At home with…Pam and Robert Laughlin
Style and comfort in a historic Chico home
The East Sacramento Avenue home of Pam and Robert Laughlin is comfortable and tastefully decorated. Photos of the Laughlins’ children and grandchildren are displayed throughout the house, adding to the place’s palpable feeling of home.
A noticeable part of its homey charm is due to the fact that designated decorator Pam, a passionate quilter for the past 13 years, has draped the fruits of her labor—the beautiful, colorful and intricate quilts that often have a music theme, since both Pam and her husband are musicians—over the backs of comfy couches, on tables as tablecloths, on walls as wall hangings and, of course, on the bed in their bedroom. One passes a particularly interesting quilt—this one not made by Pam—hanging prominently on a wall on the way to the “sun room,” a cheery sky-lighted area at the rear of the house. This quilt is a present from Pam’s friends and family for her recent 60th birthday, each square made by a different person and all assembled into one big “birthday quilt.” A mixture of whimsy and heartfelt love is evident in this quilt: A clarinet—Pam’s instrument—on one square, a picture of the Laughlins’ beloved dog Kaia on another. One playful square is of a music staff with notes, all made from recycled materials like old shirt buttons and part of a pant leg.
The eye-pleasing creativity—the something-beautiful made from inexpensive bits and pieces—in Pam’s birthday quilt is a tip-off to the rest of the house. Above the fireplace in the living room hangs a Europe-evoking painting of a country scene picturing a pretty young woman going door to door selling flowers from buckets slung across her shoulders. Pam’s grandmother found the painting “at the dump” in 1956 and “cleaned it up.” Pam acquired it about 10 years ago when her grandmother passed away. On the mantel sit two angel figurines depicting Pam and her grandson Chaney, made by Pam’s daughter Meliss from such recycled bits as a piece of a chair leg, pinecones and part of a tape measure. Also in the living room is a dark brown wooden table which Pam purchased, covered in a thick layer of old, unattractive varnish, “from the Avon lady for $50 in 1972.” A little paint stripper and some elbow grease revealed the lovely burl veneer beneath.
The sun room is filled with attractive pieces of furniture and décor that, if one didn’t know better, also appear to have cost more than they actually did. There’s the attractive low, round table in front of the Pier One-purchased rattan couch, made from a circle of inexpensive pressboard which Pam has kept since she was 19, covered with a small gold, purple and turquoise quilt beneath a circle of glass ("available at any glass store—just ask them to cut it to the size of the wood"). The base is a stuffed fabric cube that Pam found left behind in the house she lived in before this one. Behind the couch hang stylish white curtains of a loosely-woven, sunlight-permeable fabric that Pam bought for $1 at a yard sale and hemmed and hung on a rod with inexpensive clip-on metal curtain rings from Target.
In a corner of the sun room sits a somewhat stately black chiffonier, given a lighter touch with the addition of decorative blue-and-white ceramic pull knobs from Lowe’s. On the top of the chiffonier sits an attractive, but very inexpensive, mottled blue glass vase from Big Lots, filled with pretty red flowers “made from coffee filters and dyed with Rit dye,” a craft that Pam learned “from Flo Barnett, this incredible [Paradise] artist … in her late 70s or 80s.” Pam purchased the high chest of drawers, along with another small drawered piece in the room, for only $30 10 years ago at Jeannie’s Consignment in Paradise, a place that used-furniture store aficionado Pam still frequents “every once in a while” to “go through it, just for the heck of it.” Pam painted the pieces black herself, the second time that she has painted them “paint over paint.” She says, “I love painting over paint. That way I don’t feel so guilty about painting over [plain] wood.”
Upstairs is the “quilt room,” Pam’s hideaway for sewing and practicing her clarinet and tenor sax. The metal desk ("from a used office supply place") on which her sewing machine sits proclaims, in kids’ colorful magnetic letters: “Have fun in Pam Laughlin’s play room.” Quilts-in-process, photos, imaginative odds-and-ends mobiles and metal sculptures made by Pam’s son Jeff are among the many eye-catching items in the inviting room. One of Jeff’s pieces is a metal “quilt,” made simply from pieces of scissor-cut copper and sheet metal and mounted artfully onto a stained plywood board.
“It’s really fun for me,” Pam says enthusiastically. “I really like making the house as beautiful and comfortable as I can without spending too much money. It’s a fun challenge, you know.”