hearts.

      I love my Kosta Boda snowballs. They are classic and look so warm and cozy when lit. I have collected 8 over the past 25 years. :-)

  2. In my house we have several glass insulators. We use them as doorstops.

    My husband’s grandfather was a dentist in the late 1800’s. We inherited his dental cabinet (complete with dental tools) that we use as a bedside table in our guest bedroom. It is quite a conversation piece.

  3. Oh what a pleasure to read this story of your mother and grandmother. Now it’s clear where you got your decorating gene. I, too, love and collect old insulators starting when we were young marrieds . My husband is an electrical contractor so I loved the history. I remember how excited I was the 1st time I saw one still attached to the pole while driving out west. I have never even heard of the beautiful green or lilac ones, mine are either clear or aqua. Our home has so much Storied Decor (love that phrase another commenter used). It’s a virtual museum of our family. A decade ago I started typing up the history of pieces, who owned it and when, etc., and gluing the papers to backs or bottoms of everything so that some day when our children or grandchildren clear out our stuff they will know what to keep. For instance I have a ring that was once an earring that my mother wore on her wedding day in the 40s. She later had it made into the ring when she lost one earring. And a silver spoon handle ring that she and her high school girlfriends would get after they registered for their wedding silver at the local jewelers. They would get the ring in the same pattern as their flatware as a type of hope chest thing.

  4. I have the trunk my grandparents used to bring their posessions to the United States close to 100 years ago. The thing is huge, but makes a good storage container and I have a lamp sitting on it in my living room.

  5. I loved this post.
    I remember as a kid vacationing in virginia- and finding those insulators all over the place.
    I never actually saw them on top of a telephone pole before though- so thanks for the picture.
    Ed’s story is so sad. The mantel is beautiful, but gosh how upsetting it must have been to learn the people you thought were taking care of things- were just taking.

  6. Diane, it’s important for your readers to know that not only is it dangerous to be very near or actually on a “live track”, meaning it is in use and not closed or abandoned, but it is also illegal. It is trespassing and most railroads will prosecute trespassers. They have so many feet either side of their tracks as their right of way and it is deemed private property. Also, ANYTHING removed from their property, whether railroad related or not, is considered theft. Railroad employees can also be charged with theft if they are found removing anything even if it has been discarded. Just wanted you to know, because there are too many other safer and appropriate places to look for those desirable insulators.

  7. My parents have a few glass insulators in clear, lavender and aqua. They were my Nanny’s originally and I was fascinated by them as a child. Thanks for reminding me ?
    I am the proud owner of a cream colored metal mixing bowl with a green rim. It is the bowl my Grandma always used to serve potato salad at family gatherings and when my Brother and I were spending the night it was the popcorn bowl!! Great mementoes of fun family times. I’m lucky to make more memories every time we use it now ?

  8. This was one of my all-time favorite posts! Everyone needs such treasures. My brother’s house burned down a long time ago and he mentioned that this category of things is the most difficult loss.

    I read the insulator story to my husband as we enjoyed our breakfast on our deck this morning. I thought he would be interested since he is a prolific model railroad maker. He told me they model these on their layouts by stringing elastic thread between “poles” and then painting the little sections of the thread that stick up at the ends silver covered by a transparent tinted paint to replicate the insulators.

    Thanks for a very interesting and delightful post this morning!

  9. I absolutely love this post! Storied decor is my favorite. It’s so interesting when one walks through an estate sale or antique shop, the fond memories that crop up! I have three sisters and we are constantly buying little heartfelt treasures for each other. I love that you and your sisters will now have an insulator to hold dear.

  10. My father gave to me an old saddler’s bench (used in a saddle shop to create and repair saddles) and a cavalry saddler’s chest (used to repair saddles for the cavalry on the battlefield) that had belonged to my grandfather. The saddler’s bench is a hard piece because it is large and awkward, but I love it. Shortly after my father gave me the pieces, my parents lost their home in the 2017 wildfires in California. I offered to put all the pieces in the new home they bought so that they would have something from the past, but my father insisted I keep them. So I hold on to them, grateful each day for a bit of our past that remains.

  11. Such a sweet article. It is those treasures that make our house a home.
    One of my favorite treasures is a round, cheerful blue Hall pitcher that sat on a self and my grandmothers kitchen. It seemed to always welcome us as we came in. It makes me smile. It now sits in my kitchen to welcome all who enter.

