Claiming Your Space

Today’s post comes from Steve.

I paid no attention to home decor in the early years of my marriage. We were grad students living on sketchy incomes. Our furniture—sagging, mismatched and threadbare—came as gifts from our parents. Moreover, my former wife dominated all decorating decisions. When I ventured to suggest something that might make our home attractive, she was amused that the spouse with lousy taste was offering advice to the spouse with good taste.

Then, rather suddenly, the marriage ended. Within a few weeks I lost my father, my job and my wife. Everything about my life changed almost overnight, with my address being virtually the only thing that stayed the same. When my erstwife suggested I was now free to sell the home and move anywhere on earth, I panicked. Like a man who has suffered a shipwreck and now clings to floating parts of his old boat, I needed security. I needed my home to be constant and comforting.

But there was a problem. The upstairs of my home had become a place where I did not belong. I lived in the basement, rarely venturing upstairs where everything reflected the taste of my former wife. That began to bother me. After dithering for half a year, I decided to take on the challenge of changing everything about the appearance of the upstairs of my bungalow. I had to make my home a place where I would not feel like a trespasser.

Home decor, something I had ignored all my life, became an obsession. Although I had never bought furniture, now I haunted furniture stores and consulted catalogs. Having never bought a lamp, I bought seven, all with stained glass shades. I gave away the art that my erstwife had put up and replaced it with original art, a big tapestry and a triptych. I collected fine art pottery and a handsome Mission clock to promote a turn-of-the-century look. I bought six rugs, including two hand-tied Bokhara orientals from Pakistan. I changed the color of every wall of every room. I installed new sconces, chandeliers and light switches. I studied the Arts and Crafts movement in American domestic architecture, and educated myself about the fascinating home design movement that produced the bungalow. My home had been built in 1925, and now I honored that by filling it with lovely objects from the early 20th century.

Reclaiming my home took about four years. I understand that the way I accomplished it was unusual, but I had been put in unusual circumstances. It was the perfect project for a divorced gentleman who was not as young as he once had been. Buying Chinese knockoffs of Tiffany lamps was healthier than other ways I might have processed the divorce. When I was done, virtually nothing was the same. It was all different and it was all me. The upstairs became a place that made me smile, a place where I could—finally—feel “at home.”

Have you ever taken a serious interest in the look of your home? Are you fond of any particular style of domestic architecture (Colonial, modern, Gothic revival, Arts and Crafts, etc)? Or, like most people, are you happy with an eclectic approach?

50 thoughts on “Claiming Your Space”

  1. I looked at the picture before I read the post and I thought “Oh, it looks a lot like Steve’s little pink house.” Imagine my surprise.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Alas, the photos don’t look as much like my former house as I wish they did. The last two images are especially murky and soft. I don’t know what happened there. The original images were sharp.

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  3. I think your old home looks lovely. Arts and crafts decor is a favorite of ours. We have some of my parents’ furniture, too, that doesn’t match our other furniture, but eclectic is ok with me.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’d like to expand on an implied principle that my post doesn’t explicitly develop. When I began thinking about remodeling my home, I didn’t understand some aspects of the process. Homes built with a particular style “should” (according to some folks) reflect that style consistently. For example, Colonial Homes not only have certain configurations and styling touches but can be decked out with distinctively Colonial objects (art, trivets, chests, portraits, etc). Tiffany lamps, lovely as they are, are most at home in Victorian and Craftsmen homes.

    When I grasped that, I realized that my parents were fond of Colonial design, and they used it no matter what kind of home they were in. My mother did her best to convert an ugly old Victorian home to the Colonial style. She later converting a bungalow to a ranch home. By the time she took on her grand opus, the home where my sister now lives, she embraced eclecticism wholeheartedly. That place is totally unique and stylistically diverse.

