They were barrels once. Now they were chairs. My chairs, and I thought they were so fresh, so fly. They were not.
These two chairs -- actual wooden barrel in the back with a carved-out seat made of red faux leather to the front -- were just a bad idea. But you couldn’t tell me nuthin’ as I begged the already-miffed cabbie to stuff the chairs into his trunk then tie it down with rope I procured from the “open air” antique shop (read: junk sold in a parking lot) and drive us all home to Brooklyn.
I don’t even remember how I got my tacky bundles up the two flights of stairs. However, if I close my eyes a bit, I can almost see myself reclining -- as best as one could in a barrel chair -- in my new furniture, feeling accomplished. I was onto something, or so I thought.
Those chairs plus one wobbly, round table were the only things populating the carpeted living room in my new two-bedroom (I said two) NYC apartment. Giddy from all the space, after recently upgrading from a tight studio, I was quickly trying to fill my new digs, but had no clue where to look for my look. I didn’t even know what my look was. Home décor was a somewhat foreign language to me back then.
I knew futons. I knew Ikea. I knew what I didn’t like (pink, floral anything). I knew that my homeboy Ricky’s pad -- he was a fashion stylist -- was stuck on fabulous, and I wanted some of that. I wanted some home sense and sophistication. I wanted that thing that when someone stepped foot in your place, they immediately knew that it was your place. You, your style and personality, were practically written all over the walls.
A few months later I sold my awkward barrel hybrids, and I started flipping through magazines and noting stylish rooms on television and movie sets, trying to find what screamed me. This exercise only underscored how much nice stuff I couldn’t afford. So I settled on basic, inexpensive pieces from Ikea and nearby furniture stores. Lots of silvery metals, glass-tops and square, plain sofas.
I moved to Barbados a few years later to work as a reporter for a local newspaper, and rented a furnished apartment from a retired postmaster general. That meant plenty of striped beige and brown, slightly worn, old-man furnishings with built-in everything. My personality only entered the scene with the bed linens. I just couldn’t bring myself to sleep on rented sheets. (Listen, we all have our things.)
Two years later, I was back in Canada, this time Toronto, and I crashed at my older sister’s house while working on my newest project: co-founding a dot-com company. Our first (and kind of only) product was an online magazine for 20somethings. We saw some success with it and soon -- being the one with a green card -- I moved to San Francisco to launch our U.S. headquarters.
This was where I thought I could finally spread my décor wings. I bought a proper bed, some bar stools for the kitchen island, and a dining room table that was really a workstation. I went with frosted glass and metals again because that’s what was playing in the dot-com heyday. It was all nice stuff and served me well, but it still wasn’t yet me.
One weekend, I ended up at a street fair in the city and there I found the perfect pieces -- of art, not furniture. Hokey as it may sound, something about the pieces spoke to me. They connected with that me I had been searching for. I bought both and hung them that same night in my lukewarm apartment.
Afterward, to every new apartment, every new city or state I moved, those pictures came with me. They were usually the first things I found a space for, like my anchors.
Back in Brooklyn again after 6 years, I ventured once more to stores and antique shops and flea markets looking for furniture that would work with my art pieces. No longer interested in metals and glass-tops, I gravitated towards rustic woods, comfortable cushions, breezy fabrics, muted colors, and fun one-of-a-kinds that told their own interesting stories. I started buying more art and framing my own photography to hang on the walls.
This spring, our little family bought our first home. We moved in two weeks ago. After years of renting, we finally own these walls. We can paint them, wallpaper them, and even change our minds in a month and paint them all over again. It’s like being let loose, free-range, after too long stuck in a box. So many choices! You want to do all of everything. (Plus, you know my deal with DIY, grown woman things.)
Now I’m much clearer about what says “me,” and I’m relieved that the husband and I have very similar tastes. Except for his anti-kitty-corner stance. Guy, everything does not have to be flush against the wall!
Looking through all the sites and magazines on interior design in preparation for the move, I started to wonder what I was. What’s my style? (Sidebar: There are, like, 24 different décor styles. Who comes up with all of this? Who’s the decider?) After clicking through a sickening number of Google images and taking a few funny (not ha-ha) online quizzes, I’m happy to say that I have a label: I’m Cottage.
According to Houzz.com -- the ultimate time-gobbling home site -- cottage style is laid-back, personal and all about comfort. It’s “as much a frame of mind, as it is an approach to decorating,” says Houzz contributor Lisa Frederick. It celebrates imperfections and “blended family” furniture, and welcomes eclectic touches, like the funky sage-colored dentist’s cabinet you’re using to store cookbooks, pulling together different finds and relics of your life adventures.
We’re talking distressed, chipped, rustic, and mismatched: natural-fiber fabrics and real wood floors, high ceilings and French doors. It’s old this paired nicely with new that or expensive thing perched on found-it-at-a-tag-sale painted bookcase. It’s washable slipcovered couches that call your name all day, begging you to lay your troubles down on their cozy, fluffy cushions.
I didn’t think knowing my “style label” would mean anything; kind of like discovering the color of your aura. Believe it or not, it has actually been helpful as we go about putting together the jigsaw puzzle that is a formal living room. I can walk into a store or flip through a magazine now and immediately decipher whether it’s me/us or not.
It was borderline fascinating. I actually dragged my younger sister down the home décor rabbit hole, too. She’s Contemporary with aspirations of going Coastal. I know. It all sounds like astrology gone way wrong and, I’m sure, a little “who cares! There are real things happening in the world, girl!”
But feeling at home in your home, seeing yourself in the things you choose to fill the corners of that particular space, it matters. It makes a difference to you, if no one else, and that has to count for something. And, hey, there’s always Pinterest.