Every Precious Inch

My children taught me a few things about interior design this week, like how to work with what you already have.

I’ve been researching the psychology of temporary spaces — how we make ourselves at home in hotels, dorms, apartments, etc. — and something about the topic bothered me for days until I watched my daughter perform her chores on Thursday morning.

After dusting the living room, she began rearranging my ubiquitous piles of books, papers, candles and correspondence. Organizing my detritus doesn’t normally fall under the heading of kid-tasks in my home, but on this particular morning my daughter was inspired. Loath to interfere with her aesthetic instincts and hoping she might make some sense of the mess, I buried myself in my office, where I stumbled across the following quote:

“Native American design and artwork are intimately linked with spiritual associations. The process of creating art is an exercise in prayer and worship.”
— Elmo Baca,
“Introduction to Western Design”

As I listened to my daughter humming with happiness in the next room, I thought about an aspect of home decorating that I rediscovered while traveling recently with friends. We stayed in Brownsville, Ore., a town of 1,600 nestled between low hills and a winding stream, bursting with wild blackberry bushes and overhung with trees. Every morning I leaned out the bedroom window of our brick homestead — what used to be a bowling alley, a hardware store and a railroad boardinghouse — to gaze across Main Street and smell the rain.

I walked along a country road the day after we arrived and returned with a bouquet of wildflowers: sweet peas, Queen Anne’s lace and yellow daisies. We put them in a glass vase and set them on a high table in the great room. Later, the children and I gathered more blossoms, sticks and leaves and scattered them around the table, too.

The design theme in this house was something that floated in with the breeze and stirred the white gauzy curtains, rippled across the old wooden floors and brick walls, and brightened the flowers in the center of the room. It was very simple.

“I didn’t want my grandmother to feel like an astronaut when she visited,” Blake Dollahite writes in the October issue of Dwell magazine. With the help of his father, Dollahite renovated a home after graduating from the university there. The young builder modestly dismisses their accomplishments as basic workmanship and imagines himself huddled in a single room with a dog and a few empty beer bottles. And he makes a point: What makes your place feel like home?

When I returned to the living room Thursday, I discovered that my daughter had created a panorama of my most beautiful picture books and magazines on the work table.

I found her in the bedroom putting the finishing touches on decorations there. She had formed a semi-circle —a sort of shrine — of family photographs on the bedside table. The photos surrounded stones and shells we collected along the Oregon coast.

Then I walked into my son’s room. He had stuck a defunct game-CD in his gecko’s terrarium. The disc was scratched, but it was apparently still attractive, at least to him, and to Sparks, the lizard. It leaned like an old wagon wheel against the glass and flickered in the sunlight. He said he might not leave it there for long, but I thought it was amazing.

All of which brings me to the conclusion that while all space may be temporary, it is also sacred.

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