What do you do when your partner brings home a horror item? LIN SAMPSON says interior decor has ruined her life .
The psychiatrist, with head-down gravity, said: ‘It seems to me, Miss Sampson, you solve all your problems with interior decorating.’ It’s true I’ve lived through a lot: Early Hashish (Buddha, stick of incense); High Tech (making kitchen cupboards out of something that looks like the Hebron Collider); Cheap Chic – oh where are the OK Bazaars now? Retro – 28 old radios and a larva lamp. Frida Kahlo: blue paint, a cathedral of jewelled crosses and statues of the Virgin in the loo.
‘I think you might be too religious for me,’ my partner said grasping at any gap.
Yep, but for Frida Kahlo, I might be married with two children living in Tamboerskloof and be able to say, like my friend, ‘What does an electricity bill look like?’ Yellow wood. Look I can’t even talk about it. Just say jonkmanskas and I start to cry. And please don’t mention ‘railway sleeper’.
The history of relationships, love and marriage is filled with the detritus of interior decorating. My niece gave up a promising marriage because she couldn’t live with his black shiny leather sofa.
Then I fell in love with naughty Nicky Haslam who broke all decorating rules. But he had his own mantra: no coloured bath towels, scented candles, Art Deco or framed photographs of anyone non-royal.
As a schoolboy at Eton he decorated his room with ostrich feathers. With Nicky came Shabby Chic, which took the stuffing out of me – well, more literally, it took the stuffing out of everything. The pulpit of my sitting room was a burst sofa with all the mouse-hair collywobbles on the outside. When I went away my housesitter had it reupholstered in curry coloured Draylon. Broke my heart.
Shabby Chic was a natural for me: piles of books, threadbare carpets, French linen sheets thrown over everything. I stuck with it too long, stumbling about in the cold ashes of the past. But when I found Jocasta Innes, it was raw devotion. It might
sound superficial – I mean what is paint but on-the-surface shine – but I gave my heart to it. I sponged, stippled, ragged and painted a whole room with gold leaf. I cut stencils out of cereal boxes. With Farrow & Ball, I was caught in the vice-like grip of the pigment cult. I knew paint names like Purbeck Stone and Mole’s Breath by heart.
When the current He came home, he said: ‘You have turned this place into a Siberian leper camp. The walls look like a specimen plate of dengue hemorrhagic fever.’ He was a doctor.
When I left, he shouted: ‘And you can take that bloody crazy bed with you.’ We talked impeccable shout. The bed, well yes, it was the fatal marker of my foray into Doing Up Junk, which was to leave me scarred, scratched, half blind with traumatic stress disorder – and broke. It’s not easy, you know, making something into something it is determined not to be. The inanimate can be very uppity.
My assistant, Nancy Richards, and I fizzed through builders’ yards. The crazy bed was made out of milk crates. I hired a truck to pick up one of those huge cotton reels they use to wind electric wire round and turned it into two tables. There were some periods better forgotten, the lavatory seat made into a picture frame (to this day a great aunt peers out of an old wooden toilet seat).
There was nothing we could not use. Old mags laminated into placemats. Once, we found a whole wing of a small plane and turned it – at vast cost – into a banquette. It still looked like an aeroplane wing. For the same price (metal cutter, special paint, upholstery) we could have ordered a George III table from Sotheby’s. My garden was full of old rusty Victorian baths.
Printers trays, say no more. And I’d rather not dwell on the word grey for too long; 50 shades and more. Didn’t that valuable 18th-century army chest look better unpainted? Yep, ruined a lot of furniture.
I knew things had reached a bad climax, however, when I went to a funeral and started eyeing that trolley a coffin comes on thinking what a nice TV table it would make.
The history of my interior decorating is the history of increasing humiliation.
In the days I was decor editor my house looked like a shipwreck (mainly because I was paid so little). Anyone who visited always said: ‘Ooh this place has potential’. I solved the problem by putting a pile of bricks in my hallway, and to anyone who said the dreaded words I answered: ‘I am in the process of renovation, just wait until you see the finished product.’ The bricks are still there.
Decor has ruined relationships with perfectly nice men. I might be emotionally and physically dishevelled, but I have it in me to love. I loved Richard until he brought home a vermillion coloured plastic beanbag. It looked like a tick full of blood. It wasn’t just that I disliked the object itself, but how could one love someone unable to discern fake (terrible Murano lookalike ashtray) and consider a beanbag a piece of furniture?
As a friend used to say: ‘There’s first life, then death, in between comes interior decorating.’
Text: Lin Samson @hellschreiber
First Published in the Big Idea Issue 95