    My dad did some carpentry in my bungalow when we had just moved in. Sure enough, he used Colonial style as he made those alterations. Most homeowners live in eclectic homes, for they choose furniture or remodel them without concern for stylistic purity. But I didn’t understand any of that until I began studying bungalows and the Arts and Crafts design principles.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. My apartment is quite small but it’s all I need.
    The kitchen has a Route 66 theme. Signs, maps and pictures. My goal is to obtain items from each city mentioned in the lyric of the famous song. (Written by Bobby Troup whose face might be familiar to those who watched tv’s Emergency! He played the doctor. His real life wife, Julie London, played the nurse.)
    Troup did not include Adrian, Texas in his song. The town is noteworthy as halfway between Chicago and LA, 1139 miles.
    The living/computer/tv/bird room has original art. I spent more on the framing and glass than the works. That served me well as the birds have a favorite one on which to perch and….THAT. The artist might appreciate that her work gets cleaned daily.
    My bedroom is movie posters. All are reproductions. Bogart dominates but the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes is my favorite.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I look at my Adrian hanging while washing the dishes. It shows a windmill but not much else which is fitting as there is little to see in the village.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. My favorite architecture is Usonian from Wright.
    His work at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania sealed the deal for me. If you go, I recommend to take the tour in the fall.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I once attended a conference at a center in Wisconsin where the building and all of its furniture had been designed by Wright. I was thunderstruck! I had never before experienced the power of domestic architecture when everything flows from one mind. I went crazy trying to draw sketches of the place, realizing finally that the effort was doomed because when you were in that building you were being affected by the stuff you could see but also the stuff you had just passed through. No single isolated view could catch the impact of that coherent design.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Some years ago, husband and I met up with our good friends, Tia and Bob from Chicago, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. We stayed in a B&B and enjoyed a long week-end together, and toured at least some of the things worth seeing in the area. That included spending most of one day visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, studio, and school at Taliesin. It was interesting to see and learn about him, his ideas and what was expected of students at the school. It’s in a beautiful area, and well worth the drive for along weekend. There are several Wright houses in Minneapolis that are open from time to time for tours, they are worth seeing as well. I’ve also been on a tour of Wright houses in Oak Park near Chicago. Those are all privately owned homes, and only open once a year for people to walk through.

        In contrast to the clean lines and simplicity of Wright’s home, not far from Spring Green is the House on the Rocks with it’s incredible collection of all kinds of weird stuff. Talk about eclectic! The esthetic sensibilities of Wright and Alex Jordan, the builder of the House on the Rock, were worlds apart. Jordan had the good sense to not build his house until Wright had passed away.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. The House on the Rocks is the weirdest place I’ve visited. When I figured out what was going on there I couldn’t find words strong enough to express my disgust. I cannot believe there is a shallower or more deceitful “house” anywhere in this nation, even Mar-a-Lago!

          Liked by 2 people

        2. You figured out what was going on there? Pray tell, what was it other than a weird and quirky wealthy man who had the resources to indulge in what the heck ever struck his fancy? I thought it was rather amusing. What about it struck you as deceitful?

          Liked by 1 person

        3. PJ, the big secret is that all that stuff that is collected is ersatz. Some very few exhibits are genuine old things, but mostly that is a collection of stuff that looks old and precious. Virtually nothing on exhibit is genuine old stuff.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Well, I guess I didn’t view what is there as an example of fine, genuine artifacts, though some of them undoubtedly are. I suspect that some of the stories about both Wright and Jordan are exaggerations and don’t accurately reflect either of them. Their respective legacies in terms what they’ve left behind, speak for themselves.

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    2. I just toured Fallingwater today. I agree that it should be toured. My own style is very different. It reflects things I have purchased on international travel. My den is mostly African, the bedroom is South American. The rest of my place is a mix.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. That sums up the difference between you and me. I had Stickley furniture, too. Predictably, what I had was copies of Stickley designs. Also predictably, it never occurred to me to chase the dust between the slats!

      Liked by 4 people

  7. When we first moved into our smallish bungalow, I had visions of furnishing it in arts and crafts style and we bought a few pieces—chests and bedside tables mostly—in that style from a nearby oak furniture store. We already had a mission-style couch but that proved to be disproportionate to the living room space and other items from our larger previous home also were too large and needed to be discarded.

    Robin has some artifacts from Japan, including a nineteenth century chest—a tonsu—and a great many prints and other items, plus a wealth of Japanese pottery she has inherited from her parents, so our living and dining room space is sort of arts and crafts/Japanese/miscellaneous eclectic.

    When I rebuilt the attic into an upstairs studio, the model we had in mind was sort of a Carl Larsson aesthetic. I wanted the room to feel like it had always been that way. The high wainscoting is painted a light greenish blue and the walls above are creamy. A glass-fronted cabinet is painted a similar blue on the outside and a persimmon inside. Since Robin took over the space for her studio, just about every available wall has shelving on it, some with books, some with fabric.

