When a space is better suited to a photoshoot than humans.
I have just finished counting them. There are 35 phalenopsis orchids in bloom inside this house. Cloud-like banks of pristine petals mirror the cumulonimbus shrouding Haleakala crater across the bay. Lovely.
There are more orchids outside on sheltered tabletops. Given that it’s Christmas, shrubberies of poinsettias festoon the foyers and stairwells. Lovely.
Shallow, massive trays of beach glass: green, white, blue, and even amethyst, many chunks the size of tropical fruit, lay like open treasure chests on benches and coffee tables. You guessed it: Lovely.
Lovely is driving me crazy. I am perched on the front 10th of a day bed big enough for a dozen sleeping babies. Hay bales of pillows, three deep and four abreast, attempt to keep a body upright. Providing no back support of any kind, these day beds are a revenue maker for a physiotherapist. You either sit like a teenager — semi-prone — or you perch like a Mormon missionary visiting a crack house.
This is the formal furniture. The actual beds, California Kings, are a snowy frontier of white linen. At the port and starboard side of each mattress sit postage-stamp tables.
As there isn’t a square foot of un-adorned surface in this lovely home, I am trying to write on my knee-balanced laptop. If this were a “what’s wrong with this picture” photo, there’d be no prize for fingering me.
The lady of the house has — clearly — gone to some trouble. A great deal of time, thinking and money has gone into creating a well-appointed home that reflects the immediate environment. She has worked from the local vernacular.
The walls are exactly the colour of the sand; the tiles are exactly the colours of the sea; the linens are exactly the colour of the waves; the cabinetry is exactly the colour of the soil. Really, it’s a marvel of observation and implementation.
To me, however, it’s a Rosebowl Parade of inconvenience and discomfort.
It’s also a bit mystifying.
Marble kitchen countertops record every bottle of cabernet, badly poured. Brackets of crimson half-moons of wine marks make it look as if our New Year’s resolutions should be a no-brainer.
Bathroom sinks hand-hewn from giant marble blocks take forever to fill and have no overflow drain. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Getting a dinner plate or — heaven forbid — a platter from those artful stacks of multi-hued china involves a stepladder and an assistant.
But it’s the bedside tables that have me riled. Using my forearm as a tape measure — until such a time as an abalone ruler is prised upon, measurements here will be inexact — the bedside tables measure one forearm by one forearm. This is to say, a square foot of uselessness.
Let’s make a list of what usually ends up on bedside tables. At my house you’re going to find: an alarm clock, a smartphone recharging, a stack of books, flyers and newspapers, hand cream, lip balm, nail file, TV remote, magazines, a cup of coffee, a coaster, phone, pens, notepads, highlighters, something inexplicable — ahh!! So that’s where I left my trowel! — and a reading lamp. More than likely I’ll have deposited any jewellery I was wearing there as well. There’s a reason why CSI shows rifle the bedside table and burglars make a beeline for the bedroom.
Here, at Lovely Sur Mer, the mahogany floor is the default position. There is little choice but to dump everything on the only open horizontal surface. Every morning, however, I wake up and think, “Was there an earthquake?”
So what’s the deal with decorating? When is it a reasonable enhancement of the business of living and when is it theatrical set decor?
I once stayed in a boutique hotel in London. The owner was a celebrated designer. While unpacking, I dropped one black sock. I never found it again. That’s because the whole hotel room was black: black broadloom, black walls, black upholstery, black lampshades. There was a calla lily motif splashed about to break up the goth-ness of it all, but mostly it was just a sock-eating abyss.
I have fond memories of a Steve Rubell hotel in Manhattan that offered a comic sight in the lobby each morning. Rubell had Philippe Starck design the joint and he favoured sleek, conical, stainless steel sinks. He may as well as given everyone water pistols with specific instructions to shoot each other in the crotch. The physics of the sink meant water ricocheted up at you, somewhere below the belt line.
I recall being baffled by an acquaintance’s guest towels. Not only were they embellished like wedding dresses, they were tied with bowed satin ribbons. I dried my hands with toilet paper.
So what about this tying up of guest towels in ribbons? Or banks of candles that have you dropping to one knee by force of habit? Or leather riding boots in the foyer but no horse in the barn? In fact, no barn. Hat racks of binoculars and bird watching guides but only those guides whose covers complement the carpet? Crystal urns of limes in the kitchen but no plans for mojitos?
This isn’t home, it’s competitive set design.
Lights! Camera! Inaction!
Some expressions of interior design remind me of the cargo cults of the south seas. When mysterious cargo washed up on the shores of the southwest Pacific, the locals venerated the contents. The goods became symbols and were incorporated into ritual. Tribal societies believed wealth would follow the veneration. It was a type of fetishization, really. But it continues:
If I have polo gear in the hallway, ponies will follow, no? Tea with the Queen is only a matter of time.
Conversely, there is the barren interior landscape of the aesthete. A cavernous room, white, grey or black plaster walls. A sofa. Perhaps a chair … but not facing the sofa. An ancient Maori wooden icon will be propped up against a wall. Light fixtures of surgical plastic tubing loop and snake across the room at shoulder height, shedding the barest of illumination. The homeowner’s collection of rubber bathtub stoppers fills a Salish basket. There will be an infinity-edged pool. Salt water, please. The home owners have one child named after either a country, a weekday, an Old Testament figure not of their gender, or, perhaps, a toiletry. The dog — excessively large or excessively small — is named Downward, although the name Baudelaire was considered. It appears, with the exception of an empty Radio Flyer wagon and the Baccarat crystal water bowl on the floor, that both charges are boarded elsewhere.
Home sweet home?
I grew up in homes that had bikes in the hall and a mom who yelled “get the bikes out of the hall.” At my own house, bedside tables are anthropological dig sites revealing each personality under the roof: apple cores perched on guitar sheet music; tea cups and dog collars atop laptops; grocery lists and bucket lists tucked into towers of books overshadowing my bedside lamp. Lovely. Yes, there are some fancy towels in the powder room and if you’re a guest, you’re welcome to actually use them.
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