Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed an increasing number of decorating books being organized by room. This results in a parade of entry halls, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and on. It comes off as a sort of scrap book, disjointed images of a common theme cobbled together on large pages. Like printed Pinterest.
I am confounded. I have a few books that are organized by color and I have found these handy when casting about for inspiration or stumped by combination. Southern Accents on Color comes to mind and I still refer to it nine years after I bought it. Others, focusing on one object or another – chairs, wallpaper, curtains – serve as handy reference books.
But finding a catalogue of living rooms leaves me cold. Worse still if I know that all the rooms of the house are, indeed, included, leaving me flipping back and forth trying to piece the puzzle together. It’s like meeting someone at a cocktail party and visiting for ten minutes, “Well, she seems nice.” A fleeting impression, but no depth, no perspective, no relation.
Seeing the house as a whole allows me to see it better. Seeing how each room relates to another shows me how the decorator tackled the challenges that the space presented, shows me where and why he chose to make a statement and where he chose to take a breath and demur. Having the house portioned out creates that often jarring experience one has at show houses; no common thread.
Beyond that, it shifts the focus from home to things. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter and it matters only to me. I think homes tell stories. True, some tell sad and neglected stories and some tell desperate and pretentious stories and some tell heartfelt and lasting stories; they all speak to me. When there is no narrative, when we don’t know that that particular African mask was brought back from the bachelor’s grandfather’s grand tour or if it was uncovered at a Paris flea market or simply received a good sanding after its purchase at Pier One, it is just a thing. It tells us nothing.
I look to all this stuff, the books, the magazines, the style sections and sites to open my eyes to how to do it better. Not just decorate, but create a home for my family and friends. When I see those rooms all lined up like shoebox dioramas on a schoolroom shelf, it makes me want to open my scissor and drag the blade along the fold; to set the house in order.
Image, Pablo Picasso, Studio with Plaster Head, 1925.