Al and Nancy Young
Inspirational literature and creative design influence this richly eclectic home
By Ashley Dickson
The Youngs are artists, writers, builders, bakers, readers, gardeners, musicians and collectors — and each of these talents is reflected in their Orem residence.
But the one thing that has influenced their home more than anything else is literature. Al and Nancy Young started collecting books long before they met each other, and then they raised their three children on daily doses of reading.
The goal has never been to race through a book and move right to the next. Instead, the family uses the influence of writing to create lovely surroundings — from their home décor to the dinners they eat to the courtesy they show one another.
In 2001, the Youngs launched a publication — “The Storybook Home Journal” — to help others integrate literature into their lives. Featuring decorating and gardening tips, recipes, art and music, the journal takes shape from their own storybook home.
Al’s parents bought the 1930s Wurlitzer upright decades ago, when it was a simple, minimalist instrument.
“We’ve totally embarrassed it now,” Al says. “The piano is on its third finish.”
The most recent update turned the piano into a fanciful Victorian piece. The original piano legs were removed to make way for table legs left over from another project. The Youngs built and added side shelves, sheet music holders and an ornamental music stand, then painted the entire instrument. Hand-drawn rose blossoms and flax shoots embellish the piano, and elegant gilding adds a finishing touch.
Long before they built their home 15 years ago, the Youngs decided they wanted a separate, closed off pantry to avoid cluttering the kitchen. The room they envisioned became a reality — but the space is used for much more than storage. Nancy bakes bread multiple times a week. “We do everything from scratch,” she says. She uses the space to make dough, pay bills and plan meals.
“It’s just a real pleasure room,” Nancy says. “And it’s been great to not just make the storage accessible, but to have fun with it. If we’re going to display all the flour and grains, let’s have it be inviting.”
The clean, light palette in the master bathroom offers an airy, calming feel. As part of a one-weekend, $150 remodeling project, the Youngs purchased matching antique doors for $20 apiece. Since the bathroom is open to the master bedroom, the doors close off the shower and toilet into separate rooms.
Al built the decorative shelves for storing towels (and china, of course), as well as the eye-level shaker pegs for displaying hand-made nightgowns.
The vanity on the left was once the casing of an old sewing machine, and the tub’s pump came from 13 acres of Oklahoma land Al’s parents purchased in 1958.
Like many items in the house, this chest of drawers comes from humble beginnings. With a $10 pricetag at Savers, the curved drawer fronts were damaged and the chipped paint was covered with Led Zeppelin and peace sign decals.
“It was like an old gray mare,” Al says. “Its color was filthy, and it sagged like an old plow horse.”
Al is very trusting as Nancy hauls her finds home from Savers, DI and antique shops — “there is a fair amount of disinfection that goes on with the purchases,” she says.
Next is repairing, stripping, sanding, painting, faux finishing and new hardware.
“It’s very personal,” Nancy says. “You come away with something you wouldn’t find in a product off the shelf.”
Copper collectibles are another Young family favorite. While remodeling parts of the kitchen, Al picked up a roll of copper sheeting from a salvage yard. To coordinate with the copper kitchen decor, he removed the useless fake drawer front — “and with glee got rid of the thing,” Al says — then attached a panel of the metal sheeting.
The drawer handles were once handpainted wood, but the remodel made way for copper hardware. “We found the pulls on a chest of drawers they were just putting into the wood chippers at DI,” Al says. “We asked if we could keep them — it helps to have no shame.”
Nancy is a self-proclaimed “chinaholic,” and Al says she brings home china like others bring home strays. Nancy calls her addiction “collecting from the heart” and says it can’t be stopped.
“We got tired of plastic when the kids were little and you could get bone china for 25 cents at DI,” Nancy says. “They got to feel what it’s like to drink from a bone china tea cup, and if they broke it, it was alright. The collecting started for those reasons.”
For the Youngs, collecting isn’t about an objective or end result.
“It’s not calculated — it’s serendipity,” Al says. “It isn’t collecting for how much it’s worth, or how much it will be worth. It’s whether or not the object is beautiful. I don’t think anything in our house has been collected to make a set or an investment. It’s just fun.”
In the Youngs’ home, books aren’t just for reading. When sitting open on an angled display shelf, books are changeable artwork.
“We’ve been around enough universities and libraries where books have places to be books, not just sit on shelves or lay around in stacks,” Al says. “We wanted a place where you could open a book and just enjoy it.”
Like all of the Youngs’ collections, their literature is more “function” than “form.”
“When it comes to collecting, I wouldn’t distinguish functionality from that,” Al says. “I don’t think something can be beautiful if it’s not functional.”
Al and Nancy both brought books to their marriage and have bought the rest together — “We were even buying books on our honeymoon,” Nancy says.