None of my family’s living spaces had a unified “design aesthetic” when I was growing up. My mother tried to impose a retro Thirties style on the duplex we moved into during the mid-Eighties, but the project got sidelined by the intensifying maelstrom of domestic dysfunction. Our places were decked in a catch-as-catch-can hodgepodge of furnishings acquired from relatives, flea markets, and from the murky network of connections which functioned as a off-the-books marketplace for our blue collar neighborhood.
The result was a temporal collage where a 1950s fridge shared space with a Victorian buffet table and Seventies’ mustard yellow carpeting. It was haphazard but cozy — “lived-in” as a lifestyle — and it still guides my approach to home decor.
(It may also be why I felt so comfortable around Maura and her people, who adopted a similar practice with a “thrifty immigrant” bent. Her love of estate sales is a lingering effect of this.)
It’s by baseline for how a “home” should look, and I always get a little weirded out when I visit a place where the resident do maintain a curated theme. That was especially true when I was a kid and had limited exposure to the wider world. I’d feel a vague sense of unease when I attended a classmate’s birthday party or scout meeting and the place resembled one of the floor exhibits at the home shows my mom used to drag us to — everything coordinated in terms of color and design, and lacking any evidence of day-to-day habitation. The kids’ rooms were the most unsettling, devoid of stray lego bits or scattered funnybooks or entropic decay normally associated with children’s interactions with physical objects.
My parents didn’t bother setting up “model” living quarters for Lil Bro and me because they knew what havoc two boys could wreak on a daily basis. Pretensions of opulence were a fools errand, so they settled for durable functionality.
My sense of unease was also heightened by the fact it was the 1970s–
–when children’s room decor took a sharp turn into the roiling realm of raw nightmare. I can’t even imagine spending those haunted and highly impressionable years surrounded by the gallery of leering, looming faces which dominated the period decor. How would that effect a kid, having the last thing they see at night and the first thing the see upon waking being a grinning minimalist clown head?
No wonder so many of my childhood pals went haywire as adults, while I — who grew up in an actually dysfunctional family — managed to stay relatively centered.