How to Decorate

The first rule, dear, is to be yourself. Divas are always simply thrilled to be their marvelous, luscious, agreeable selves. They are continually complimented because they are ever devoted to putting the people who should be at ease, at ease, and studiously ignoring the nasty weevils who should be ignored. Thus do divas create a lovely, shining light about them. And, sigh, their home spaces. So exquisite, so sublime, so reflective of their special, inherent yumminess.

And what do magazines tell you to do to achieve le perfect nest? Go to fleamarkets and/or hire a decorator. Let me disperse with the second issue first. You may not hire a decorator unless you have a total of three houses, at least two must have been purchased by your parents, mind you. No Diva in her right mind would buy three properties herself. No, no, ignore your other aunt’s example. That woman was born striving. Do you notice those little lines around her eyes? At a mere 31 she’s got enough feet for an entire flock of crows. Stress lines caused by buying and furnishing three houses. Now, do you see so much as a hint of a wrinkle on my face? No? I thought not. Yes, I am quite aware this is a discourse on housing, but, if you would just pay attention, you would be aware that I am making a subtle and vital point. Housing affects how you look.

Don’t own more than three houses and only bring in a decorator if one of the houses needs mansion-sized oriental rugs. And if you don’t really plan to live in the house, if you just plan to use the spaces as a ‘show-off’ area in a futile attempt to exhibit your tact and style when you have neither and wouldn’t know good taste if it bit your toes, than no decorator on God’s green earth could help you anyway. You’re hopeless.

A question? You would like a dispensation? But of course, ma chere, there is always a dispensation available in diva-land. We are not heartless people. If you have had some sort of emergency (the firm has just given you a promotion and sent you to Ulang Bator) or a terrible accident, i.e. the family estate burns down or the tiny, three-story, Zen-retreat overlooking Central Park has termites (you can’t imagine how often this happens) and you have to tear all the walls out [which is actually fine, because then you can use boards from the barn that was just torn down on your family’s alfalfa farm for the floor in your dining room]. In such cases you can hire a decorator. Do you see the difference? Must I spell it out? Darling, get your aunt another sherry, will you? She’s developing just the teeniest headache. No, no, not those glasses hardly hold six ounces, yes, one of those rose quartz glasses that looks like a beer goblet. Yes, right to the top, I hate to be skimpy.

All right. Now listen. If you did not plan to redecorate or move but then suddenly you must, you may avail yourself to all possible assistance. But if you are making a deliberate move, then the decorating is on your shoulders. No, you are not allowed to bleat. Yes I’m aware that when Cynthia made partner, she simply hadn’t the time to decorate the apartment that she moved into. That’s because Cynthia is a twit. You never move at the time of a major life adjustment. You move before you get the partnership (because you know it’s coming) or you wait until four months until afterwards. Live deliberately. Choose your life and what is in it deliberately. Do not let someone else (I do not care how much ‘input’ you would give a decorator) make decisions for you unless you are in dire straights.

What about when you have to relocate and you can’t afford a decorator? Then you, diva that you are, sit and you think. What is the MOST important room for you? What are the five things you must have when you wake up in the morning? What are the five things you need to see every day (a vase, a purse, a rug, a book, a picture, a chair, a piece of fabric, a teapot, etc.). You pack those things in specially-marked boxes and when you arrive at grad school, at Perry Station, at , you get those things out of the boxes first. I don’t care how nonsensical they are. It’s winter in St. Petersburg and you want to see your collection of straw hats? Get those hats out of the box pronto.

Then get the most important room set up – whatever is MOST vital to your mental health. Do the rest in fits and starts as you find time. And no, you don’t get into trouble with the Diva Association if you drag a box of books across the States and then drag them back across the States without ever cracking a cover IF, and only IF, looking at them on your book shelf satisfies your inner diva.

Now we are going to talk about fleamarkets. Saints preserve us. How people do love to tell you to go to fleamarkets. Ick. They’re dirty, they have tatty stalls, the people confuse your dear aunt. She gets a headache. Do not go to fleamarkets. I absolutely forbid you to go to fleamarkets. I don’t ever, ever want to hear of you setting a nicely shoed foot inside of a fleamarket. Unless you really want to go.

See how easy it is? Things are always so simple for divas; it’s just the rest of the world who are lagging behinds, poor dears. Decorate they way you want to – in the colors and themes and fabrics that reflect your oh-so marvelous self.

You can’t decorate because you are too over-whelmed, too unsure. Sigh. Pour your dear auntie another sherry, my pet. Now look, if the matter is time than I shalln’t listen to you for so much as a second. It’s your CASTLE, your PRIVY CHAMBER, your HEARTH. If you can’t find time to figure out what you like and how your home space should look, then just sleep, eat, and sit on he floor, pretend you’re a wildebeest, spend your free time in pool halls and spend your Saturday afternoons with the other side of your family. I will pick some other small child to guide into the true light.

