This week, I finally made it to my semi-annual appointment for a dental cleaning (Can it still be called “semi annual” when you end up cancelling three times and are therefore seven months late for a once-every-six-months event?). I love my dental cleanings because there is no risk of the dreaded needle and because I can count on about half an hour of waiting room time. As a working mother, this is like a mini-holiday – child-free, husband-free, client-free, and surrounded by magazines. So lovely!
In keeping with my mini-holiday fantasy, I refused to read anything that included health and fitness advice, tips on cooking/cleaning/organizing the home, or pictures of skinny, young models sporting clothing I cannot afford. This left me with a stack of home decorating magazines, or as I like to call them, “pornography for the heavily mortgaged”.
Inside the glossy covers, every room was freshly painted, perfectly lit, and usually sans people (because nothing spoils the visuals of a good designer makeover worse than an ill-coordinating husband hunkered down amid the toss cushions, pointing a remote at the spot on the wall where there used to be a television). For the first few minutes, I was completely enthralled, thoughts travelling to an imaginary place where I have enough money to replace my flooring with Rainforest friendly bamboo and enough time to make my own bed frame from reclaimed barn boards. But as I flipped through more and more pages, the rooms started to become like Nicole Kidman’s face – clean and beautiful, but also stark, strange and somewhat unsettling.
I became acutely aware of the mirrored surface to wall ratio in those beautiful bathrooms… so many glass shower doors and all of them across from giant mirrors. Is this manageable in my world? Do I really want to start every morning glaring at my own full frontal nudity? Who is rolling all those towels and strategically placing them in wicker baskets? Is it the same magical creature who is taking a squeegee to all that glass and tile every day? And where are they hiding the bathroom reading because… let’s be honest here… everybody reads on the pooper.
I also started to question the kitchen set up. Love the giant refrigerator that makes ice cubes and tells you when the door is open (and presumably does your taxes and occasionally babysits the kids) but am a bit perplexed by its nakedness. Where are the school notices and the pizza coupons and that magnetic grocery list thingie? Come to think of it, there are a lot of things missing from these kitchens…the toaster, the coffee maker, the Magic Bullet that so conveniently creates smoothies in the morning… what has happened to these life essentials? Will these designer kitchens really look much different from my own, once those shiny marble counters are cluttered with paper towel holders and cutting boards and that perfectly put together fruit bowl has been covered in plastic wrap to defend against fruit flies?
And don’t even get me started on the living rooms! The designer living rooms were all super-intimidating and I couldn’t figure out where I would put my wine glass. The newest rage seems to be replacing the coffee table with an ottoman (or a weird grouping of ottomans… What is the plural of ottoman… Ottomani? Ottomanus?) and instead of end tables, there are “re-purposed” things, like ladders with a single, useless item on each rung, or a bunch of hardcover books that have been strategically stacked and presumably glued together. It seems practical to have destroyed the books because I cannot imagine where one might actually read in this room anyway. The only lighting comes from giant standing lamps that loom threateningly over a sofa and mis-matched collection of chairs. I suspect, based on the angle of the lamp shades, that any perspective reader would be blinded by the glare yet oddly unable to find enough wattage to actually read print. So… back to my initial problem… there is no where to put my wine glass, though this may be deliberate, since the rug in front of the sofa is either (a) white, (b) made of fur, (c) more expensive than the family car, or (d) all of the above.
And don’t think that you might be able to simply read in bed because the bedroom is clearly not a place where people read. There are two basic versions of the designer bedroom: masculine and feminine. In the masculine version, the entire room is essentially empty, save for a bed the width of a small island nation that sits about six inches off the floor on an invisible frame. Everything is black and white except for a single piece of art that doubles as a headboard and features no definable images… just a few swathes of paint and a dollop of red somewhere, which “pulls the look together” by pseudo-matching with the lone red toss cushion. All of the other cushions have clearly been stolen by the designers who favour “feminine” designs. In the feminine bedroom, you require a step stool to access the bed and once you climb onto your lofty perch, the first task of the evening must be throwing the dozens of toss cushions downward to the floor. I assume that the magical creature who keeps the bathroom sparkling must spend the remainder of his/her day making the bed.
I think that I am getting too old for interior design magazines. It happened with cooking magazines. One day I was happily perusing through Bon Apetit and imagining a world where my family snacked on prosciutto-wrapped melon and the next I lost the ability to pretend that I might scrape the seeds out of a vanilla bean to create my own ice cream. Maybe it’s okay because truthfully, Ben and Jerry make great ice cream and the time I save by just grabbing it at the grocery store leaves me with whole evenings to sit with my kids on our squishy old sofa, feet perched on a very-out-of-style wooden coffee table. And we can all watch television without fear of dropping anything on the area rug because it cost $49.95 on sale at Walmart!
I can actually answer a couple of your questions, now that I’ve stopped laughing.
About 20 years ago, Garry and I were visiting friends who lived on Lombard Street — THE most chi-chi address in San Francisco. It was a small but nifty little house. They had a view to die for and a redwood in the backyard. And a lot of money with twice a week cleaning people. No kids, no pets. Food was delivered. Nice to visit, but not really “us.”
They took us to visit friends who had a mansion — which had been featured in House Beautiful — in the Napa Valley. The house was perfect. Just like a magazine. Hot and cold running maid(s?) to keep it clean and perfect. They never used most of the house. They had A room which was messy, cluttered, and almost comfortable. Where they had a TV, stereo, and someplace you could rest a glass or a plate down without destroying The Look. As for the kitchen, it was so big and there was so MUCH counter space, you could fit my kitchen, your kitchen and all my friends’s kitchens into it and it would still look empty. I believe they had a cook who produced food, then cleaned up.
