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Other people’s houses

by Dianne K.

What is the first thing you think of when you enter somebody else’s living space?

Is it comfy, warm, inviting, clean, attractive? That’s the first question that comes to my mind when I visit a stranger’s house. Don’t we all want our personal living spaces to be comfy, first for ourselves, and second (or maybe not at all) for others?

What does comfort mean? Therein lies the question. The stereotypes apply.

When you think of adolescents, perhaps you think of cluttered bedrooms with posters on the walls, dirty clothes on the floor, an unmade bed, empty coke cans, opened text books, game boys, computers, TVs, all the necessities of teenage life splattered around. For a teenager this might be the height of comfort. Mom, of course, thinks otherwise. But for some stranger reason, teenagers know exactly what they like. The rest of us sort of forget when we become adults.

If you watch HGTV, Bravo or even the network shows, you might begin to think that most normal people need professional decorating help and have no idea of what it means to live in a comfortable room. The decorators are making 911 style decisions right and left. Colors, styles, patterns, furniture, wall and floor coverings, all need their expert  help. According to the TV decorator shows, one could make the argument that the average citizen lives like a complete slob, awash in unattractive rooms and and drowning in clutter, while the decorator CSI teams are out there to come to the rescue.

For the forensic design expert or the decorator CSI team, the problems are more complex than one would first think. They have to figure out what comfy means to their particular victims – err – clients. But when that isn’t easily apparent they usually rely on their superior taste, which is sometimes questionable, to say the least. Their choices usually over-rule our pedestrian cries for sanity. Simplicity, comfort and moderation has been replaced in favor of the marble flavor of the month.

When I walk into a room I’m not actually looking for perfectly matched décor, expensive meaningless artwork, oriental rugs, or priceless antique furniture. I’m looking for a place that I’d like to spend a little time in. If the colors match that’s a bonus. What I usually find is that my friends don’t seem to have the same ideas about comfort that I do.

I like comfortable furniture, and by that I mean a couch that one can get up from as easily as one falls into. I like to feel at ease with the furniture, like maybe I could put my tea cup or wine glass on the coffee table without making a nervous wreck out of the host. Chairs that are too low, or have arms that are too high are not comfy. Fabric is another issue. Slip covers bunch and sag, some fabrics are scratchy; leather, on the other hand, is usually comfy. Often the living room couch is old, dusty and apparently not used very often, because most of us are in our TV rooms, right?

I like furniture that stays in place when I sit down, furniture that has enough heft to sit there instead of moving around when I use it. Rollers, castors, area rugs, slippery and uneven tile are iffy decorating choices. I truly believe that every living room deserves a sturdy coffee table and end tables, some with lamps on them, for reading or eating or watching TV.

I don’t mind living rooms with TVs in them. Come on, folks, just about everybody watches a little TV, why hide them. Living rooms might have a few knick-knacks, or conversation starters, or favorite things, but don’t overdo it. Leave some room for wine glasses and small plates of goodies. Books always add a nice touch, but I’ve noticed that some people are a little nervous about books in the living room, or anywhere for that matter. Perhaps they are afraid they will be judged by the books they read. Mirrors are good, but don’t overdo it. Hassocks are a lovely touch if you don’t want me to put my feet on the coffee table. Don’t get me started on candles. Unburned and dusty are eye sores, but so are the ones that are half burned and smell bad.

Remember that old Liza Doolittle song:
 All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air,
with one enormous chair, now wouldn't that be wonderful...

If I’m invited to use somebody else’s house while they are not there, which happens to me once in a while, then I am really appreciative and grateful, but those times are also opportunities to learn perhaps more about my hosts than I really want to know. Nothing truly explains a person more than her favorite room. Take, for example, living rooms, where the furniture is at such odd angles that people cannot hold a conversation. I’ve endured this peculiar decorating style several times now. It’s what I call the love seat problem. One love seat is on one wall, the other love seat faces the window. That means the two people on each seat cannot talk to the other two people in the room. Could it be intentional? I’ve seen this happen in small rooms too. It seems very apparent that whoever lives in these rooms on a regular basis does not want to talk to the person occupying the other love seat, couch or easy chair.

I’ve been in ornately decorated rooms that are so large that when the guests sit in them they cannot hear or even see the people sitting opposite them. It usually makes everybody laugh when they realize how far away from each other they are. No wonder people have to get up to talk.

Then there’s the guest room problem. I’ve been in bedrooms with no bedside tables, no lights in the room except for the overhead light. What’s that all about? I sometimes wonder if hosts ever sleep in their guest rooms. There’s no place to read, no place for the water glass, sometimes there is no clock in the room. What a predicament that is. I won’t get started on guest beds, they are usually horrible, but why not, who wants their guests to love their rooms so much that they won’t want to go home, preferably soon. But I digress…

I feel sort of sorry for people who decorate their homes to mimic home decorating magazines. A few months ago I visited the home of a young couple. They were so smug. They had just finished a total remodel of their entire home. It was elegant but ghastly. Huge rooms with vaulted ceilings, gorgeous honey colored floors, elegant tile work, the latest paint colors. But there was nothing homey about the place. Where would they eat a simple breakfast before heading off to work -- in that elegant formal dining room? Ugh! There was a formal parlor -- way too intimidating for a TV and a couple of recliners. The whole place was like that. There were no personal spaces where real people could live, with their TVs and computers, and real belongings. Where would they actually take off their shoes and put their feet up? This particular couple will probably end up really living in a small cramped bedroom on the second floor while the downstairs part remains a museum to questionable taste.

And then there’s the kitchen problem. People are spending thousands remodeling their kitchens. It’s usually a very good idea if you buy an older home. The latest thing is marble counters, professional stoves, those huge ranges with six burners and a water faucet over the range for filling spaghetti pots, I guess. And don’t forget the kitchen island with its special salad sink. Along side, you’ll usually find one of those totally expensive zero degree refrigerator freezers, and wine refrigerators, and all the latest gadgets for making specialty coffee, grilling paninis and baking bread.

But the fact is that fewer and fewer people are actually cooking these days, especially professional style cooking. Most of us could get by with just a microwave and a toaster oven. The kitchen gurus, however, tell us we must have all of this intimidating kitchen stuff. Whatever happened to the simple kitchen with adequate appliances, countertops you could use, cupboards, a pantry and a kitchen table? Clean, restful rooms with light colors, maybe curtains on the windows, proper ventilation, a well lighted area that is attractive, yet humble enough that they make us smile...and feel welcomed.
Ten years from now when those ghastly remodels are on the market the real estate agents are going to be apologizing to clients when they look at those old marble counters and over sized stoves. Those ugly, dated, monster kitchens will be known as the turn-of-the-century mistakes, mark my words.

Let’s all take a few deep breaths, think about who we really are, and what will really make us the most comfortable and happy, and then have a go at making a home for ourselves. And for Pete’s sake, don’t invite me to spend the night, especially if you aren't going to be there.


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