December 17, 2002

Lifestyles of the Plain and Simple

Honey, We Don't need a Lifestyle. So went the words to an early Garrison Keillor song. The singer of the song humorously acknowledges that as a simple Minnesota couple, they don't need to ski the Rockies, or have expensive coffee table books, drink expensive wines or be hip art snobs to be happy. Each other was enough.

Wife and I have had occasion to visit in other folks homes recently. And quite frankly, these folks... really most folks we know... don't live like us. They seem to have a discernable Decor. And I'm wondering if maybe we shoulda been Amish. Our decorating motif, or Interiors Lifestyle, if we have one, is Undated American Functionality with a heavy overlay of Simple Indifference. Now it is obvious that others take great thought in furnishing their living spaces and I come back to look at our plain house with the feeling that in our long married life, we somehow missed those lessons dealing with taste... the ones where you learn about coordinated color schemes, the compatibility of shapes and textures in drapery and upholstery, and the latest wisdom regarding wall hangings and display of your collection of Faberge eggs or china thimbles.

I look around me here in this room that Ann calls "The Bridge" after the Star Trek Command Center where JonLuke presides over galaxies far, far away. This is a mild dig at Fred stationed at his computer, of course, but I'm used to it. But this room, I think, is typical of our decorating indifference. Its contents:

One desk, particle board with simulated woodgrain laminate, glued back in place where it was hanging off the edges. Heavy as hank. The drawers stick. Cost: free. Third hand ten years ago from our secretary who got it from her dentist.

One very faded and cat-plucked loveseat that we bought with a cashed-in insurance policy 15 years ago. It sits positioned such that I can flop in it and watch the fire burn through the glass door of the woodstove. Since Ann never sits, it is of no value to her, and I fear that soon it will suffer the same fate as the matching extravagantly full-dimension sofa. It will be GoodWilled out of my life because she has some strongly held ideas of How Things Should Be, at least as regards the grosser aspects of home decor. I confess that I have none, except that I want something sitting there. I do some of my best daydreaming while sitting on that faded jade loveseat watching wood go up in fingers of flame.

One Queen Anne chair that belonged to my grandmother. Reupholstered when our youngest was very young, it is only a shadow of its former self, faded, catclawed, well worn and comfortable as an old shoe. This is my reading chair under the window, next to the woodstove. It is accessorized by an old school desk on which is piled an assortment of 'stuff I am reading' as well as a generous supply of advertisement pages torn out of Readers Digest to use as bookmarks.

The focal point of the room (as it has been in every house we have ever lived in) is the massive oak wardrobe. this is our only piece of 'real' furniture. Whenever we have been house-hunting (which, thank God, we won't have to do again ever) the first thing we would do is measure (by me reaching up overhead as high as possible) to see if the wardrobe would fit. If so, we can consider the house. If not, move on to the next one.

Back when we first moved to Virginia in the mid seventies, we owned no furniture. We found this huge wardrobe in a local glass antique shop; the man was using it as a display case. We went back several times to look at it, but the man wouldn't take our highest offer. After enough visits, he came to like us, young married and penniless types that we were. We finally talked the guy down from a ridiculously expensive $120 to $90, and took it to our first home...the one with the coffin on the roof. We stripped all the old varnish and bees wax off it; it took maybe 150 hours of detailed work with a cue tip and dental tool. Once we got it back to bare wood, we stained it with MinWax Golden Oak and finished it off with several coats of tung oil. It is a pretty piece of well crafted wood. It has been the centerpiece, well, the only piece of furniture of any note in our houses ever since. Everything else we own will someday follow the loveseat to Goodwill. The wardrobe stays in the family. You listening, kids?

We have never felt the need to invest heavily in our interior space. The outdoors has always been where we wanted to be, and in most cases, why we moved to where we moved. I suppose this priority shows in our relative lack of attention to what we have inside. As much as I value color, texture, the play of shadow and light outdoors, we really have very little artwork adorning our walls. It seems silly to pay huge sums for framed art when we can step outside and see the three dimensional real thing, with a frame as big as our field of view, zenith to horizon, and complete with smells, sounds and wind! Or something like that.

So. Inside: practical, yard-sale, worn, plain, comfortable. I don't quite understand why I feel I have to apologize for that. It seems that even in our happy eccentricities, there is still the undercurrent of 'keeping up with the Joneses'. But I can tell you, I wouldn't think of trading my creek for their thick carpets and Broyhill living room suite.

What does your interior design say about your tastes? interests? priorities? budget? Is what you see around you the authentic you? How do you feel when you visit around to others' homes during the holiday, or does this comparison come into consciousness at all? Aren't I full of questions this morning?

Posted by fred1st at December 17, 2002 06:07 AM
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