I’ve had bad experiences with decorators. Several years ago Mike and I hired a consultant to give us advice on dealing with the overwhelming beigeness of our then new home. We were doomed from the start. Turns out this very same decorator had guided the former owners of our house into neutral paradise about 15 years before. As we walked around the house she asked if we had known the previous owners who “had such great taste.” Uh, oh. She examined Mike’s collections of vintage and antique radios, clocks and books and cringed at the sight of the blue and pink floral sofa and love seat. (I was with her there, those Laura Ashley nightmares had come with Mike when I was too besotted to bar them from my house.) As we returned to the living room to hear her verdict, Mike “remembered “ he had forgotten to lock the door to the school and dashed out. Most of the rest of the visit is a blur but I do remember her saying that we had some interesting “things” and it was time to get some furniture. About the time she suggested putting up a half wall and creating a “receiving area,” I knew she had completely misread us. When I pointed out that wasn’t our style, she told me we didn’t have a style. Prophetic words as it turned out.
Nevertheless,I recently had an epiphany about my decorating style. Whenever I take one of those quizzes that’s supposed to identify your style I get something like “elegant beach cottage” or “casual eclectic traditional.” Real helpful. Recently I was sitting on one of the navy wingbacks admiring the new rug and how well it works with the gold leather couch and repurposed walnut mid-century coffee table and antique end table and burnished gold and glass display case. You see the problem. So I decided my style is bohemian, which seems to mean anything the hell you want it to mean. Pretty sure that people who acquire things just because they like them and then put them all together are bohemian. That’s my story/excuse. I guess the big question is why I care about having a style. I blame it on media. (I blame everything on media; it’s the one thing I have in common with he-who-shall-not-be-named.)
Everything from magazines to television to Amazon shows us what we should do. The more things there are to do, the more things we take on. A case in point: remember when you were a kid and company came to stay? I know my mom put clean sheets on the pull out couch for my aunt and uncle. As for the kids (at least 6), they slept on floors and were lucky if carpet was involved. There was a lot of cooking going on while the guests were sightseeing in D.C., but usually an aunt or uncle stayed around to help. My mom stressed because that was her personality but the whole event was so casual, so relaxed for everyone else. Now there are endless Pinterest boards and online articles about “getting ready for company” — entertaining could be a full time job. And let’s face it, nowadays we don’t have 8 people coming to visit; it’s usually a couple, right?
This whole “creating a comfortable, inviting space” for visitors has bled into parties. I admit my guilt here. I enjoy setting the table with my French tablecloth and napkins, white dishes, and crystal. Then I put (the piece de resistance) sprigs of lavender (that I grew) on each napkin. If I’m feeling really French, I’ll include lavender in the meal. Sometimes, usually around Christmas, I’m feeling very British so I make puddings (dessert) like millionaires shortbread and Victoria sponge. Actually I haven’t made a Victoria sponge (layer cake) yet but I’m addicted to the Great British Baking Show, so it’s just a matter of time.
All of the preceding, not very funny prose brings me—finally—to my point. The more we find examples of how other people do stuff better, the more we up our own games. This applies to virtually everything, including cooking, decorating, dressing, gardening, the list goes on. You can say it’s always been this way and that’s true. When Old Ma Smith tasted Old Ma Johnson’s superior cornbread, she was inspired. Maybe she just made better cornbread for her family, or if she was competitive maybe she entered her cornbread in the county fair, knocking Old Ma Johnson’s entry down to second place and losing a lifelong friend. Who knows? What is different today is that we are constantly bombarded with examples of improved whatever (see list above). In the past only friends and acquaintances motivated us in that particular way. And you know what? We didn’t have to work as hard as we do now.
When are people going to realize the cost of our “conveniences?” Let’s trace the evolution of the garage door that used to be pulled down by a rope, thereby providing a little upper body toning. The electric garage door opener ruined all that and led to all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors. Garage doors became fancy so the garage itself became another area that needed decor—color coordinated tool chests, shelves and cupboards, and perfectly clean, preferably painted, concrete floors. My poor husband would be happy to improve our garage. His dream would be a garage with finished, painted walls and ceiling, IKEA units and a work table that is perfectly empty with the exception of an artistically angled hammer. Unfortunately he’s married to me so practically the only garage amenity we have is the automatic opener that we can operate from our cars. Poor Mike. He has attempted to upgrade our un-sheet rocked walls and exposed rafter ceiling with standing cabinets (unpainted particle board, alas) and various rolling, metal tool chests. Currently he’s contemplating building a shed on the south end of the garage to provide the space to store the boxes, bikes, and camping equipment housed in the garage. He thinks this will make his garage “pretty.” It won’t. Sorry Mike, but the garage needs a complete makeover beginning with a Pinterest page followed by decisions about style and bringing in the guys from “Queer Eye” for the finishing touch. Since I’m always updating my so-called style inside the house, the garage is destined to remain functional rather than beautiful.
By the way, here’s an update on my official style. It’s Minimalist Mid-Century Traditional Bohemian. And if you don’t believe me, check out my Pinterest page.