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Nov. 9, 2006

The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue ...

You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug.

Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.

Chuck Palahniuk, "Fight Club"

We've been decorating.

My apartment's previous owner was an artist. Judging from the work she did in what would become my home, it made sense for her to hold a day job.

The worst atrocity was the living and dining area: orange, yellow and red walls ... in sponge paint. "Tuscan hell," Ellen calls it.

Instead of painting one room one hue and the second room the other, the artist organized the color scheme diagonally, thinking the resulting optical illusion would make the rooms look bigger. (She thought wrong.) She also had either the negligence or the hubris to paint over the light switches, vent registers and, intentionally or not, half the woodwork. Despite all efforts to eradicate them, specks of red and yellow will forever remind me of her talents.

Few house guests have entered and not commented. Kind people say, "Your paint is ... interesting." Honest people say, "What ugly walls you have. And what idiot painted on the diagonal?"

But I have high tolerance for such atrocities. Yes, each time I looked at these walls was a small pain, but that small daily pain multiplied over the four years I've lived there did not approach the big pain and time suck I expected a painting project to be. I'd rather ride my bicycle.

Ellen adjusted the calculus. When I wasn't looking she spackled and applied primer, and soon enough I was playing with online color pickers. Good-bye, Tuscan hell. Hello, "Rejuvenate" green and "Blue Fox" blue.

Several weeks later, I must concede that the new rooms look great. We haven't even finished touching up or moving furniture and they look great, and I'm grateful that Ellen had the courage and patience to put up with my fussiness and hand-wringing.

But Pandora's box has been opened. Now that the living area looks livable, the yellow hallway stands out like a yellow, gangrenous thumb. Once we tackle the hallway, I expect the bathroom will need work. And then the bedrooms. And then the kitchen. By then it may be time to rejuvenate "Rejuvenate."

It didn't end with the painting. This week we went to Ikea. I had the brilliant idea of going on a Sunday afternoon while most of Chicago would be watching the Bears game. Surely we could be in and out within three hours.

What I'd forgotten is that while one can go in Ikea in three hours or go out of Ikea in three hours, nobody in the history of low-cost home furnishings has ever done both, not even on a game day. We returned home at 6:30.

Much time was spent considering drapes to go with the new color scheme. It came down to a question of boring. Ellen is anti-boring. I, however, am emphatically not.

What she sees as boring I see as "neutral." I see nothing wrong with being neutral. Neutral is flexible. It doesn't offend. It doesn't have to be replaced every few years.

Switzerland is neutral. Who doesn't love the Swiss, from their watches to their misses? I spent 24 hours in Zurich once. It was indeed boring, but nice. I'd spend the rest of my days there if I could.

And just as a neutral country never risks being on the wrong side of history, so do neutral aesthetics avoid falling on the wrong side of fashion. A person who never goes out on a limb with the cut of his pants never has to look at 10-year-old photos and say, "What on earth was I thinking?" (Then again, a person who does not blog never risks having to say that either.)

There were tense moments among the drapes when Ellen was holding fast to flamboyant patterns while I clung to understated solids. "Why do you hate everything I suggest?" one of us said, taking the words out of the other's mouth. In the end we compromised: solid orange layered atop white-on-white floral prints. She got her flamboyance, I got my solids.

And they will be the last drapes I will ever need in my life.

Photo taken: Oct. 25, 2006