Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Accidental Designer

I don’t remember desiring to do this; I don’t remember ever even setting foot in a furniture store, much less knowing about a thing called interior design.  I do remember the delight in coming home after school to see that my mother had rearranged our crappy furniture and hung up new valences; gathered valences which I see now, were hokey and too short, though ten inches was probably all she could afford, fabric-wise. I don’t remember ever getting new furniture, except maybe once, which would have been the replacement for the one piece of furniture I do remember vividly, that scratchy, kidney shaped sofa of my extreme youth.  It’s the one I am peeing on in the photo of me propped up, nonchalantly chewing on a paper bag.  In another photo, years later, I am holding up the dollar bills I have received for making straight A’s on my report card.  Me, future interior designer.  I can also recall our dining room table, which was always piled high with laundry waiting to be folded, and which was never actually used for dining; and the rocker recliner in the corner of the living room where all the babies were soothed and fed and which was covered with a sheet so as to mitigate the sweat inspired by its cheap vinyl covering.  There was also always a crib in the living room, at least for the eighteen years I lived there.  There was absolutely nothing in our house that would inspire or inform good taste or even hint at quality; though I do believe I owe my excellent space planning capabilities to having witnessed my mother’s sheer genius for cramming so much stuff into so little space. 

Some people learn their craft by having been exposed to it.  I myself chose the more difficult and less likely path of no exposure, influenced by the constant demand for clever solutions to basic survival needs.  How DO you make a coffee table out of a tea box (free on the wharves)?  How DO you turn and old sheet and some diaper pins into a slipcover?  Where DO you place the only fan in your non-air conditioned living room to the best advantage for the most people, or the crib for easiest access and least intrusion?  How DO you arrange nine bedrolls (which is where we slept; not in our stuff-packed rooms), a sewing machine, an ironing board, an aquarium and a dozen people all hoping for a place to sit with a view of the TV, in a fourteen by eighteen foot room?  At no time in my thirty-five year career, have I encountered any greater challenge than my own childhood living room.

My mother never had anything--and I mean not one thing—nice, a fact that she constantly reminded us was all our faults, and which was true.  After groceries and tuition, what was left?  Don’t think for a minute that scratches, dents, and immediate breakage of any glass or ceramic object unlucky enough to find its way into our house would not be the unavoidable outcome of too many people in too small a space, not to mention our constant bickering and tussling.  In addition, every single one of our friends loved to come over and hang out in a place where no further harm could be done.  There were no rooms you couldn’t enter, no items you couldn’t touch.  We had already destroyed everything, and there was nothing left but a good time and great food, which was always underway in our teeny tiny kitchen, and always bountiful.  Why I am not a chef today, I will never know, given all the time I spent in there peeling and chopping.

You wouldn’t think you could get there from here, but somehow I did.  I specify sofas that cost more than the house I grew up in, and I am quite the snob about quality.  My signature style is clean and uncluttered.  I like a lot of light and air.  I do not care for shabby chic or slipcovers or valences of any kind.  I like a comfortable, easy to clean environment.  I do not like open cupboards or utensils stored on countertops or refrigerator magnets or too many magazines or plants.  I do not like dust.  I like large, open expanses of floor, space around the furniture, and cozy rugs and floor pillows in case a large crowd shows up and needs to lounge around in front of the TV.  I like wit, and nothing too precious and things surreptitiously kid proof, like leather and ultra suede and contract fabrics with nanotechnology.  I like color, especially white, and lots of storage.  Most especially, I like plenty of room for people, and the happy accidents that can occur when anything goes.