I dream of the perfect place. I draw with colored ink pens, I look up photos of houses, I paint furniture bright colors, in my mind, if I can’t get my hands on the real thing. I plan my next apartment décor on graph paper. I would do this differently, or that more intensely. I like to evoke a sense of place in my environment. A sense that I am somewhere I would more prefer, than in a Chicago three flat, or a Los Angeles 50s wreck of an apartment house. I envision things. I suppose this has something to do with how restless I am, or how dissatisfied, you could say. Without saying “I’d rather—“, maybe “what is“ would be more pleasant.
But I can’t believe that living space doesn’t matter. I am in a mood to design yet another perfect residence. I maybe should have been an architect. I maybe should study feng shui for real, get an abacus and work out how to make a living. I should stage homes for a realtor. I have great taste, but not always the money to back it up.
Plus I need my privacy in my spaces. I need time alone to sit and notice how the light hits my lamp base and the fuzzy face of my wooly sheep doll differently. One, with the dull reflection of iron, curved, casting a strong shadow, and the other, ethereal and timeless, reminding me of children’s attic playrooms. It is mid morning, and the clouds are reminding me of Brittany. Not that I’ve ever been there. But imagination is a form of travel. And I love to travel.
I travel in my mind to my better self. One who is pensive, but at the heart, content. She is patient (ha!), and bemused, a bit, over everything. She is infinitely curious and could read all day about ancient Arabia, or Egyptian mythology., or star-crossed lovers. She is treated delicately by the world, and by the wind and by the seasons. She remarks in her letters (oh, and she does correspond with pen and paper), that the tulips came in less full this year. This better me never fails to take care of herself.
And she lives in a smart, generous cottage, with a little land to attend to. Or in a Parisian atelier, where she takes many lovers who never overstay. Or in a castellated stone former chapel, which she has adapted to host monthly art exhibitions. Whatever is on the latest page of the design magazine.
Such is the hold Place has. The color on the walls affects us all, but perhaps I am the only one who notices. If the noise from the street is angry, perhaps I am the only one transported to a bad mood, and become jittery while the conversation drones on. The size and shape of my inner life is responsive to the literal size and shape of my walls. Not merely a reflection of my insides, but a player in effect. I fight daily with an exterior that doesn’t reflect my inner sanctum. I have only a few times been able to manipulate my apartment to my taste and comfort. Usually, I have less than comfy furniture, more than one roommate, or a partner whose personality leaks like an ‘80s skylight all over my weaker insistence that “I don’t want to see bongs on my coffee table.” Actually, I don’t remember ever owning a coffee table. So I suppose I mean, “I don’t want to see a bong on your coffee table.” I live with a feeling of powerlessness.
I do have an unconventional expectation of what a home should have. I’ve never owned a sofa. But I did finally buy a white loveseat, just to tempt the dirt. My cats made short order of its taut upholstery. I had a most amazing old rocker, re-covered and reinforced. A few friendly visits from large men, and that one was kaput. You can always adjust. It’s the permanent parts of the dwelling I have always wished I could choose.
I think windows are crucial, and the most important element. Believe it or not, some don’t agree. Of course, this includes that I won’t be looking out on a junkyard, unless it’s picturesque in some way. A pleasant neighborhood or landscape is a given. Then after windows, which I want to sit next to in the comfiest of chairs, is architectural interest. Some sloped ceiling, or different floor heights, or a dramatic staircase. Nooks, eaves, interesting rooflines, trim. Somewhere to tuck myself away and write in my journal. I guess in that way, I am a small, woodland mammal. I want to feel safe and burrowed, especially in the autumn and winter.
After these, the textures are important, and cleanliness. Good finishes for me are not all-marble and granite, or polished concrete, but wood, woven natural fibers, plaster and paint, and sisal. Copper and nickel and iron and materials that could have been used centuries ago, not fabricated yesterday in a chemical plant in Hamburg. There is a reason we gravitate toward certain things. I feel that in the right home, I would remember to water the plants more regularly, because they are my companions.
Unlike the predictions of my friends–who mean well when they tell me “to be happy, you need to be happy anywhere”– when I have been in control of my surroundings, I have been at peace, productive, and in love with my life. I still rearrange the furniture again and again. This is like clearing your desk before beginning to write. So what if I paint a wall or two every year? So what if I bring furniture in off the street and give it a good re-do? Too much furniture is just a sign I’ve been creative. But eventually, I do get into a purging mood, and off it goes. The breathing room achieved in the absence of the clutter is refreshing, and shifts my whole expectation of “what next.” I get to be different again, lighter on my feet. Just a little closer to my wistful, better self.