House Beautiful

I read somewhere once that Tauruses (the Zodiac sign, not the car) are especially keen on material possessions, in particular luxuries like good food and wine, and having a cozy, comfortable house filled with things that he or she considers beautiful. While I may not possess all of the other qualities of a Taurus, (for instance, I’m not any more stubborn than the next person) this one totally fits.

I’ve always loved having a cozy, well-decorated apartment that can aptly play the dual roles of being both a comforting place for me to curl up with a book and wine, and a fun, energizing place for a party. I may have been the only freshman at my Midwestern college to show up with a vintage chartreuse armchair and matching duvet covers (you know, one for me and one for my roommate, whom I hadn’t yet met. I’m sure she loved that). The next year, when my girlfriends and I moved in to a ramshackle house in the “student ghetto,” I showed up a week early and painted the kitchen pale yellow, my bedroom turquoise, and the living room a kind of peanut butter brown, trying to infuse some level of style and cozy into a house that never quite managed to achieve either of those. The following year, we moved to the attic level of a beautiful 1880s Victorian and hosted many a late-night dinner party under the funky slanted beams. That was also the time that I picked up some great finds – like a fabulous vintage quilt, chenille blankets, an antique throw rug, and faux crystal chandeliers — from thrift and antique stores in Michigan. Most of my time in Washington DC was spent in a restored grand old building that reportedly played host to jazz greats like Duke Ellington in its heyday, and then served as an old folks home, before it was converted into a home for young professionals in the heart of the District. I loved that building something fierce. Though I went through a steady supply of roommates, the apartment pretty much stayed the same. With my funky chartreuse armchair, a comfy couch, my faux-French framed posters, and other cheap-y vintage finds, I always loved opening my front door and seeing all of my cute things arranged just so. My bedroom was a feminine mix of textures, colors, and a dozen paintings and prints arranged in a haphazard-yet-totally-thought-out manner on my wall.

I knew I wouldn’t get away with this forever. Now that I’m part of a couple, I know I need to tone down my decorating style, or at least adapt it just a bit to fit Mr.YemenEm’s natural, more sparse aesthetic. (His ideal home would be carved out of a tree trunk and have an exercise ball and a meditation pillow for seating). I might have realized I’d have to sacrifice some of my funky, vintage, feminine aesthetic when he looked disapprovingly at this black wicker bust I had on display on top of slightly askew Grecian column next to my front door. Yeah, it’s pretty much as weird as it sounds. That didn’t survive the pack-out from DC.

I spend lots of time fantasizing about what our future homes will look like. When we live in NYC for a few months in the fall, we’ll have a furnished apartment in Midtown, likely pre-furnished with the ubiquitous nearly-invisible glass coffee table and black leather couch because NYC landlords assume their renters are young investment banker bachelors who have yet to develop a sense of style. No, white walls, black couch, glass table and a big-ass flat screen is not a “style.” It’s a showroom at Rent-a-Center. In Madrid, we’ll have all of our things and I picture the place having a lot of warm hues like red and orange, obviously being super cozy, and having some of the cool things we’ve collected in the past year (a carved elephant head in Laos, two colorful rugs from Turkey, and some Arab art that Mr.YemenEm bought from a Yemeni artist). When guests come to stay, I will place a local bar of soap lovingly atop a fluffy towel on the guest bed, next to a foldable map of the city. A pitcher of Sangria will be chilling in the kitchen, while a nutty Manchengo sweats on a wooden cheeseboard. (Friends and family, make your reservations at Casa Madrid now!)

When it comes to decorating sense, I get it from my mama. And my aunt. My mom’s style is very warm, traditional, and perfectly put-together. My dad’s sister Patty could have her own decorating show, easy. Her style is eclectic, very vintage and antique-y, unexpected and whimsical, while managing to be totally classy at the same time. Further proof that love of creating beautiful spaces is genetic: My mom and I both have that recurring dream where we discover hidden rooms in our house. I’m constantly discovering hidden libraries, dining rooms, huge bedrooms and once a solarium/billiards room behind a door in my apartment that I somehow just never opened. (Finally, a space where I can grow my basil in the sunshine while perfecting my pool game!) My feelings in these dreams are always excitement that I get a whole new room to decorate and live in, but anxiety because I know it will be a lot of work. I think this means something about discovering hidden parts of oneself and having trepidation about accessing those new parts. But it could also just be that I spend lots of time thinking about how I’d set up a room, and some of that gets mixed in to my sleepytime thoughts.

Mr.YemenEm’s and my first experience decorating together –the complicated interplay of taste and tact and one of the first tangible experiments in marital compromise – occurred in our Yemen hotelpartment and went pretty smoothly. Most of my beloved possessions are in storage and we won’t see them until we unpack in Madrid. (By that time perhaps I will have found an even better wicker bust!) Anyways, Mr.YemenEm had boxes of his own things shipped to Sana’a and he was generally receptive to me telling him “Ew, let’s throw that away.” To be fair, I told him that anything that had some real sentimental value or if it was something he truly loved, I’d consider giving it a space in our home, as long as it wasn’t purchased by an ex-girlfriend. And some of his stuff, like a cool carved wooden whale from his time in Newburyport, Mass., I actually really like. I hope an ex-girlfriend didn’t buy that for him. I should ask. If so, Moby’s going bye-bye. (Another Taurus personality trait, incidentally, is jealousy). Anyways, we’ve managed to make our small hotel suite quite homey, and I was very surprised that when I returned from our recent three-week vacay it felt like coming home. Which goes to show, home is where some of your cute and cozy things are. Or where the heart is. You pick.

To living in a beautiful space, whether it’s an apartment, inside a tree, or only inside your head,


Our hotel room. We didn’t have a ton to work with, but we made the most of it.


  1. Glad to hear the desert hasn’t killed your decorating bug, and it sounds like you had an amazing trip to the far east. I look forward to touching base when you get back.

    It’s great to read your blog to get caught up on what is going on over there, but you could have gone a little easier on my decorating style… C’mon, a Rent-a-Center showroom? It’s at least a Best Buy;).. If I wanted to spice the place up, where would I buy a wicker bust or a hollow doric column to put it on? I’m a little nostalgic for the days of knocking that thing over after a night at the big hunt.

  2. your cozy-vintage style was one of the many reasons why I always LOVED living with you! – that, and of course your stuffed mushrooms 🙂 I could show up and move in to a place that already felt homey and inviting. OH! – and you always made coffee. I hope mr. yemenem knows what a lucky guy he is 😉

    PS – I’ve also had that dream where I discover more living space in my home. except in mine it was a basement I didn’t realize we had (which we don’t), and I was both thrilled and spooked that I had been living in a home with another 1000 square feet just waiting to be finished for almost a decade and never known it. I think it stemmed mainly from my desire for a place to throw all of the toys…….the many, many toys :/

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