Just a few country blocks from the Kitchener city limits there’s an old farmhouse that sits on a small plot of land tucked into a bend in the road. Its sun-faded siding and concrete front porch are entirely unremarkable, and had I not been looking for the fire number, I would have surely passed it by. Another modest, windswept country home amongst the tattered cornfields. The home’s owner, Atta, greets me on the gravel drive and – in a colloquial gesture that reminds me of visiting my grandmother’s farmhouse – invites me in a side door that steps into a fabulous (though not in the way you might imagine) kitchen. 

All along the walls and spreading across the ceiling like watercolours seeping across a page, patches of stone-coloured plaster crumble to reveal layers of green paint: a deep pine, and behind it, a more subtle moss. Soft light pours in from the windows and bounces off an array of antique copper pots strung from hooks on the wall. Solid wood cupboards, their doors removed, span to the ceiling and showcase a small army of bygone ironstone pitchers, every one of them slightly different from the others. Across the room, framed in ornately- carved solid wood painted gold some time ago, a sullen man seems to look through me with soulful eyes. Beside this austere centuries-old oil portrait, a cluster of heirloom porcelain serving dishes are mounted to the wall. One in particular catches my eye: it is mounted backwards and, upon closer inspection, I see several large metal staples sunk into its porcelain flesh, across the crack that bisects its body. There’s a story here, I think to myself, and begin a mental list of questions I will put to the curator of this spectacular, eclectic array. 

Atta-Ul Ghaffar is a purveyer of antiques, curiosities, and handcrafted goods – what he calls ‘European flea market finds.’ His foray into the antique world was born out of the pursuit of affordability: with a growing family, he began buying used furniture to repair, refinish, and reupholster. But in the process of stripping back those sturdy, classic pieces en route to a modern update, he was drawn to something he hadn’t anticipated: developing a business in antiques: Objekts.ca. Atta sells his growing collection of everyday relics internationally through the Objekts online shop, and locally out of this two-hundred- year-old house – the Objekts showroom – that Atta has curated in the vision of a Victorian- era French farmhouse. The house’s modest history is revealed in the grooves worn into the floorboards, for example, where generations of women stood over a wood-fired stove, as well as in the solid wood dough bowls, detailed ironstone platters, and earthenware crocks: everyday handcrafted goods passed down through European families. 

Atta wasn’t always in the business of antiques: his career as an engineer often took him to Europe for work (and, perhaps, contributed to refining his eye for quality design). After spending weeks in an English-speaking office in Germany during one of these trips, he set off on a hunt for more authentic experiences of the local culture. What better places to visit, he thought, than flea markets? Over the course of many trips, Atta acquired a significant collection of centuries-old souvenirs (while becoming fluent in the German language). Many of the items he collected on those trips to European flea markets are here, in this house, all around us. 

‘To me, the beauty is in the workmanship,’ Atta tells me as he gestures to a deconstructed armchair, its upholstery removed to reveal a sturdy wooden frame fit seamlessly together, its edges sanded into smooth curves with diverse bits of fabric still clinging to a scattering of staples. ‘The hand-scrawled notes from the woodworker, the perfect fit of the pieces, the evidence of multiple reupholsterings remind us that it was built by hand well over a hundred years ago – and has lived many lives since.’ Atta’s search for pieces that have survived and will continue to stand the test of time brought him to items that were traditionally crafted by hand – often more than once, as they were repaired or reimagined over the years, like the stapled plate. 

As Atta’s collection of antiques grew, so did the need to acquire a space to store the artefacts – and to show them, too. When, a few years ago, the old farmhouse tucked into a bend in the road near Kitchener – the house I’m touring now – went up for sale, Atta knew he had the perfect place for his overflowing cache. ‘We were lucky enough to save it,’ Atta says, and I agree. From the road, some might say the house is begging to be torn down and replaced with something newer, something bigger, something – erm, straighter? ‘The stairs are crooked,’ Atta points out, and I can see where the sturdy wooden steps have been worn from lifetimes of stepping, stomping, bouncing, and tiptoeing up and down. Originally built in the 1840s, the house had served as the home of another collector over the past fifty years or so. Now, as a sort of period showroom, its rooms are filled once more with centuries- old curiosities, relics Atta has collected over decades from Germany, France, Eastern Europe – and even Wellington County. 

Atta and his wife and their four daughters visit the house often, enjoying it in its original design: a place to gather and enjoy beautiful meals, celebrations, conversation. Deep window sills invite daylight to illumine juxtaposed stacks of dishware that now dress the long table lined by half a dozen chairs similar in their sturdy stature but differing from each other in their silhouette and the weave of their seats. A long bench is dressed in plump pillows made of French postal sacks stamped with bygone dates. The scene is perfect. I feel as if I am standing in a painting – everything around me tactile and ethereal at the same time. 

But the home is not merely an art exhibit; even though it is not regularly inhabited, it is meant to be enjoyed and Atta is always open to renting it out. The dining room, Atta tells me, recently played host to a tea party organized by a group of old friends looking for an intimate place to reconnect. The living room, its parlor couch poised in front of a wall of dried and mounted botanicals (also known as ‘herbaria’, the artful result of some Victorian children’s science projects), has been the backdrop of wedding photos and product shots alike. The light that falls into the summer kitchen (an accessory room where cooking, bathing, and laundering was traditionally relegated to in the warmer months) sends a tingle down my spine, and I know: boudoir photographer Julia Busato has definitely been here. 

‘We don’t buy antiques to let them collect dust on a shelf. By using them in everyday life, that is how we appreciate them,’ Atta says, a nod to the function of this incredible showroom, but more so in reference to the individual pieces that make it up. Pieces that were crafted by hand and outlived their own creators. Pieces that have stood the test of time, connecting us to generations of mothers and sons and aunties and grandads who used and repaired and reused them day in and day out. In a world that increasingly asks us to buy more and more new, and to forget what came before, we have in Atta’s Objekts a reminder that not everything was built to be ephemeral. We’d do well to acknowledge that historical artefacts that carry both the glow and the wounds of their ongoing physical existence offer evocative and valuable prompts to memory, nostalgia, and inspiration.