What happens when six people who all happen to have an interest in style and design move into a collective household together?
Now, if 100 monkeys on typewriters could accidentally recreate the Bible, given enough time, as the old claim goes, you should be able to find six housemates with identical tastes.
But what are the odds?
Well, we haven’t achieved quite that much alignment here. It’s true that each of us wants a beautiful, well-designed and decorated home, yet, monkeys notwithstanding, we don’t have an identical view of how that should happen. Nonetheless, we have a good-looking habitat.
Last weekend my girlfriend Griz walked into our house for the first time and nearly fell over with joy at the beauty of it. She loved the design: the spaciousness, the high ceilings, the wall-to-wall array of windows taking advantage of the fabulous rural views. She admired the décor: the bold clock that fills the space over a window, the little pentych of Eve’s etchings that lives on the wall near the entrance, the splash of orange and green cushions lying about on our sofas and chairs.
As she enthused, I allowed a glimmer of pride at what we’ve created.
You know how sometimes you walk into someone’s house; it looks fabulous, and you say, wow, this place is Marjorie all over. It’s a temple to Marjorie’s taste and style. You could probably give the style a name, like quirky, elegant, Balinese, country, casual chic, or restrained.
To use a real-life example, I give you Ken and Sal, who have created a stunning new B&B in the neighbourhood. Sal’s taste in retro fills every nook and cranny of the house and guest rooms with beautiful things from the past – things that are full of history, life, questions. Ken’s sense of restoration makes top use of vintage timber and materials. The style of McGowans’ B&B is a temple to Ken and Sal’s warmth, insight, boundless curiosity and energy.
Our own home couldn’t be more different. I’m not sure it has a clear-cut style, which most often comes from an integrated approach – and how on earth could we get an integrated approached with six different tastes directing the show?
Yet our home has a certain something, a happy, comfortable, confident look that in some way reflects who we all are.
In my experience there are two ways of achieving a look that works when you’re in a communal situation, and we’ve used both.
#1. Hire an expert
You might remember in Shedders I described how we often used an external design “expert” to help align our tastes. When we first moved in to this spacious, modern, clean-lined home, we looked warily at our kluge of old furniture and accessories. I knew we had a few weeks at most before she’ll-be-right settled in and we’d no longer feel obliged to change a thing. So we contacted Di Nolan, a well-regarded Taree decorator. She came for a visit, notepad in hand, and then a few days later, fired us off a number of ideas for accessories we might purchase, as well as ways of integrating our existing pieces. Best of all, she included a colour chart (turquoise, lime green, bright oranges and reds), which gave us a heartland from which we could all explore.
Consulting with an expert is one way to create a style. But better yet…
#2. Prepare to dance
I have a music collection I love and would have to call highly eclectic. New Orleans jazz CDs sit alongside a wide range of classical albums. I have bluegrass, great country and pretty much all of Frank Sinatra. Among my favourites are a couple of CDs by my cousin Terry’s Bluesland. Anyone of good musical taste could happily lose him or herself in my music collection for quite some time.
My music, defined in part by love and by variety, relates to my point about happy design.
You could compare my collection with the life of the little shelf at the end of our hall. The hall leads into the lounge area, and because of its position the shelf is a bit of a feature wall. For a while it highlighted Rick’s colourful wooden shoes from his days working in the Netherlands with IBM. The wooden shoes migrated to the library shelves one day, and a big red china Buddha showed up in their place. Buddha reigned until he was shifted to a new location when protea season arrived and abruptly vase after vase of heavy showy blossoms dominated. Then, not long after Michael and Judy moved in, an antique treadle sewing machine found its way into the space, surmounted in pride of place with a big blue-veined Malaysian ginger jar.
That’s the way it is around here. Someone gets a design idea (founded always in something they love) and tries it out. Sometimes there’s a lot of consultation, sometimes a new look just seems to happen.
I tell this story because if you are thinking about sharing your future with others as we do in this collective household, you will find that one of the challenges you will face will be the assimilation of your cherished things. Some you may not want to share; some you may want in pride of place. You will find yourself in a continuous dance of sharing, surrender and appreciation. And, of course, learning.
What none of us, you most likely included, want to do is whitewash. We’re not after that up-market aged-care facility look where no expense has been spared to create an inoffensive (read, “soulless”) look. No elevator muzak for us. Let our communal dwellings, our kitchens and halls and libraries and gathering areas, have style! – but let them express a dance that reflects our shared life. The work we put into learning to dance and into dancing itself is what has us live together with such vitality.