Real Men Pick Peach
All men are not created equal – especially in the decorating world.
In the early 1970s, my father chose a floral chintz for the bedroom he shares with my mother. He is a lawyer and a golfer, and he likes a dry martini. He is the prototypical American male. My mother also gave him samples in more neutral blues and greens, so his selection of this frankly girly fabric surprised me.
When my parents married, my mother thought, as it seems many women still do, that men were uncomfortable in overly frothy and feminine rooms. To put it very mildly, and avoid one angry mother, she has strong opinions on her house. At age 11, she defied her parents by flocking her Howard Meyer-designed mid-century modern room with ruby red, cabbage rose-printed cotton and thick, gardenia-leaf green rugs. But in what I can only imagine was a premarital haze of bliss, she registered for an arid Wedgwood pattern with thick gray borders centered with rather desiccated wheat-colored mums in the center. Not her look. She told me that she assumed men didn’t like feminine things and registered for tableware that was asexual. It’s not surprising that the china now resides in my own cupboard, in its sepia-toned glory.
Today, my parent’s house resembles the type you usually associate with an English country house, minus the dirt and dust, as mom is a neat freak. The aforementioned dad-selected chintz, multiple sets of bright and flowered china, pastel-hued rooms filled with comfy sofas covered in pretty fabrics (mostly chintz), and one floppy golden retriever. Most decidedly a feminine house.
While my parents were clearly compatible in the bedroom (err, the decoration, that is), most men and women fight like cats and dogs about decoration. I have researched this phenomenon (Okay, I asked a lot of women at the office), and I have found that more and more men are becoming seriously involved in decorating their habitats. Today, men pose a real challenge to a woman’s genetically programmed urge to feather her nest. They have their own ideas about how things should look. They know their color palettes. They research sofas. They buy art. A colleague is entangled in a battle with her boyfriend over his belief that his collection of antique farm implements should be displayed on the walls of his living room. Just because an old rake, shovel, or hoe is rusted does not make it folk art.
I have found three types of men who take a great interest in decorating their surroundings and either have or hire taste. I call them: Thinking Man, Old South Man, and New Fancy Man.
Thinking Man’s aesthetic is a serious matter in his never-ending quest for the meaning of life, both corporeal and spiritual (or that new trendy term – self-actualization). Just as he reads Marcus Tullius Cicero, is in therapy, and listens to Gustav Mahler, his rooms are a major component of his often overly examined life.
Old South Man cherishes the relics of his past. They are more than his pedigree; they are a visceral, umbilical tie to his ancestors. They define him. Southerners come closer to Japanese ancestor worship than any other people I know. A French count or an English duke uses his illustrious past in order to form his cliques of walled-off elitism. But to the Japanese and to Southerners, they honor and revere their ancestors no matter what they possessed materially. Great-great-granny’s silver punch bowl (which was buried in the garden during the War Between the States) may be hideous or gorgeous; to Old South Man, its value is priceless because it was in his family.
New Fancy Man amassed his fortune buying companies, breaking them apart, re-selling the pieces at a huge profit, and usually putting large numbers of people out of work. His compulsion is to clean his tainted wealth by attempting to simulate the patina of the old money American WASP. He’s dumped his frumpy first wife (pity he didn’t realize that her genteel tweedy homeliness is truly WASPy and would have been an asset to his social climbing) and has ensconced himself and his bosomy, Botoxed trophy wife, who is as much of a possession as the 18th century silver in the dining room, into a massive mansion or a $50 million apartment in New York on Fifth or Park avenues. Heritage? He buys his ancestors, collecting portraits of dead society figures by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini.
Most likely, you have not nabbed one of these guys, so you are going to have to contend with Taste Free Man and the seemingly indestructible and filthy thing that appears to have once been some sort of easy chair. This has been his command post since his college days. He would rather to part from you than it, so give up trying to convert him. But there are some things you can do to prevent his intrusion into the rest of your home.
The ways to eliminate Taste Free Man from the decorating process is pretty simple. Ask him to look at the 769 fabric swatches, 32 paint chips, 17 sofas, plus the trims, tassels, and the endless minutia necessary when decorating a house. Ask him to select the fabric for the dining room curtains. Thirteen hours of staring at swatches of mohair velvet colored in the narrow-but-oh-so-crucial range of celery to celadon should do the trick. If that doesn’t work, get out the curtain rod or decorative hardware sample books. Typically the size of the Yellow Pages, they are densely packed with metal things that all appear to his uneducated eye, identical. Asking him to decide whether to go with matte or shiny pewter kitchen knobs should make him spring out of your lair and into the nearest sports bar.