Sunday 18 November 2007

A house is a home is a puzzle

My long history of house tourisiting has not been an idle endeavour – I consider my trysts in other people’s houses not as pure voyeurism, but as essential research for my own much more humble house decorating endeavours. I have never been a lifestyle magazine reader (OK, except at the checkout); I much prefer to wander around a three dimensional space and really see what I think works and what doesn’t in other people’s houses in the flesh.

After toying with buying in an overblown housing market we decided like everyone else down the street to take what we’ve got, make it bigger and park a skip out front. The first step was planning permission which was a saga in itself culminating in tearful pleas to grumpy counsellors at the town hall, with eventual victory after much chagrin and delay.

Then the builders swarmed over the poor little house ripping it apart and putting it back together again and now we are nearing the time when maybe, just maybe we can think about moving in, in the not so distant future. But first we have to have something to sit on, wash in, sleep on and cook with. In other words the whole place has to be refurbished and populated with furnishings and fixtures and so far we have an empty and battered shell. And I have to take a crash course in home decoration to fix it. This would be heaven to some women, but it is simply frightening to me.

(I have to warn my loyal readers that this topic has been consuming my life of late, and if you can’t stand it, I can sympathise, and suggest you look away now. One day I will go back to talking about something else.)

I am not the homeliest of people; my decorating agenda to date has consisted of trying to accumulate as little furniture and knick-knacks as possible so that I didn’t have to cart them on to the next place. I look back with some regret at some of the fantastic places I have been around the world where I spent far too much time looking at architectural wonders and sampling exotic cuisine when I really should have been focused on shopping for home décor. I suddenly realise why brides had a trousseau, and I realise that in this department I am not a good catch. I blame my father for not providing the appropriate yams, chickens and cows for my dowry. I have to blame someone.

I have casually judged others by how they dress their house and I am now in paralysis on how to dress my own. Part of the problem is that I haven’t enough money, time or talent to do the job. I am bumbling along in the dark making decisions driven by the electrician, the plumber and the builder. Suddenly the oddest pieces of the jigsaw have already been laid – stud walls, TV points and positions for lights and switches are dictating the layout in the rooms before I have any actual pieces of furniture or any idea of even what look I am supposed to be achieving. Basically, I have no idea of how it is supposed to be done.

Vaguely, through the dust on the building site, I am trying to imagine myself living in this newly expurgated house (now that it has acquired walls again). And I am trying to get my head around this home decorating palaver. Because we have already decided on some aspects and not others, there is a revisionism which has to be inherent in the décor scheme. The kitchen has (very nearly) been decided and it is contemporary and light with all the mod-cons (we can’t afford). The rest of the house must fit around it, and everything else must be economical as we’ve spent most of the budget already.

The house, by the way, is Edwardian, or for the rest of us it is dated between the turn-of-the-20th-century and the start of WW1. I have since found out that in design terms the era was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, which looks to me like toned-down Art Nouveau. The house is not grand by any stretch of the imagination, and sadly many of the features of the house have long been stripped out of it and we have gutted the other half of it anyway. What we’ve ended up with is a house that is more or less, straight down the middle, one half modern and one half traditional.

I hope we can pull it off successfully, as the ultimate goal will be to marry the two so that it looks deliberate, even, dare I say it, stylish. That is, if I can figure out just where to start. I will never denigrate anyone who declares they are an interior designer. I wish I had the natural flair that comes to some women and some gay men. Time to pull my finger out and do some serious research.


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