    There’s no real unity to the interior design, but a lot of personal history in the pieces. That’s something we would lose if we were to replace those items in an attempt to conform to a single style.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’m sure eclectic decorating is more natural and common. As we live our lives we discover all sorts of attractive objects, and it seems good to acquire the best of what we find that way. When I was studying bungalows, however, I noticed that stylistic consistency could be powerful and appealing. A Dirk Van Erp copper lamp, gorgeous as it was, looked even better on a quarter-sawn oak cabinet built along Arts and Crafts design ideas.

      I was saved from my own stupidity. I’ve said I changed “everything” in my home. There was one exception, a modern sofa that my parents had given me. It was beautiful and comfortable. I determined to replace it with an imitation of a Stickley design. But that sofa would not pass through the entryway doors. I had to give up on it and get my money back, which was good because the sofa I already had was far more pleasant to relax in.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Steve, you wanted to keep your parents’ sofa, you just didn’t know it. Any piece of furniture can be made to go into any room. Try telling my wife, or her dad, otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I have seen the spaces Bill mentions, and they are stunning. You’re right, the upstairs feels like it was always that way. And do you still have the smallish couch down stairs (red leather?) – the scale was just right for that room, and it was beautiful there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re very kind, Barbara. Stunning might be a bit strong. We chose that leather couch because it was smaller than most and better scaled to the house. The cat we inherited from our daughter when our grandson proved allergic left claw marks on it and some of the other furniture as well. Now that she has crossed the rainbow bridge some replacement furniture may be in our future.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I have always taken an interest in the look of my home, at least ever since I moved out of the basement room I shared with my sister.

    How that interest has manifested itself over the years, has to a large extent been a consequence of how much money was at my disposal. It has also been the result of my conviction that a home should tell you something about the people who live there. Need I say eclectic all the way?

    Every stick of furniture in wasband’s and my first unfurnished apartment in Cheyenne was scrounged from “junque” shops and second hand stores. The one exception was our stereo radio with built-in record player, bought brand spanking new – and on time – from Montgomery Ward. If memory serves, it cost $149.00. That was two months’ rent, back then, but being able to play records was a priority.

    We worked together to fix, repair, strip, paint and otherwise restore these pieces. It was fun and rewarding work, and we both loved our furnishings. When we moved to Carbondale, we hauled everything with us in a U-Haul truck. Four years later when we moved to the Twin Cities, we held a yard sale and sold most of it. My friend Tia, who when I first met her had claimed first dibs on our furniture if we ever sold it, came down from Chicago, rented a U-Haul trailer and hauled it back to her apartment near Wrigley Fields.

    Three years later when we divorced, I drove to Chicago to visit her. I had completely forgotten about her buying all of our old stuff, and was taken aback when I walked into her apartment. It was quite emotional to see it all again. To this day she still has some of it, now it just makes me smile.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I’m ambivalent. A unified decorating style, and arts and crafts would be my choice of style, is certainly more impressive, if impressing is what you’re aiming for.
    Some of our furniture is quirky at best and far from impressive. Being surrounded by articles that have traveled with you through moves or you associate with a parent or grandparent or that you fashioned yourself or chose at a place or a time that holds some significance to you is what, to me, makes a home feel like home, regardless of what impression it may make to others.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I suppose most people give consideration to impressing others when choosing ways to decorate their home. My sudden plunge into home decor had nothing to do with that, though. I wanted my home to be a place where I didn’t feel like a trespasser.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Here’s an example:
      In our living room, what serves as a coffee table is an old trunk—you might call it a footlocker. I don’t remember exactly where we got it. We have other footlockers that were part of the luggage Robin’s family used in their shipboard travels between Japan and the U.S., but this isn’t one of those. The living room footlocker coffee table stands on short legs, painted persimmon, that I attached to lift it off the floor. On the top of the trunk is a sticker for Lutherland, Pocono Pines Pennsylvania and the name Charles Samuels, with an address in Brooklyn.

