I once heard that the first thing a child is asked to draw in school is a house. Which makes perfect sense to me. Because a house is where you first learn about yourself and the world. When my son was six, he drew a wonderful picture of our loft. I framed it. I’m sure other kids looked at it and laughed. I mean, who lives with orange walls? And black doors? And wild, stripey carpets? But I look at it and see joy. The windows have this view of a sky full of clouds, the doors have knobs (which means they open—a good sign, apparently). There’s light. But the most interesting thing about his picture is what’s missing. There isn’t a single book. My son grew up in a house full of books. What he drew instead is a gigantic television. Probably because he wasn’t allowed to watch it.
Books are where every room I’ve ever lived in began. Books and carpets. I am obsessed with carpets. The first time I visited a mosque was in Damascus. And that sensation of being barefoot; of walking and sitting on what must have hundreds of years worth of carpets… All in this magnificently empty, soaring space. It was astonishing. I think mosques are the most beautiful spaces ever designed by man to worship a God. I do.
So the loft sort of grew up and around all these books and rugs. It was love at first sight when we bought it back in the early 1990’s. A house isn’t just an ‘investment’; athing with windows and walls and doors. A house is a relationship. I loved the fact this place was so open. .Uninterrupted. A lot of people break a loft up into rooms. They build walls. They create more private, intimate spaces. But we kept it ‘old school.’ Which meant that even when the kids were in bed, when they were sleeping, the house was still awake. They could hear voices and laughter and music from the dinner table in the front. They could hear my husband rattling around in the kitchen, cooking. He’s an incredible cook, Thank God. Because I am not. Food for thought is pretty much all I contribute to our dinners.
Provenance is too fancy a word for the furnishings. I have never had a grand scheme in my head in terms of a ‘look’ or ‘décor’. I’m not loyal to any particular period. I buy things, impulsively. If I had tons of money I’d probably go crazy for 17th and 18th century Venetian stuff. Their passion for color, the opulence, the extravagance of detail, the fabrics, all those velvets and silk. My favorite museum in the world right now is the Fortuny. I”d like to live there.
I have a friend, a famous dealer and a pathological collector of Renaissance furniture. He once told me: ‘Brenda, you don’t find a piece. A piece finds you.” Which is as poetic as it is true. This is why I can’t imagine hiring someone else to find things for me. I’m not really interested in living in someone else’s ‘signature space” or in paying a huge amount of money for someone else’s ‘brand.’
A case in point? My favorite ‘piece’… The blue and silver mirrored panel in the living room. It came from an old palace in the Christian area of Aleppo. Back in July, a Syrian refugee said: ”The only thing left in Aleppo is air.” I have never been in a more spectacularly human city. We found the panel in a tiny workshop at the backend of the souk. Which is in ruins now. The shop had been owned by the same family for four generations. We spent two hours talking with the owner, which is typical, of course, when it comes to any kind of commercial transaction in the Middle East. Now, I look at that panel and I wonder where he is? That man and his family? I remember the conversation and the coffee and his grin, even the photograph of his grandfather. Every time I read something about the horror of Aleppo, I feel a connection. Tenuous as it might be. I was a tourist, after all. But that man was so proud of his work, so proud of his history and the city that was his home.
The other piece is a wooden carousel from the 1940’s. It came from a hardware store in Wyoming where I’ve never been; where I have no connections whatsoever. I bought it at an auction. I bought it because it speaks to what’s left of the child, the kid, in me.
Most of the loft seems to speak to what’s left of the child in me. There is a certain fearlessness that I associate with life before becoming a ‘grown up.’ The willingness to explore, to experiment with color and to mix everything up, stripes and polka dots, old and new. The addiction to things that sparkle and glitter. I think that this is one of the tragedies of growing up. People become so SELF conscious (God knows, we certainly live in a SELFIE conscious culture). They’re terrified of being judged. Life is all about being LIKED and FOLLOWED and GRAMMED. What I find so sad is that in that one space, namely the home, where one should feel safe; safe enough to take risks, to share a very personal story… People now prefer to share the same story everyone else is sharing. This, I truly do NOT understand.
A house is a home not a showplace, right? That said, this house certainly appears to belong to an extrovert. It is theatrical, exaggerated. Like me. People assume that I’m insane, doing stand-up comedy at 64 years old. But it keeps me alive. Being out there. Making people laugh. It’s strange. The only houses I’ve loved over the years (and they range from a three room stone cottage in the mountains of Greece to a dilapidated Italian palazzo and a New England farmhouse) are those that made me smile; rooms that made me curious and comfortable and yes, that made me think, too. Maybe this is why people are so nervous, so hesitant about taking risks and expressing themselves in their homes. Because every house, every great room, like great comedy and great books and paintings and theater, doesn’t just tell a story. It tells a truth.