He asked, “What’s your style?”
Style. . . ?
“Decorating. Design. What do you like?”
“Um.” Catalog pages, gallery spaces, antique shops. It all fluttered and slipped around in my uncertain brain. Is Pottery Barn a style? If it is, it’s not mine. Bauhuas? Gothic? I don’t even have vocabulary for these things.
“Well, I have these friends. . .”
These friends. An couple of artist-writer-dancers, old as the hills. They live in a shambling D.C. house crammed with faded velvet chairs, books to the ceilings, creeping plants and instruments enough for a chamber orchestra. On the windowsills, dusty bottles jostle for light with the wire and stone treasures from Egypt and India. The thrum and jumble cascade out to the stone limits of the property. The back yard is a fairy garden. Tea lights and whirligigs, mismatched wrought iron chairs and labyrinthine shrubbery housing whole communities of pixies.
I tried to explain to him that this is what I envision for a home. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it, though, let alone my words. It seems so cluttered and non-functional, and anyway, how does a person decorate “bohemian”? You can’t find it on Amazon.com. It takes living along a certain edge, seeking-making-stumbling upon bits and bobs among the X-marked meanderings into the neverlands where treasure like that begins.
Who has time? Space? This is a condo, for Pete’s sake. Between the spider plants and the Japanese fishing buoys, where would a gal store her financial records? And let’s face it. There will be no trips to Morocco for a samovar and silk curtains anytime soon.
My style? Dorm-room cast-off on a Goodwill budget.
Five weeks in the place and clueless as to how to proceed, I attend to the basics. The scarred molding is out. With the help of a borrowed miter saw and a day off work, I’ve just about finished hammering in the new strips. Hooks are hung near every door. Kitchen is sorted. Bookcases and desk are all up in Bug’s room. Bathroom shelves hold the guest towels.
Progress is measurable but the yardstick is chilly to the touch. Form exists for function alone. It’s as if this home and I are on an extended first date. The interaction is all halted conversation and nervous tics.
Moving through the house like it’s a museum rather than canvas, I place each item an inch from the wall. I anchor nothing. The single photograph displayed — a shot of the Colorado sand dunes taken by a friend and hand-framed in rough wood — sits balanced on the mantle in a sort of half-squat. The bedroom walls beg for splash but every color seems wrong. The thought of choosing curtains paralyzes me so the hideous black ones left by the previous owner still scar my bedroom. Everywhere I look, bare space blinks back at me.
So? What’s your style?
Today, Bug and I made the trek over to Maryland to visit an old friend who has just landed here. Divorce and custody battles forced him into an 11th hour move over 500 miles to a place where he had no connections, no work, no place to live. All of this so he could be near his kids. He found the only decent apartment he could afford in their school district, signed the lease and unloaded his U-Haul. He’s been here a week.
I stepped into his place and fell open.
It was home.
Floor-to-ceiling kids’ paintings. Lush and spindly greenery spilling from every corner. Books and jumbled art and gorgeously scarred furniture. Wood and toys and color. Mason jars for water glasses. Everywhere, texture.
What’s your style?
The boys played at perfect pitch. In between refereeing lego skirmishes, my friend and I talked easily. I nestled into overstuffed couch and felt rocked from all sides as if by the sea. Orientation, at last. Breath cracked open the closed place in my chest and light caught a corner of the treasure down in there.
When my kiddo and I landed back at home, I plopped him in the tub and started poking around. All of our art supplies and Bug’s drawings are still back at my folks’ house, but we had to have something. Where to begin? I pulled a wobbly shelf back into the living room. Playing around with angles, I gave it a home and unpacked books of poetry. I raised lights. I tucked away cable cords. After stories and songs, Bug conked out and I found my second wind. Perhaps my first? An old calendar of bright family photographs was crammed into the bottom of a drawer. I dug it out and started cutting.
I have no frames or picture hooks. I have no gallery pieces. But I have scissors. Colored paper. Thumb tacks. Inspiration.
I have a style. It’s pushing back out from its deep, sunless sleep. Taking my hands. Tacking the boat. Placing the brand. Claiming the place.