      The name Lutherland cracks me up, but it turns out it was quite the place, conceived and developed by organizers from metropolitan New York and New Jersey Lutheran churches in the 1920s:
      https://www.tobyhannatwphistory.org/lutherlandimgs.html

      The name Charles Samuels on the label (and the initials C. S. painted on the side of the trunk could have represented either the father, born in 1887 or the son, born in 1917. The son ended up living in St. Louis Park, Minnesota and that’s likely how the footlocker made its way from Brooklyn to us.

      Now isn’t that more interesting than a reproduction of a Stickley table?

      Also, the trunk-table is absolutely trouble free. Nothing spilled on it can harm it, no scratches can devalue it. And Robin uses it to store surplus linens.

      Liked by 5 people

  10. As most of the baboons know, our current home is a mishmash of old and new, some of it pretty threadbare. Like in Bill and Robin’s home, most of our stuff has lots of personal history attached to it, and that makes it hard to part with even if it’s old and falling apart.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. A friend used to process difficult moments in her life by painting rooms in her home. After a nasty conflict with someone in her office, a taupe living room changed overnight into a scarlet room. She cared so deeply about the look of her home that she could not imagine moving into a home decorated by anyone but herself. Her strongest conviction was that any young couple could only set up housekeeping together by buying a new place and decorating it together.

    Then she fell in love with a guy who was her total opposite. He could not have cared less about the look of his home. If you asked him what color his bedroom was, he’d need a lot of time to remember. My friend moved into the home of her new guy and totally decorated it as she preferred to. He was glad to have her company, and remained oblivious to all the decorating touches that meant so much to her.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I suppose that’s preferable to a partner who has strong opinions that are in conflict with how you want things to look.

      Some dear friends of ours live in a house that screams Gabberts ALL THE WAY! The sofas, the chairs, the end tables, the coffee table, the bookcase, the lamps, the dining room table and chairs, the rugs and even the art on the wall above one sofa, all bought at the same time. Once about every ten years or so, they get rid of the old, and purchase a different package. Husband and I both scratch our heads, can’t relate to that at all. Order and neatness counts a lot more in their house than ours.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. My need to alter the look of my home coincided with those odd years when I did the online dating thing. A few women I got to know were intimidated by my involvement with the look of my home. One of those women dreaded having me visit her because she lived in a tacky old farmhouse in Hamel. I could have wept in frustration about that. She had five children, all of whom she loved and was close to. Her five kids were so important to her she never had the luxury of worrying about her home. Five kids, and she absolutely loved each of them. I kept trying to convince her that being a good mother to five kids was vastly more impressive than decorating a cute bungalow.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. It’s an aggravating thing that if I start a comment, then switch over to check an incoming message on Whatsapp, for instance, the comment will have disappeared when I come back. Only to reappear later when it’s too late.

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  14. I’ve said for decades that our furnishings are Early Garage Sale and Flea Market. The only thing I can think of that isn’t either used or antique is the mattress, and an oak bookshelf I bought from… can’t remember. There are some very unique pieces, one of them being a beautiful oak pedestal table of PJ’s that was refinished by Hans.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’ll confess, BiR, that I miss that old table. The modern Danish teak table that replaced it just doesn’t have the same feel to it. It has a better height in relationship to the chairs, and it hasn’t been faded by years of sunlight and use, but it doesn’t have the charm and history of that heavy old table. It gives me comfort to know that you and Michael appreciate it, and I treasure the memory of our final lunch at it before it was dismantled and sent home with you.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I pretty much walked away from it all. I let almost everything go as part of an estate sale. Since I was too sick to really empty the house, that work was done (or much of it) by professional cleaners. Their bill was paid from the estate sale, meaning I got only a tiny check for all the things in the estate sale. But it had to be. I needed to be closer to my daughter, and that was the only way it could happen.

      I’ve always said that selling my home was the hardest thing I’ve done in life. I’ll never forget all the help you and Michael and others gave me. I should add that tim helped me ship a very small amount of the stuff in my house.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. My Grandmother Boomgaarden had quite awful decorative taste. She liked to cut the pictures of the cute children and kittens that used to grace packages of Northern Toilet paper and hang them to the walls with thumb tacks.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I could match that with the taste of Grandma Grooms. Her bathroom was a special lurid shade of pink only used in bathrooms of that era. For decoration she had cornball cartoon decals of animals doing adorable things.

      Liked by 3 people

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