“Beige is atmosphere. It’s bisque, it’s ivory, it’s cream, it’s stone, it’s toast, it’s cappuccino. It’s, well, it’s magic.” Albert Hadley, The Story of America’s Preeminent Interior Designer
Spring is here – or at least it has been rumored to be skirting the tri-state area. There is stirring and restless, frenetic activity in the woods as another generation of flora and fauna stretch into the longer days of April. There is resurrection in the air and repair everywhere – stonewalls, gutters, and roofs damaged by a bloated winter whose derriere squatted longer and harder on the Northeast than in years past.
A charm of finches flit across my garden frantically engrossed in gathering twigs to build nests while plump, red breasted robin’s patrol my lawn helping themselves to worms and unseen insects. It seems every living thing is rousing out of the stupor of an endless night of winter days. It is a happy serotonin fueled time for new resolutions and projects. Change is in the air.
It is also at this time of year that other nest builders begin to itch for change. The warning signs are subtle and hard to discern from the normal cadence of spring cleaning. Only the trained eye of a veteran husband can detect the overactive imaginations, the incessant daydreaming and endlessly indefatigable minds of women as the lighter days inspire them to reconsider the interior designs of their home.
It begins with an almost undetectable earmarked page in House Beautiful and quickly escalates to your discovery of Connecticut Homes stuffed between the mattresses like a forbidden girlie magazine. These periodicals are mere gateway drugs to an eventual preoccupation with Home Improvement television shows followed by long “shopping” trips where your partner seemingly returns home with no purchased item other than some benign pieces of fabric and a few innocent looking business card colored placards similar to playing cards in Candyland. The next thing you know, some NYC metro sexual named RicKi (yes, a capital K) is inside your living room declaring you a candidate for FEMA fashion relief.
I can recall watching my mother gush with what appeared to be disingenuous praise every time she would visit the homes of friends and neighbors with older children. She would often stare at my father as she flattered our hosts on their choice of fabrics and décor. Years later, I realized her praise was laced with anger and envy. Raising destructive boys and a dog that preferred to urinate on the corner of her living room sofa had left her paralyzed from attempting a home makeover.
My freshman year of college, a woman that could be best described as the unholy offspring of Rodney Dangerfield and Phyllis Diller arrived at our front door. She was a “prominent” Beverly Hills interior designer who was doing a friend a favor by agreeing to meet with my mother aka “that poor woman with the four boys”.
“ My gaaaawd! Honey, I don’t know how you have survived so long living in GI Joe’s footlocker. I mean, it looks like Burt Reynolds threw up all over your house!” Her hysterical laugh quickly yielded to a smoker’s cough that sounded like she was going to hack up a fur ball. My mother could only respond with a nervous, embarrassed chuckle. She quickly shot my father the “lizard look” – a squinting leer of distain that silently conveyed more contempt than any combination of words in the Merriam Webster dictionary.
The auburn bombshell proceeded into our living room surveying its sculpted olive green shag carpet, overstuffed urine stained twin floral sofas and a bamboo wall-to-wall stereo cabinet that seemed better suited to a potting shed. My dad was not sure whether this woman was a homemaker or a home wrecker as it was clear that he was about to take the rap from my mom for her sudden epiphany that she had been living a life of squalor.
Overnight, our comfortable Father Knows Best living room transformed into a sterile showcase home only fit for women, demure young girls and clients. An entire living space in our home became “off limits” and remained unoccupied for weeks on end. Any living thing with hair under its arms was relegated to a postage stamp sized den. To add insult to injury, my father was required to compensate this domestic fashionista. He eventually came to refer to her simply as “the parasite”.
It is present day and a strange woman keeps leaving messages on our machine for my wife. She talks rapidly and always in code. “Hi, Caroline. I’ve got those swatches you were asking about and will leave them in the store for you.” Swatches? I am suddenly aware of little pieces of laminated colored paper taped to the living room wall.
The beige and powder blue squares have names like “healing aloe” and “ soft fern”. The “soft fern” color is actually light gray. It looks more like “dead fern” to me. There are other squares of Sherwin Williams paint that are perfumed and lip-sticked with names like “deer path“ and “baby’s breath.” Personally, all I think of when I see them is round pebbles of scat and curdled milk.
I actually have not met the happy interior design lady. I can visualize her as she parades across my perfectly acceptable living and family rooms with that puzzled, sympathetic look of a cosmetic surgeon. “Has it always looked this way?” “Personally, I can see why you don’t want a ‘cluttered’ feel to the room.” “Cluttered” is female speak for “everything your husband finds comfortable is about to be banished to the basement.
As the home makeover escalates, it becomes physically inconvenient. It requires me to move stuff. I hate moving things. A call from another room is like fingernails on a chalkboard. “Hon’, I need to hold this mirror up for me.“ or “Can you move that 500lb urn over to that corner? I just want to see how it looks.” I become a thankless Druid rebuilding Stonehenge each night at the whim of my spouse and the invisible furniture muse. One particularly irksome request has me moving everything on the right side of the room to the left side and vice versa. Other than potentially accommodating some ancient principle of feng shui, I can see no purpose to this exercise other than turning my L1 through L5 vertebrae into a ruptured, gelatinous kebob.
My nightly plyometrics continue unabated. “A little higher. No higher, No lower. Just two inches to the right.” The 200lb mirror is about to smash to the ground as I near total muscle failure. She hesitates. I crane my neck and encourage this new location. Actually, at this point, I would endorse its’ relocation anywhere. “Nope” she says shaking her head. “It’s not quite right.” The mirror plunges and I stick out my shoe to protect it from hitting the floor. It crushes my toe. I swear and hop on one leg. Her backed is turned.” Let’s try it over here.”
As I limp to bed that night, I have vivid nightmares of my house being overrun with green alpaca fiber bunny rabbit themed throw blankets and emerald enameled Faberge eggs. An orange man with a feathered boa keeps trying to convince me that the latest design style is to have an empty room where everyone just stands. My flat screen TV is now the size of a postage stamp. He is chasing after me. “Come look at what I have done to your den, it’s called, ‘Greco-Roman Wolf’. There are animal fur throw rugs, a marble desk and I have replaced your toilet with a grotto urinal so you can pee while standing up.”
I wake up in a cold sweat and stumble into the kitchen. As I pass through the darkened living room, I can see swatches of fabric draped over the arms of chairs and sofas. The décor demon has passed this way again. When will this end? It starts innocently with a new chair and concludes with my wife telling me she needs a divorce because my eyes don’t match the new living room carpet? I turn on a light and mindlessly open one of a thousand décor magazines littering the coffee table — an issue of Dwell magazine.
I can’t help feeling cynical. I mean who the hell buys Dwell magazine anyway? Who writes for Dwell – interior design people who can’t make up their minds? I open the smartly illustrated cover and an article catches my eye – simply called “ Man Caves”. The “Hunting Lodge” theme encourages dark wood accents, such as bookshelves, and rich mahogany furniture. The article patronizingly concludes with “don’t forget, men need simplicity, so avoid clutter. (there’s that code word again).” I surveyed the chocolate brown leather chairs, the floor to ceiling bookcase, the crown molding and midnight slate fireplace. This would make a good man cave.
In a moment of midnight clarity, I realize I must actively participate in this remodel ‘lest I awaken one day to a family room transformed into a day spa with the stereo piping out new age, Peruvian pan-flute music. I fold the page marking the article on “Hunting Lodge Man Caves” and slip the magazine underneath her pillow.
Yep, two can play this game.