The house, to me, just looked cold and uncomfortable. There were probably 18 rooms in all. They used ONE bedroom and the “play room.” Everything else was for show. The gardens were maintained by gardeners, the kitchen by cooks, the rest of the house by cleaning staff. So what did they get — except bragging rights — from this gazillion dollar house that HAD BEEN FEATURED IN HOUSE BEAUTIFUL? The right to brag to their equally snobby friends that THEIR HOUSE HAD BEEN FEATURED IN HOUSE BEAUTIFUL.
I’m pretty sure I’d like your house and you’d probably like mine. Because our houses are comfortable. And we LIVE in them.
This was a terrific post and I may just feel compelled to reblog it later this week. Note I gave up reading decorating magazines 25 years ago. I went cold turkey.
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Hmmm. Not sure I can go cold turkey…Those ‘holiday’ issues will always lure me back with their promises of Halloween pumpkins carved like the Sistine chapel and sitting in front of a colour-coordinated door that has no dog scratches on it… and of course, there will always be the elusive shots of perfect Christmas trees!
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You slay me! It is like you are in my head!
Thank you. I am starting to believe that all mothers actually share one giant mind – like that 7 character from one of the Star Trek franchises.
Thank you! I loved this – you had me spluttering all the way through my boiled egg this morning (in my not designer-at-all kitchen). I agree with you – these rooms lack personality and are as family-friendly as an empty swimming pool. And as for reading… Designer families don’t read, darling. They take the pose for the magazine photographers, admire their white wall-to-wall carpets, and gloooooow 🙂
You are right about those families. Based on the black and white photos you see on the stairwell walls of those magazines, the children spend most of their time sniffing giant daisies or walking through fields in their bare feet!
Another great post (is it Ottomen? If not, it should be)
Ottomen… Really? Seems to obvious and logical to be English! Maybe ottomanopia?!?
You stole my answer! Ottomanopoeia…which brings to mind the question, what sound would an Ottoman make?
Hmmmm… Is it like the tree in the forest? If there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? Ooooh… getting very deep and philosophical this morning. Must have had just the right amount of coffee!
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oMG. Just checked it out and the plural is ottomans! See what I mean… Where is the logic?!?
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Reblogged this on SERENDIPITY.
The thing that always gets me about photos in those design magazines (Yes, I’m male. Yes, I’m straight. Yes, I sometimes look at architecture and interior design magazines — far more interesting than a magazine about fishing or automobile repair, IMO) is that there are hardly every any PETS. Sometimes there may be a floofy little dog-like creature included in the shot as if to show that “real people live here,” but you can be sure that real dogs don’t, because the room isn’t at all pet-friendly. And cats… That’s what I think of first when I see a photo I like: “Looks good, but not for me — the cats would climb those shelves and knock everything on the floor.” Or “I’d like to have a few houseplants like those — but the cats would eat them.” (I’ve had to remove a cat from my desk three times so far during the typing of this comment.) Even wall-hung art is problematical, because cats can jump really high when there’s something they want to play with… I suspect that people with children have similar thoughts about the impracticality of some things.
The photos in those magazines make it look as if no one has hobbies (aside from cooking — there must be some justification for the palatial kitchens, after all), no one has collections of things that they love for their own sake instead of for their decorative qualities (books that are there to see but not read — what a sick and twisted concept), and no one has stuff that requires real storage space. (I wonder if all those elaborate holiday decorations are assumed to be discarded and replaced every time, rather than stowed in a closet, attic, or garage to wait until next year.) And if these houses are meant for people with children, they’re the kind of children who have elaborately decorated bedrooms but no toys except a collection of antique teddy bears that are never put in a wagon and towed around the yard on a frog-hunting adventure. (I’m not saying I ever had teddy bears that went with me on frog-hunting adventures… A knitted alligator, yes, but not bears. *grin*)
This is so true! Real people could not possibly enjoy living in these designer homes. Marilyn’s story about the Napa Valley mansion makes that obvious. I don’t buy decorating magazines any more, well maybe once or twice a year I’ll succumb if I see a “Better Homes and Gardens”, or “Family Circle” with a particularly nice cover photo that promises to tell me how to reorganise my space, choose a colour scheme or grow a garden without actually doing any work. Mostly though I’ve been put off by the reality TV shows because the first thing they always want you to do is get rid of “clutter” eg all the little bits and pieces we love. Apparently Designer Families don’t keep things that have sentimental value, don’t have pets, or at least never let them in the house, they don’t read, don’t have hobbies and none of their appliances require electrical cords. By the way if anyone knows where the magical bathroom and kitchen cleaners are and the ones that vaccuum up crumbs and dog hair please send them to our place.
I have this feeling that the majority of my life memories are wrapped up in and around all that ‘clutter’ that designers seem so keen to dispose of… or maybe I just need to toss some crap out (ha ha)!
Ok I laughed my head off while I turned beat red – I have an ottoman,(which I’ve recovered badly 2 times – lately with potato stamps and left over rope) books and magazines galore, designer dreams and real living. Some of us like nice things but don’t spend a fortune or expect that no one will touch anything, but I hear you and it was fun to laugh at your point of view while seeing myself in there – just a little 😉
Enjoy your dreams my friend… just make sure there’s always a place to put your wineglass!