I used to look at staged design shots of perfect, spotless houses and covet the hell out of them. I craved that sparse simplicity — colorless, minimalist decor free of tchotchkes or decorative-yet-pointless furniture. Those spaces seemed like they inspired a tranquility of mind that I definitely did not possess.
I did live in a home like that, for a while — a modern, clean-lined, gray and white beauty with huge windows and so much open floor space, you hardly knew what to do with it. The great room literally echoed. And I tried hard to be the kind of person who belonged in that kind of space. I had a weird thing about stuff sitting out on counters. It didn’t matter how frequently an object was used; it needed to be put away between uses. All my bed linens, towels, and washcloths were white, like a hotel’s. That’s what I wanted: for my home to look like a hotel or a model home. Like no one lived there.
Looking back, it seems obvious that my goal to decorate my home in such a way that it appeared no one lived there belied an inner chaos that would need to be addressed at some point. I think I knew, at least on a subconscious level, that in a lot of ways, I was not present in my own life.
Lately, when I look at immaculate photos of professionally designed interiors, I am overcome with a sick feeling that borders on nausea. Now, when I see a “finished” project on a home design show, a space furnished and decorated by some famous flipper or renovator, I do not see beauty. I see precision — a meticulously curated image of formulaic flawlessness. I see bowls, plants, and trinkets lined up on shelves and tables at unbearably perfect ninety-degree angles. I see wiry nightstands too tiny to accommodate even a pair of glasses. I see shelves of books whose spines adhere to a predetermined color palette; their presence apparently serving only to complement the overarching concept of a false ideal. I zoom in to these perfect images and try to read the spines on the books, incredulous that anyone planning to occupy this space has any personal connection to these books whatsoever. I am disproportionately irritated when I read the generic titles that I know nobody is going to read. It’s all pretend.
When I see a perfectly staged photo of a kitchen, I can’t help but wonder where the coffee maker is or why there is no container for incoming mail. That pretty bowl of lemons is going to get moldy unless they use them, but if they use them, it is no longer a bowl of lemons; it is just an empty bowl. The living room couch is so white I’d be afraid to sit on it, much less allow one of my kids, or worse, my dog, to sit on it. The floors appear cold and hard, and are only sporadically covered with thin, woven rugs in too light a color. It’s pretend.
I don’t want any of that pretend perfection anymore. Give me real. Give me cozy and worn and lived in. Give me worn-out mismatched blankets tossed haphazardly over the arms of the couch, and quirky pillows my kids can throw on the floor. Give me luxurious, secondhand, non-coordinating bath towels picked up at Goodwill. Give me a jungle of plants that keep me on my toes with their diva-level requirements for exactly-the-right-amount-of-water. Give me books that are organized not by color, but by author, like at the library, because the point of owning books is to read them, and I want to be able to find one when I want it. Give me surprising colors on accent walls. Give me sturdy, solid wood furniture that’s been scuffed and dented by the previous owners who loved it, and weird decorative objects repurposed from local thrift shops. Give me original art that doesn’t match its surroundings.
My change in design aesthetic has mirrored my life changes; the way we set up our home seems a superficial act, but it isn’t, really. It’s an expression of who we are or who we aim to be. During the years I knew I was gay and was unable to express it, I worked hard to perfect and whitewash my surroundings, to have everything set at straight, 90-degree angles. I was making a clear statement about a craving for order and control. If my insides were a chaotic mess, maybe cleaning up my environment would make me feel better.
I’d binge home renovation and decor shows for ideas on how to make my home look more like the ones I saw on TV. Now, I’d rather watch a home design show that built a home around a family’s actual life. Is that possible, though? In order to decorate a home in a way that shows how a family actually lives, don’t you have to actually do the living? How could that be captured in a 50-minute show? Last year, a friend recommended a Facebook group full of decorators and homeowners who also crave this lived-in aesthetic. They call it “Boho” — a shortening of “Bohemian.” The word “Bohemian” has a long and still-evolving history that in decor terms, and for this group’s purposes, boils down to mean “nonconformity” or “individualist.” Spaces tailored to each individual, with personal touches that speak to the nature of the person or people who occupy the space. These folks post photos as they add to their home, room by room, object by object, painted wall by painted wall. No room is ever finished or perfect. My house, as my life, is a similar work in progress.
So you can keep your house perfection. I used to crave it so much. I needed it to offset the chaos inside. But coming out is by its nature disorderly, and there is no possibility of being in control of it or hiding it under a pale, clean-lined decor aesthetic. It’s messy, but it’s real, and since I’ve come out, since I’ve finally gotten real with myself, I find myself wanting a home that mirrors that sometimes messy but always honest authenticity. I still like things tidy, but I’ll take a life filled with color, warmth, and disarray over pristine perfection any day.