You never forget your first love. Mine was a dollhouse I made from bits of Formica and wood. My parents had just had a new kitchen fitted and back then worktops had to be made from scratch by cutting to size and gluing on the Formica. I used leftover bits and created a 2 story dollhouse with wavy walls- that was not an artistic expression, I just couldn’t cut straight lines. It was pretty but felt Spartan so I overlaid the insides with floral fabric and it instantly felt like home. I was proud of my work and carried it with bated breath to show my mum and her friend. Mum let out a yell. I smiled from ear to ear, basking in the praise I was about to be drenched in since she had just discovered that her daughter’s talents had no end. Still in shock, she explained to her friend that the Formica had cost her such a large amount of money per square meter, and of all the things in and out of the house, why did that have to be my drug of choice? She later admired my work- reluctantly- so as to dissuade me from going after any other expensive leftovers in the house.
I remember being aware of the mood-altering effect interiors can have on us the time we visited friends of my parents. I must have been about 6 or 7 years old at the time. It isn’t unusual for middle-class homes in Nigeria to have 2 or more sitting rooms. There is the family or kids room where the children play and watch TV. This usually has comfortable chairs and is rich in colour. Next you have the adults’ or main sitting room where the parents and their close friends hang out. The decor is usually tasteful and coordinated, often with a comfortable accent chair for the man of the house. Finally, you have the ‘touch me not’ sitting room. This space is reserved for very special guests, or for showing off and it bears a striking resemblance to an art gallery. The adults seem to glide rather than walk on the carpet with the homeowner leading the way, telling the story of how they acquired this piece of art or the other. Unfortunately, on this visit, that was where my family ended up.
Once seated, no one needed to tell us that this wasn’t a place for kids to kick back and relax, certainly no child had ever played hide and seek in here. Like birds, we perched on the very edge of the chairs and tried not to breathe for fear of rearranging the symmetry in the air. There were what I now know to be ornamental framed art on the walls featuring fearful characters, each face framed in intricate, gilded carving. It certainly wasn’t a happy place and it wasn’t because colour was absent. The laughter was pretentious and the voice tones pre-measured for effect. My brothers and I couldn’t wait to bolt. Finally, we were set free and told to go and play with the other children in the children’s sitting room. I remember mum’s whisper as on my way out I reached out to have a sneaky caress of the textured wall, ‘don’t touch the walls!’ Despite the indoor swimming pool and access to every toy a child could dream of, I prayed never to return. Unfriendly family or sitting rooms became my pet peeve from that moment on and it still is.
I recently went through my wardrobe in a decluttering exercise. I came across a dress that I have only worn twice. I have no idea what drew me to it in the first place. I think at the time I purchased it I was struggling to balance my taste with what the runway decreed. The dress is in a psychedelic 70s print, which I am partial too, anything that takes me to the 70s or 80s is my friend, but the dress and I just did not get along. Perhaps my issue was with the colour. The print combines gold, cream and orange set against a chocolate brown background. I found it too dark despite the cream colour and the dress reminded me of a humid & busy marketplace. The reason I still held on to it was because I received great compliments both times I wore it. My friends loved it. Strangers stopped me to admire it. Still I just couldn’t garner any fondness for it. I have reached the conclusion that for us to enjoy creativity, it must be right for us from the inside out, not from the outside in.
I use this knowledge when designing interiors for clients. You may love the stunning room pictured in your favourite interior design magazine or website, but it might not feel right. So I work with the client to adapt the design so it feeds their own creativity.
After the holidays, I plan to remove from my space anything that does not bring me joy. Creativity does not need permission to be expressed and there is no yardstick to measure it against. Your home should bring you joy & allow you to express your true self.
I’ll finish with a quote by Barbara de Angelis: We need to find the courage to say NO to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.
Have you had an experience that defined your likes and dislikes? Please share!
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