If the issue is you don’t know what you like – then what you are always told is to buy 17 gazillion magazines and cut pictures and create notebooks and cross-reference and take classes and heavens, I’m exhausted at the thought. No, no. It’s quite simple. Decide what you need. You can’t possible need everything for a room at once. So you need something – a lamp. Fine. Then relaying on your intimate knowledge of yourself decide first what kind of lamp you want, then decide how to get it.  Do you ask someone for a reference for a lamp store? Do you go to your favorite store and look at lamps? Do you hunt on-line?

You remember my speech about the grocery store? About how you don’t walk out of the door of your apartment (or leave work) until you have a good idea of what you want. Five people on earth can walk into a store with no idea what they want and walk out with the right thing. The rest of us careen around getting numb until a kind soul drags us out and revives us with a nice little cappuccino.

Figure out what you want – maybe you want to consult some magazines for ideas, maybe you want to make a color-coordinated, 93 page, stapled document encompassing all possible lamp options, you decide how anal-retentive you want to be but never lose sight of the goal. Not the ‘perfect’ lamp, not the ‘best’ lamp, not the most awe-inspiring lamp, you are looking for the lamp you love. Not the lamp that will make your friends envious, not the lamp that will make the person of your dreams swoon into your arms (or open arms for you to swoon into). You are looking for that which you love. People who try to make other people envious are beneath contempt. Ignore them. If someone falls for you because of your lamps, coffee machine, and/or oriental rugs, s/he is a complete write off.

[I’ll cover this later but for right now, in short-hand, if he falls for you because of your Hakylut Society publications collections, the comforter a color-blind friend made you, your prize latch-hooked rug from Girl Scouts, the simply ghastly shower curtain that makes you feel like a geisha or your rather vain attempts to make Eastern Orthodox Easter eggs, than I’ll agree to babysit your children.]

So you have a lamp. Good start. Now go get a bed. Or a chair. Get what you want in the order you want it. Some people wish to start life with a full set of china and sit on lawn chairs for two years. Go for it. Start your decorating by getting what you long for first, and then work your way up to a complete, grown-up living space.

What if you know what you want but can’t afford it? Then you do what all divas do – you make decisions. Is it worth it to you to spend oodles on the sofa and have rugs from Target? Do you want good wineglasses and thus put up with scratchy towels? Don’t think about other people. No a whisper of: “Oh, but if I have plastic plates then everyone will think…” Who cares what they think?

Would you EVER say something to a hostess if she had paper-towels and not linen napkins? You would not, not just because if you did I would disown you on the spot, but because you know it is completely and horribly wrong to say, act or think that anything at a house in which you are a guest is anything less than sheer perfection. Good food served with paper plates by an affectionate but cash-strapped hostess is far better than gourmet food on china with a parsimonious, troll serving you.

When you walk out of your apartment, you should be thinking of the world, how you fit into the world, how you behave. But in your apartment, you rule. Especially if you can’t afford all the goodies you want. You make the decisions on what is important, what you need to be that diva that dwells in your heart.

Now, of course, you want an example from real life. Preferably an interesting life. Let’s use mine. We’ll pick a historical example, what my living room used to look like, with helpful augmentations. Snapshot: the sofa is covered with the most spectacular collection of pillows – crewel work elephants, hand painted silk pillow covers, pillows made from old saris and pillows made from napkins (if you have a sewing machine, someone you can bribe to sew for you or a tailor, you can whip up the most fabulous pillows by simply sewing the fabric into a double-sided square. Get with the program.) and two pillows from Jim Thompson silk.

WHAT? You don’t know who Jim Thompson is? HAVE I BEEN TALKING TO THE WALLS ALL THIS TIME? My sainted aunt Petunia would weep, would simply sob, if she knew that a female relative was so far lost in the heathenous, treacherous woods of incompetence and ignorance as to… what? Now, now, don’t sniffle. Your nose is turning a most unattractive shade of red. All right, I’m quite calm, collect yourself and we will start again.

Jim Thompson was a real person who is now deceased and whose name lives on in a brand of Thai silk. It is heavenly, rapturous stuff and of course the minute you put your little toe into Bangkok, you will run to the store and stand in awe. (Remember to keep your mouth shut. Being in awe in not an excuse for looking like a fly trap.) And, now that I think of it, going to the store is an excellent example for you.

You see, when I first saw the store I was in ever so not-important financial straights, which I, being a diva, would NEVER mention except that it is essential to the story. Thus, I visited the Jim Thompson store with limited funds, but did this cause me to whine and complain? No, of course not. I reveled in the beauty around me and spent some time figuring out what I might get with my petit budget. I bought several silk scarves with flowers on them for my female relatives, as female relatives enjoy that sort of thing, and then I bought two yards of fabric for myself. Note both points my dear. One, I was sure to bring back something for the kind people who supported me emotionally and financially; a diva never forgets her debts. Two, I got a little something for me – to be clear: two yards of absolutely fabulous fabric. No, I did not mourn the fact that I couldn’t have bought 75 yards. I celebrated what I could have. And immediately got the fabric whipped up into seven pillows of various sizes (using another slightly less fabulous fabric as the backing).

