The Unexpected Joy of the Mismatch

Image from Michael Champlin

Mismatched and lovely

As a designer I spend a lot of time attempting to make disparate things harmonious. It’s the job of a designer, after all, to arrange a wide variety of “stuff” in some kind of cohesive way, whether it’s information, furniture or textiles. We’re tasked with finding harmony in chaos, stillness in a loud room of ideas, styles and interference. So when we find things that just _fit_ together, we’re relieved; things that just work together give us some reprieve from our daily struggle. There was a time not too long ago where I found great peace in the fact that all my spoons looked the same.

I pride myself as a minimalist, after all.

Then three years ago, through a combination of fate, happenstance and questionable financial decisions, I found myself with a roommate for the first time in more years than I care to admit. It didn’t last long, and after a couple of months he left town for a tech gig in San Francisco, and left me with a huge apartment and a really random collection of “stuff”. I’d given up my matching spoons in a breakup, and now had a drawer full of the most discordant utensils I’d ever encountered. My drawer looked like the box of silverware left over after they sort things at the thrift store. Though I had plenty, there were scarce two matching forks in my entire kitchen. I was, in a word, distraught.

Despite my life being in a state of change and turmoil, my time in that apartment was incredibly happy and fulfilling. It was a time of emotional and professional growth for me; I started writing again, I hatched personal projects that helped me grow as a designer. I also came to love my collage of a home. There was a weird homemade desk made from two old cabinet speakers and a big piece of coffee-stained oak, an ornate fireplace mantle where I bookended my collection of cookbooks with brass candlesticks, a light fixture I improvised from an old telescope tripod and a broken desk lamp.

And then there was that drawer full of mismatched forks.

In time, I’d come to love those, too. If I was cooking (I cooked a lot in that house) and found myself needing to beat some eggs I’d go to the drawer and peruse the specimens, finding the perfect long-tined fork for the purpose. Eating Mac and Cheese? That called for something more rounded. For each fork, a place and a task.

Image from Michael Champlin

The stylish army of forks

In the end though, it’s not all about function. Each of these items, whether forks or candlesticks or picture frames, had a story. Somewhere, at some time, they’d been well-loved. Maybe even part of a matching set. But now, they’d found themselves here, in this cozy (if a little drafty) home I’d carved out for myself. I came to see a lot more of myself in that drawer full of silverware than I ever could have imagined.

Perhaps it’s less about finding items that fit together harmoniously and more about finding the harmony in a mismatched, patchwork life.

For our readers: Do you like to mismatch styles, eras, colors? Tell us about your display philosophy in the comments…

Replies for “The Unexpected Joy of the Mismatch

  • Sue

    I have always loved displaying my most loved items from season to season, moving them from cupboards to shelves and tables at the appropriate time. Years later, as an older woman with way more things to love and running out of storage space, I began selling my own things and at the same time still collecting vintage from Estate and yard sales. Week-end hunts are so much fun. Now I like to display my latest treasures while I research them and or until I decide to put them up for sale in my Etsy or ArtFire shops.

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns

      Hi Sue,
      Lovely to hear from you. I do the seasonal shuffle too with my items – helps me feel like I get to enjoy all the pieces in my collection. If you’d like to be interviewed or featured as a vintage expert, please feel free to reach out to me via email: We love connecting our readers to fellow enthusiasts and sellers! Cheers!

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