What's It All About?
When I was divorced my sense of home fell apart. And so, too, did my house. The rooms looked ravaged, sacked as they were of furniture, art, books, the mementos of a life constructed with someone else; everything fallen into disrepair. For a long time I couldn't bring myself to buy new furniture. I couldn't replaster and repaint; it took too much energy even to consider choosing colors. Except for the children's rooms, I wanted everything to be clean, but empty, redolent of failed love. I was very, very sad. I went through days, months, and maybe even years fully able to be a good mother, and to be a friend, and to work in fact, taking comfort in the time-consuming distraction of it as well as in the structure the job's demands gave to my days. It was only my house disheveled, lonely-looking, pale, and crumbling that showed the symptoms of my uneasiness in my new life.
I am a slowpoke, in some profound ways, and always have been. Some people bounce quickly out of divorce into new relationships, new marriages, and new houses; lucky for them, I say. But it took me years to renovate my attitude, and it was a messy job, proceeding in fits and starts. So there is no chronology in the writing that follows; there was no narrative to my heartbreak or my healing. Just a starting point but maybe not even that, as divorce, or any kind of suffering, usually does not seem like the beginning of anything, just the end of something.
Strangely enough, my divorce came through when I was starting a new job as the editor of House & Garden, a magazine about making homes. Nothing in my professional background could have prepared me for this subject; I had worked at magazines like Newsweek and Texas Monthly and Esquire, which, if they have anything to do with home, say so only indirectly. Maybe because I was now making a living thinking about houses, I was more self-conscious about the state of my own home. But because I was so intensely busy with the magazine, I didn't have to press myself actually to do anything about it. I lived vicariously, in other people's tailored, well-appointed rooms, surrounded by their beautiful things. Whatever I was looking for I found in photographs that seemed always to capture domestic perfection. So long as the children were comfortable, I felt free to go my own, slow, meditative way in pulling things back together. My children saw that their house one of their houses looked strange, but they were graciously, instinctively generous in their acceptance of it.
I began to pay close attention to how people talk about making homes, whether they are decorators, architects, clients, or people like me, who have always done it or not themselves. I began to appreciate how deeply charged a subject home is; it really is not about chintz as opposed to toile or it is that, and much more. We invest our homes with such hope, such dreams, such longing for love, security, a good life and stylishness to boot. That's what I have been trying to explore in what follows. Sure, making a home is a materialistic endeavor. But it is often, maybe usually, undertaken with intense spiritual energy.
I cannot say my home healed my heart. But I can say that, as my heart healed, my home reflected it. Perhaps my house forced my hand, at times, with its unrelenting demands. And perhaps at times my heart, gladdened, let me turn my attention homeward. Whatever the strange, looping path I took out of sadness, it wound its way from room to room, like a recurring dream I had as a child, in which I kept looking for something in a cavernous, empty old house, never finding it, but never being able to stop the ceaseless searching, either.
Maybe my subject is yearning; maybe that's the case for most of us. We yearn to live in houses full of love, happiness, passion, and peace, too. We yearn for domestic bliss. Even when we have found it, we are restless about wanting things to be better. As soon as we get what we want, we want more. That's the nature of being alive, of persevering, of striving.
And that is the nature of redecorating.
Copyright © 2002 by Dominique Browning