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From My Home to Yours: Packing Secrets for a Successful Move

Martha Stewart Living, September 2007

I recently sold Turkey Hill, my beloved home for the last 35 years. I actually moved two years ago to Katonah, in New York, and was ensconced in my new old farm there, so I had plenty of time to plan the formal, final move.

It had been my intention, once Turkey Hill was sold, to move everything the 25 miles from place to place with my own staff. Turkey Hill was filled to the brim with furniture, mirrors, lighting fixtures, and "stuff." The thought of a moving company coming in and packing up all those delicate and fragile items and carting them into a giant van, and then having to unpack all the stuff once it arrived at the farm, was more than I could bear to think about. So we planned a comprehensive and simplified version of a professional move, using a trailer, a panel van, two Chevy Suburbans, and a couple of pickup trucks.

I thought a lot about what should be moved first, second, third, and so on, and with a three-week deadline and lots of plastic bins, bubble packaging material, reams of tissue paper, and, of course, packing tape and Post-its, we got started packing.

All small fragile items were to be moved first. Shelving and cupboards at the farm were ready to receive the myriad assortment of dishes, china, glassware, and decorative pieces that had been on display at Turkey Hill. Laura Acuna, my housekeeper of 20 years, and I set about wrapping and packing everything in this category. Good, clean, rigid plastic tubs were filled with tissue and bubble-packed tea sets, cake stands, stacks of fine plates, scores of sets of crystal glasses and bowls, as well as my collection of rare American blown glass.

As soon as the tubs were filled and covered, they were transported in one layer in the back of a sport-utility vehicle to the appropriate spot at the farm, where they were carefully unpacked and stored. Because we were set up and organized, all of this went very smoothly. And even though it took about 20 round-trips to move all the china, not a single piece was broken or chipped. And because we used clean packaging materials and paper, none of the pieces needed to be washed after they were unpacked.

The next category to move was the antique furniture -- again, there were specific locations earmarked for each piece, and as the furniture was wrapped, a yellow Post-it was taped to each piece indicating its future location. We visited a large moving-supply store and bought furniture bags in varying sizes, clear packing tape and dispensers, and giant rolls of various widths of bubble packaging material. Each chair was carefully surrounded in a clear, heavy-duty plastic bag, which was taped shut.

If there were casters or wheels on a chair or sofa, they were wrapped to prevent them from snapping off. Large sofas were protected in a similar fashion, the plastic protecting the upholstery from tears and dirty hands. All cupboards and tables were likewise wrapped and taped, and we used the large trailer to move the furniture, protecting it further by covering each piece loosely with packing blankets, which acted as buffers for the pieces. It took about ten trips to move all the furniture this way.

Turkey Hill was illuminated with hanging crystal chandeliers and wall-mounted sconces. Most of these were removed, carefully wrapped, and packed in plastic bins. Large hanging fixtures were suspended from chains on wooden dowels inside large "garment" boxes so they could be moved with ease. Fragile arms and dangling crystals were protected with tissue to prevent movement, and any swinging inside the boxes was eliminated by pillows of packing material around each fixture. We cut the dowels wider than the boxes so that they protruded a few inches from each side, creating an easy "litter"-like carrying device.

Lampshades were placed inside plastic bags, again to prevent soiling and tearing, and then in large cardboard boxes for carrying.

The biggest surprise and challenge of the move was transporting my collection of nineteenth-century mirrors. Over the years I have managed to collect 30 or so gilded mirrors -- some convex circular bull’s-eye girandoles, some pier mirrors, and other gilded specimens from the Federal period. Not only is their gilding fragile, but most of the frames are easily chipped or denuded of their gilt if handled roughly.

Elements of the carving -- the acorns and escutcheons -- are somewhat tenderly attached and cannot be wrapped or even touched without threatening the stability of the decoration. To solve the problem, I had my carpenter cut a piece of plywood for each mirror -- wide and long enough to accommodate each piece. I then stapled thick bubble material to the top of each plywood sheet. Each mirror was laid flat on the cushioned plywood and carried to the van or the SUV for the short trip. The mirrors were cushioned for the ride, and the oversize wood meant no hands needed to touch the delicate surfaces of the mirror frames. Each was delivered in perfect condition, to everyone's relief.

Of course there were many, many more things to move: linens, bedding, maps, books, pots and pans, and appliances, as well as garden furniture, sports equipment, and garden tools. Most of these were carefully placed in tubs, usually without wrapping, for the quick shuttle to the farm.

I cannot stress how much more pleasant the unwrapping was, with the minimum of boxes, the simple layers of packaging material, a bit of tape, and the clearly marked tubs and furniture. Carried off by a small group of energetic "movers," this monumental task became almost pleasant, and the fact that everything arrived undamaged made the experience even better.