DID NERO'S WIFE FIDDLE WITH THE CURTAINS?
You and I just have to accept that there are people who can move all kinds of junk from suburbia to town house, from flat to terrace and within 24 hours create wonderfully interesting homes, on a bag-lady's budget. ( If you're very unlucky, you might even know one!.)
These paragons must exist because we've read their stories and seen their homes in the glossies we drool over, when the re-growth can't be ignored any longer and we avail ourselves of the hairdresser's tax benefits, in the guise of the latest fashion and design magazines.
" How", you may ask yourself, as you struggle to arrange what passed as a roomful of furniture in your unit so that it doesn't look like a collection of knick knacks in your new living room, "do they do it"?
Perhaps the only salvation from crippling inferiority neurosis lies in the theory that quite often "they" don't actually do it at all.
We could console ourselves with a belief in very fast film and Doris Day filters that soften the image to the extent that we can't notice the cigarette burns on the sofa or the wine stains on the carpet.
We could close our eyes and conjure up pictures of the magazine's professional stylist subtly moving a hideous chair out of camera range and then lugging a kidnapper's ransom of palms and ferns from room to room in the wake of the photographer.
We could even smugly sneer at what sometimes seems a slightly loose definition of "junk"( a pair of 18th century stone lions crying out to be born again as the base of a coffee table?!!).
The bad news is that in spite of using such techniques to boost our confidence, deep in our hearts we know that if we asked her, our sister-in-law's best friend's neighbour could walk into our problem room, assess what's there, move it around, add a plant from the family room , a picture from the hall and hey presto!... our dismal failure would be instantly transformed by the unerring instincts of a natural born decorator.
Unique though such talents may seem to we lesser mortals, who suffer anxiety attacks over whether to pull the sofa away from the security of the wall in spite of the football field of emptiness in the middle of the room, they have always been around.
The "profession" of interior designer and decorator is a decidedly modern one, so it's the gifted amateurs who have been responsible for the way good looking rooms have evolved throughout history.
Fortunately the Egyptians managed to take it with them when they died, so we have some idea of how the natural born decorators handled the top end of this market; but until the resurrection of Pompeii, how they tackled ancient European homes was pretty much a mystery. Did Octavia fret herself over new fabric for Caesar's favourite chair? Did Nero's wife fiddle with the curtains?
Of course the problem of where to put the TV so that it doesn't openly state that conversation is a lost art in your household ( but can still be watched in comfort) may not have confronted the mistress of a medieval castle. But then she had to roll up the heavy carpets that covered the tables, pile up the mounds of cushions from window seats and benches, take all the massive curtains and bed hangings down , then put them up again as the entire household constantly moved from castle, to palace, to manor on the rounds of her Lord's estates.
Perhaps. after all, we should put such second millennium dilemmas, as chairs that aren't matched or table lamps that aren't paired off as if boarding the ark, into perspective. Perhaps after all the art of imperfection is worth cultivating, if such rooms make us feel enough at ease to get on with living in them...kids, pets, warts and all. Or perhaps we should just bite the bullet and call in the sister-in-laws' best friend's neighbour?