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Design Begins At Home

You can redesign your surroundings, but Better living starts with self-discovery

In the beginning, I didn’t have a choice. I lived in the home provided by my mother. There was beautiful revolutionary art on the walls, cast-iron cookware on the stove, and milk crates everywhere, because milk crates are like stem cells for furniture. It served me well, but loving the home you grow up in is similar to loving the nation you’re born in: You don’t know anything else.

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I vividly remember those crates because after I left the nest for college, that brand of utility defined my personal design aesthetic for those four years. And the 10 after that. My desk was a door on cinder blocks. I rarely hung any art. I used furniture “liberated” from college. Then I cut the tether to any home and lived nomadically for 18 months, crashing with friends, subletting, hoteling. Airbnb‘ing. When I was ready to return to the land of the leased, I wanted my living space to be more than a storage unit for my body and possessions. I was ready to make a real home. But first I had to figure out who I was.

I had been inspired by a few of the pit stops on my residentially flexible housing circuit, and I had ideas about how I wanted my home to make me feel. Warm. Grounded. Well Internetted.

My friends had no shortage of advice for how I could achieve my goals. “Never use overhead lighting,” insisted one dogmatic pal. “Read this book on design,” offered a couple. “It teaches you everything you need to know.” My own stabs at online research weren’t much better: “For rooms with low ceilings, paint the ceiling dark so it disappears,” advised one article, while another made the opposite case with the same certitude.

Then Pinterest happened to me. I’ve suffered various forms of Internet addiction over the years, but those previously explored rabbit holes were baby aspirin compared with a simple search for “bedroom nook” on the visual scrapbooker. Overwhelmed, I realized that I needed professional help. I needed a designer.

From our first conversation, I found it easy to pour out my dreams, limitations, and fears. (Perhaps because both her parents were psychologists. Or maybe because her name was Faith.) She took all that confessional material, ran it through her design-thinking mind, and when she came back with a Pinterest board of her own, I nearly jumped for joy.

We looked at pins together, and I swiped through them like Tinder matches. (PinTinderist–make it happen, Internet.) “Yes. No. Oh, hell, no! Hmm. Wait, what is that?” Faith would put a pattern in front of me, and I would say, “Nope. It reminds me of disease.” She would file that away.

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Our collaboration went beyond the visual. We talked about my heavy travel and work schedule and my desire to host gatherings frequently. I told her what I loved best about my previous homes and shared what intrigued me about Airbnb’s I had considered squatting in. I had seen lots of photos of what a “well-designed” home looked like, but I wasn’t looking for some distant idea deemed great by tastemakers. While Faith scoured retailers and Craigslist, tested paints and color palettes, and hag­gled with shippers and movers, I understood that my goals went beyond aesthetics.

I needed to first see who I was and then translate that into the language of space, paint, and far fewer milk crates. The process worked. I love coming home and having folks over.

A friend’s mother visited recently and upon walking into the living room screamed, “Wow, Baratunde! You’re grown up!” Mission accomplished.

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