Saturday, April 18, 2009

Small Uncool

One of my favorite websites,, is running its annual Small Cool Contest, with prizes for people who live creatively and stylishly in less than 1,200 square feet. There are five entry categories: Teeny-Tiny, Tiny, Little, Small, and International (entries from outside the U.S.). To enter, you had to submit five photos and a floorplan.

I considered competing in the Little category (601–900 SF), and had gotten as far as taking some quick photos and thinking about the two questions on the entry form:

Q: What is your one favorite element in your small cool home? 
A: My husband. He is multi-functional, entertaining, comforting, and decorative.

Q: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in furnishing your small cool home?
A: My husband. He wants everything to be orange and/or bright blue.

Then I realized that our condo doesn't look anything like the other entries. We are small, but we are not cool. We like soft, lazy sofas and chairs instead of sleek metal and tight linen. Most of our stuff is secondhand, and there isn't a single thing you'd find in a store like Design Within Reach or Ikea. Nothing matches, not even our four dining chairs. We don't have the modernist or mid-century retro aesthetics that define "cool" these days. We appear to have pilfered our design philosophy and most of our stuff from someone's grandparents (not mine: they were too focused on surviving in their new country to have much taste, or much stuff). 

I once heard an interview with a collector of contemporary prints who said that she wanted the art in her home to "challenge" her. Not us. We don't want any back-talk from our walls. While we don't have anything that could be mistaken for Thomas Kinkade (except a sparkly annual Christmas card from my dad), our art is more decorative (landscapes, art nouveau posters) than accusatory. We feel the same way about furniture. I've endured long family dinners on a chair so hard that my legs went numb. That doesn't happen here. Our stuff behaves. It never injures or upsets us; instead it invites us to nap.

It seems that we'll never be "Small Cool" or Metropolitan Home material. Nevertheless, we're not in the territory of Traditional Home, Shabby Chic or Victoria, either. Window treatments, duck decoys, plaid, ruffles, and things that are rusted don't suit us. We are content with bumpy old plaster walls and shabby-but-original 19th-century fireplaces, top-nailed floors, and molding. With books and pillows in excess, a large silver-plated lobster, and four inlaid tables from the Middle East, I suppose This Old House (the "Before" photos) is our market.

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