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The slacker’s guide to home décor

There is a joy in abandoning coasters and accepting water rings

brunch Updated: Mar 17, 2018 21:13 IST
Rehana Munir
Homes are places where many relationship truths may be tested
Homes are places where many relationship truths may be tested(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg)

For centuries, philosophers, seers and all-knowing aunts have devised foolproof ways of determining people’s characteristics. Some look upon the eyes as the windows to the soul. Others figure everything they need to know about someone by the way they sip their coffee. Still, others make such inferences based solely on social media posts. I’m looking to establish my own litmus test. In fact, it works pretty much like one, in that it involves liquids and colour changes. Try spilling wine on a friend’s new couch to determine the truth of the couch owner.

Have you ever tried spilling wine on a friend’s new couch to determine the truth of the couch owner?

There are only two possible responses: either the couch wins or you do. In the first case, it’s best to offer to reupholster the besmirched couch, while composing a dirge for the spoiled relationship. In the latter case, hug your friend to your bosom (while carefully avoiding further spillages). This one’s for keeps.

The semiotics of toothpaste

Not just couches and friendships, homes are places where many relationship truths may be tested. Gender wars, for instance, have used ordinary home objects as highly potent symbols. Upright toilet seats and bottom-heavy toothpaste tubes have for decades been seen by women as evidence of men’s lack of care. Men retaliate with their litany of woes, from twee cushion arrangements to towels whose usage can only be mastered by fabric taxonomists. Mothers lament their kids’ war-torn rooms. Siblings spar over where the remote ought to be. Every object lost or stained, loosened or untidied, is recorded in the shared history of cohabiters. That lamp you broke may have slipped from conversation now. But be warned it will come up when you least expect it, in a slur that has gained strength over the years. The broken lamp never leaves the room.

Mothers lament their kids’ war-torn rooms. Siblings spar over where the remote ought to be. Every object lost or stained, loosened or untidied, is recorded in the shared history of cohabiters

These are the days of life coaches and celebrity interior designers, Marie Kondo and Vaastu. Whatever the science or silliness behind each of these forces might be, they all tell us how important it is to keep our homes well. If something doesn’t make you happy, throw it out, one encourages. If the mirror faces your bed, your marriage will be over, warns another. This tranquility-exhaling fountain with glow-in-the-dark rocks fits in well with your Moulin Rouge meets Mughal-E-Azam chandelier, lies the third. Between all these conflicting instructions, where does this leave the poor homemaker, house-proud but also quite fond of her/his sanity, sovereignty and solvency?

Putting the ouch in couch

I’ll give you an example. Determined to be house-proud, and eager to shake off the mantle of laid-back meanderer, I recently headed to a furnishings showroom, confidently ordering a couch cover. Now I know couch covers are a repulsive idea, but I live in a flat where dust settles quicker than the US in an oil-rich country, so, I’ve traded pride for prudence. Order given, measurements taken, I awaited receipt. And then it arrived. The abject horror of the checked fabric, 50 shades of morose and a material that actually feels inflammable.

The Japanese got there first. Their ancient philosophy of Wabi-Sabi goes perfectly with imperfect housekeeping and absolves my ilk of any guilt on that front

There was nothing wrong with the original couch. This need to give it a makeover was – as any analyst worth her couch will tell you – a need to change something within. (Okay. The analyst would be more insightful.) Interior decoration – the time, effort and emotion spent on it – has little or no payoff for so many of us who belong to the cheap and cheerful school of home maintenance. This doesn’t mean we’re grotty cave dwellers. Just that our rugs don’t match our curtains, our furniture is in different shades of wood and the shoe rack is a permanent embarrassment.

Cracked beauty

So, then what? How to be house-proud without doing any of the work? The Japanese got there first. Their ancient philosophy of Wabi-Sabi goes perfectly with imperfect housekeeping and absolves my ilk of any guilt on that front. It’s pivoted on the reality of impermanence. Of the many scratches and stains, tears and distortions that time leaves on all things. The trick is to look at wear and tear not through the lens of damage and depreciation but of that of beautiful decay and authenticity.

A broken frame and a chipped vase. Fading rugs and weathered tiles. Accept them and move on gently. You could dig deep into the Wabi-Sabi ethos and discover countless treasures. But if I had to compress it in a line, I’d say it’s a philosophy that makes one abandon coasters and accept water rings. How empowering! May I never have to reupholster again.

From HT Brunch, March 18, 2018

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