Back from the digression, darling, a little more sherry. Well, why don’t you hand me the bottle?

My previous apartment, what was my sofa? An old wooden packing crate with a foam cushion (cut to measure from a hardware store) on top, covered by a sheet I got on sale five years ago because I liked it. It lay about in a box until I realized it was exactly the right color for the living room. (Buy something because you love it, and for no other reason, it will always “fit.”) Now what’s by the sofa? Two fake wooden bookcases from some unmentionable discount store, because I didn’t want to spend money on good bookcases. Besides books on the bookshelves, I have my father’s old baseball, a pewter dish from my grandmother, a little bird figure that reminds me of my mother (keep remembrances of family members close, even if no one else understands them) and the stereo my parents had when I was growing up (if it works and you can’t afford the newest version, keep it).

On the floor, I have two oriental rugs (decided to spend the money on them). By the sofa, two old chairs from my mother (get furniture where you can). As they are both the ‘wrong’ color, one is covered with a bedspread and the other has a shawl on it. (If you want to be all do-it-yourself-ish, then strip and sand and paint to your heart’s content; if not, drape fabric). I have a glass lamp filled with shells I’ve had since middle school (if you love it, keep it); a violent pink, wooden Kleenex with a tiger on it (if it is given to you by a friend and it reminds you of this person, and especially if it makes you laugh, keep it); and a plastic water bottle full of sand (keep your talismans for yourself and don’t feel any compunction to explain them, even if anyone happens to ask about them.)

Darling – the inviolate rule of your house is “do not have anything that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” (William Morris).  Let us discuss my alarm clock. Yes an alarm clock, which is the fundamental key for your happiness (and I am always considering your happiness). You must care about your surroundings as much as you care about yourself. Dire people will hang up a picture just to fill the space, buy a cheap alarm clock and then get a throw rug that’s the wrong color. Gradually the space they live in does not reflect them. This is woeful.   Everything you own and touch and see should be as BEAUTIFUL as you are – the right color, the right look – which means thinking about your life from the bottom up. Everything you see and touch should be a reflection of you, not something that has ‘still got some use in it’, was a bargain or was given to you. If you don’t like the pillow/ picture/ bowl etc. then it’s NOT worth having it around as a drain on your psyche; this is especially true for things like books you “ought” to read but don’t want to. Hence the reason I mentioned my alarm clock. It has charming green (not icky red) numbers and is a pearly/ pinky shade which is simply too, too perfect!

Read Marie Kondo – live Marie Kondo – love Marie Kondo.

Special Considerations:

How to deal with roommates/ spouses with horrible taste

  1. a) If you are fighting over whether or not to hang a picture, you are not fighting about the picture. Trust me on this. You are fighting about some unresolved or unresolvable issue in your relationship. Decide if you can resolve the issue or not [it’s probably that one of you has not/ can not/ doesn’t want to give up some previous version of yourself and is putting all that angst into some utterly worthless, not to mention ugly, lamp/ sofa/ chair/ set of dishes. Person should be given a week or so to decide to get over it or move out.]
  2. b) Remember that furniture is gendered: Your dear aunt remembers a friend who announced he had a ‘sofa with a secret.’ “Oh,” I replied, “do you have Jimmy Hoffa hidden underneath it?” No, it had retractable footrest, i.e. think six connected Barcaloungers. Boy sofa.
  3. c) If you have enough rooms, you can compromise by letting one person ‘do’ the living room and another ‘do’ the bedroom – and not a word may you say about the other’s choices. Or letting each of you put up two (and only two things) that the other hates. Intelligent people fuss over furniture for a maximum of three days, then they revert to grown-up behavior.

How to clean

  1. a) Arrange to have someone clean it (more affordable than you imagine)
  2. b) Arrange a cleaning schedule:

1) Clean one area of your home-space for 5 minutes every day

2) Have a weekly cleaning fiesta – preferably to the accompaniment of radio/ musical incentive (public radio, a gospel show, Standing Room Only, one of those top 40 count-downs, etc.)

3) do a grand cleaning before you let yourself have a treat (watch professional wrestling, go see a Jean Reno movie, retire to your favorite café)

4) don’t have a cleaning schedule but swipe things up, make a brief run with the vacuum cleaner, get the mirrors done when you’re about to get ready for a big night and need to see your make-up clearly etc. This is how your sweetest aunt does it.

5) clean only under pressure – invite someone over for dinner once a week or so and do pick-ups beforehand (be sure to check the bathroom) and arrange to have fussy in-laws or relatives visit once every six months.

A quick re-cap for my darling sugar plum: Pay Attention

1) If you don’t love it: change it, dye it, throw it out, or give it away. No exceptions.

2) Think of each room as a three-dimensional ‘Brownie badges’ – make sure your home space reflects what you have done with your HEART and what you have done with your MIND, NOT the amount of money you do or do not have

3) Always have some empty space on your bookshelves, some clear spaces on table tops and a few empty hangers in your closet. Is your life ever so perfect that it couldn’t be just an itsy-bit better? I thought not. Make space for that divine new whatever it will be.