Monday, March 31, 2014

Home improvement

I have a new obsession: home decor.  It started as a coping mechanism when we were in the midst of the interminable process of buying our apartment last spring.  I spent my theoretical spare time surfing Apartment Therapy and bringing home decorating magazines, projecting myself to a point in the future when my only concern would be paint color.  The apartment purchase and sale closed, we moved, and now we've been here nine months.  I'm still obsessed.  

"What do you think of this table?" I asked my husband, handing him my phone with the browser open to Le Bon Coin, the local equivalent of Craig's List.  My husband has learned, I think, that the best strategy is to humor me, so instead of making an noncommittal "Hmmm," he told me what he really thought.  

"Only 250€ for the table and the chairs! That'll be gone fast."

"So you like it?"  I said hopefully.

"Not really. It's too dark."  

"It's walnut.  Like that bookshelf."  I pointed to the entryway.

My husband, with remarkable diplomacy, managed to explain what he liked better about our current dining room table, a beat-up round IKEA table in pine with a central leaf that's a different color, without starting an argument.  He humors my obsession within reason, and perhaps it is because he knows I'm serious: I've picked up two chairs and a twin bed this year.  I'm ready to start selling things, too: out with the flat-box crap, in with the real stuff, I say.  If it is second-hand, all the better: the thrill of the bargain hunt, and it's ecological, too.

I come from a long line of the house-proud and decor-obsessed: my grandmother's favorite pastime was trawling garage sales and antique markets to complete or start new collections.  She once told me solemnly, "If you only remember one piece of advice from me, let it be this: if you can't find anywhere to put something, you can always hang it from the wall."  (Did she know somehow that someday I'd move to a tiny Parisian apartment?)  My father and stepmother's home is like the coziest of museums.  And I remember distinctly that as a small child I used to regularly come home from school to find that my mother had completely rearranged the furniture in the living room.  

Like all obsessions, it can be a tiny bit unhealthy.

In a couple weeks, we'll have the three bedrooms repainted (involving ripping out wallpaper and replastering, making it worth giving it to pros), new carpet put in, and new curtains.  I'm thrilled.  Meanwhile I've got a project list which involves light fixtures, refinishing chairs, building shelves, and spending a weekend of quality time cleaning grout and recaulking bathrooms.  This has replaced blogging.  This has replaced reading.  

"I think I'm trying to escape reality," I told a friend recently.  She looked surprised.  "Escape what reality exactly?"  I couldn't answer. Maybe things feel too good, so focusing on imagined imperfection at home reassures me.  Maybe things are too serious, and I need something frivolous to occupy myself.  Maybe it's the ten previous years of living in a 700 square foot apartment that are catching up with me.  Maybe I'm just, as we'd say in French, slightly grave.  

I brought home a deluxe metal window planter this evening for my new kitchen herb garden.  I invited the kids to help me fill it up with potting soil and then plant rosemary, thyme and coriander.  Dirt was all over the kitchen floor and all over the kids, and I didn't mind; I decided to count it as keeping perspective.