  12. Lovely post. I believe that half of the things in my home have a story behind them. Just sitting here in my kitchen, there’s the church pew that a student’s mother insisted that I “just have” rather than pay for. There’s the huge metal “G” that came from the KRESGE’S store when it was dismantled a town over. Then there’s the Vintage Hoosier that supposedly came from the Vanderbilt estate. I could go on but you get the idea.

  13. I love things with a story. I do have my mother’s Sasha Brastoff large bowl. It had high sides, so was sort of a cross between a bowl and a vase. It was her pride and joy. She always had it on her coffee table since the early 60’s. When my boys were little, and all on different occasions…put their heads in the vase! Fortunately…no one got their head stuck! I remembering both of my parents looking rather surprised…so was I. I don’t know what prompted them, other than childhood curiosity, but thankfully, the treasured vase survived. It now proudly sits intact on my living room bookcase….always a reminder of boyhood whims. Enjoy your day! ;)

  14. I have a bookcase that I am finally getting rid of, but I found it by the trash at my first apartment in 2007. It’s over 5 ft tall and over 3 ft wide, with thick shelves, so I removed the shelves, and turtle-shelled the frame over to my apartment feeling that the shelves were safe without the frame. I then made two more trips to carry the heavy shelves. My mom painted it for me in 2016, so now it’s grey, but it was before we knew about chalk paint, so the paint is peeling in several places. It’s time for it’s new adventure, but it’s still a great bookcase – so I have been thrilled to have it with me all of these years!

  15. Old “stuff” handed down in my family is in each room of my home…and always makes me think of people now gone and the stories behind each treasure. A crystal biscuit jar full of treasured marbles is one of my many favorites.

  16. Diane, those insulators brought back fond memories for me! As kids in the late sixties, we searched along
    the railroad tracks, in northern California for those amazing blue treasures! You brought a smile to my face!

  17. I have my grandmothers rocking chair which she bought at an antique store for $2.00 back in the 40’s. The story is that the family made fun of her purchase, no one would sit in it except my mother, her daughter in law. My grandmother crocheted, she was very short and very round and the arms of the chair were in just the right spot for her. When she passed away the family wanted my mother to have the chair. For years my parents kept that chair unused until my father went to a night school class and refinished it. It is solid turned wood mahogany with pegs on each piece, there are no screws or nails holding it together. Each of my parents used that chair, first my father, then my mother for the nine years after she died. When my mother died the chair came home with me. My husband recovered the seat and back for me and it’s now in our lower level family room. It’s getting a bit fragile now and I’m a bit afraid to use it. My boys don’t care about much, but I’m sure they will fight over this after we’re gone.

  18. Loved your ‘behind the item’ story – the things that make a house a home! My mother took up painting in her 60’s and turned out to have quite a talent, especially with colours, and also won a few awards. My ‘memory’ piece is one of her early pictures – an image of a small cottage in a field similar to where she was born in Ireland. When my mother died I took her ashes back to Ireland to be interred in the family plot. Every time I look at her painting I know exactly where she came from having stood in the place where she was born and 12000 miles from where I now live. I wont forget her..

  19. Some of my treasures are from my mom or my husband’s parents. My mom started Tole painting after my dad died when she was only 60. Over the next 20 years, she graduated from small items to actual furniture pieces. I have a night table (cabinet) with bunnies on the door sitting in my office. There is also a painted bench in a corner. The narrow cabinet with a picture of Amish children inside a barn is in the corner of my family room. I also have a large replica of a Salem bed and breakfast sign. The “Lord and lady” chest is in my dining room. I call it that because they’re wearing 18th-century riding habits and are on matching gray horses. One of the fun items is a checkers bench! The sides are curved inward so there is a place for your knees. The board is painted in the middle and the game pieces are little houses I have a lot of old china and glass pieces from both sides of the family. I can’t bring myself to actually use the footed covered serving dish from my great-grandmother’s bridal china circa 1880!

    1. Hi Nancy – It sounds like you have a lot of items in your home that have fond memories attached to them. I remember tole painting. I tried my hand at it when I was first married. It was on a blue painted cut out wood heart. :-) From your description of the items your mom painted she got pretty good at it.

  20. I have a few clear glass insulators that I turned upside down and placed in old glass furniture casters with an LED tea light candle inside. Thank you for these excellent ideas. Love seeing them used as pendant lights.

    1. Hi Mary –
      T
      hat is a very creative use for the insulators. I bet they look pretty when the tea lights are lit. I love candle light and am going to try it. Thanks for taking the time to share your idea.