Monday, August 3, 2009

Desk Set

They say you learn from your mistakes, but what have I learned from my dirt-stained 900-pound couch? I learned that I have crappy taste in furniture.

Every piece of furniture in this place comes with a tale of woe. The bed that's so immovable we haven't been able to redecorate my daughter's room in 10 years. The wicker chairs that became the cat's favorite scratching posts. The cheap floor lamps that lean at drunken angles. The monstrous couch that's so big my own feet can't touch the floor. And it's my damn couch.

I really should do better than this.

As a teenager, I soaked myself in 1930s Hollywood glamour. I set my alarm to wake up for the 2 a.m. broadcast of Katharine Hepburn's Alice Adams or Bette Davis' The Little Foxes. I drove myself across L.A. to the old Vagabond revival movie theater to see double bills of Holiday and Bringing Up Baby; Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight; Top Hat and Flying Down to Rio. I paged slowly through our giant hardback copy of John Springer and Jack D. Hamilton's They Had Faces Then, an affectionate encyclopedia of the female stars of the '30s, lushly illustrated with black-and-white glamour shots.

I loved those movies and adored those actresses. The guys—Cary Grant and Clark Gable and Laurence Olivier—were pretty good, too, but my God, the women! Hepburn, Davis, Garbo, sexy Jean Harlow and sharp Ginger Rogers, cool Myrna Loy and comedic genius Carole Lombard. I affected their clipped, quasi-British accents as I talked to myself in the mirror, and imagined shimmering folds of fabric swishing around my legs as I strode across the bright yellow shag rug of my bedroom.

I ate up the dialogue, arch and witty, and the rapid-fire delivery. And I ogled the sets—the gleaming parquet floors, the white furniture, the penthouse suites, the sweeping staircases. It was a style to which I could quickly become accustomed.

Except that I have no style.

I wear battered blue jeans, not silver lamé cocktail gowns. I have wall-to-wall carpeting and mismatched, ill-fitting furniture. To call it eclectic would be too flattering. Somehow, I forgot to click and drag that Hollywood glamour into my own life.

One of the benefits of this impending move to New York is that I get a kind of do-over. The Salvation Army will come and (with a little begging on my part) take away the monster couch and the bed and the floor lamps. The wicker chairs may go out on the curb for whoever needs a quartet of scratching posts. I think the only thing we'll keep is our desks—which aren't desks, really, they're tables. Thin, simple drop-leaf tables with wide clean work surfaces, the better for creating new stories on.

And then we move into Stan's one-room loft in New York. Right off the bat, I'm inheriting more style and character than I've had in my previous four homes combined. Not to sound like a realtor's brochure ("It's Magnolia Bakery adjacent!"), but it's got exposed brick walls, slightly battered wood floors, 12-foot ceilings, a view of the Empire State Building. It's decorated with artwork and quirky tchotchkes from the dozens of trips Stan took with his late partner, Janet.

I realize that all this has nothing to do with me—I can't suddenly claim a sense of style just because I moved my bags in. But I feel like I've suddenly been told I can skip third grade and go straight into fourth. Like I've got a jump start on a whole different kind of life.

Maybe now, with the inspiration of New York, and the loft, and a new home with Stan, I can Hepburn it up a little. I can see things—or maybe what I mean is, I can finally see myself—in a new way. I can think outside the couch.


Karen said...

I hope this doesn't sound out of line, but I do hope Stan will encourage you to make his loft "yours" too. When I moved in with Andy, I had very little to call my own, but he welcomed me to hang my few pieces of art, rearrange the items in the kitchen cabinets to suit my needs (and height), and so on. It was a long time before I no longer felt that I was just "staying" with him, and those little things helped along the way.

Susan Champlin said...

Thank you, Karen. Happy to report that Stan is all about making the loft "ours" (but the kitchen is all mine, since he doesn't cook!). You're right that it's a different deal to move into someone else's home, but over time the loft is gradually taking on my fingerprints.