If you're struggling with how to make your home look pretty while raising a tribe of kids, read and take comfort in Angela Mollard's thoughts on what's important and what's not when it comes to home decorating.
The New Zealand-born author has just released a book, The Smallest Things: Thoughts on Making a Happy Family. And here's an hilarious extract:
We’re all entitled to a year or so of buying Home Beautiful and traipsing round Domayne (for vanilla basics) or auction houses (for retro signage and industrial stools to ‘work back’ with the vanilla basics). But once you start talking en suite fittings or the merits of Antique White over Fair Bianca at dinner, then you really should shoot yourself – or at the very least read a newspaper or get a hobby.
My house never feels complete. There are always leaves to be swept up, a cat bowl crawling with ants or a shelf that would look better styled to the preferred ‘odd number of items’ formula rather than languishing as a repository for bills and school notes. In those early days on maternity leave I got a bit seduced watching Better Homes and Gardens and started upcyling old furniture and turning jam jars into vases, but if you’ve ever stripped back a bookcase and repainted it you’ll know what a faff it is. I managed two 1950s men’s wardrobes – one for each of the girls – before realising drawers without modern sliding mechanisms are impossible for a three-year-old to open and that no number of lavender sachets will erase the fusty smell of a pipe-smoking, tweedy octogenarian. I also made a photo wall – all black-and-white images in black-and-white frames, which is always much oohed over by guests who haven’t clocked that I haven’t updated a single frame since 2007. I may also have turned a wall into a blackboard with the intention of chalking it with a cute shopping list of items, like ‘dulche de leche’ and ‘sourdough’. But it started to look like the text messages between Nige and me:
‘Pick up Edie at 4 from soccer.’
‘Get loo rolls.’
‘Your mother rang!!!!’
Needless to say I’ve painted over it.
Having strived for a magazine-worthy house for a couple of years, I gave up. For a start, Nige considers himself a creative and so, unlike most husbands, wanted a say in his personal space, which I still find inordinately selfish. Every time I bought a lovely table in pale wood or a felt bird to sit on a shelf, he’d wreck my Scandi-meets-boho aesthetic by coming home with some hideous art deco jug from Vinnies or a gold-framed deity from El Salvador. When Real Living magazine started doing a monthly feature on how couples combined their contrasting styles, I offered us up as guinea pigs, but clearly Nige’s penchant for religious icons meets Euro luxe meets Out of Africa was too much of a challenge for the stylist. Seventy per cent of the time I deal with our differing taste with the ‘hide or smash’ method.
‘Oh no, I didn’t mean to drop that Peruvian statue of the baby Jesus,’ I say, worrying that my lying and blasphemy may come back to bite me. The rest of the time I compromise, which is why my taste for retro colours like sage, washed-out watermelon and yellow is shot through with some heavy doses of tan. I did, however, put my foot down to turning our old glass splashback into a fish tank.
‘Hey, look – Hugh Grant’s got my fish tank,’ Nige pointed out one evening, as we watched About a Boy.
‘Mm, did you ever notice that not only Hugh Grant’s character but Hugh Grant himself is single? There’s a reason.’
I also gave up turning our home into something from The Block because it makes people uncomfortable. Tidiness is well and good and domestic hygiene is to be applauded, but perfection is always a bit carrot-up-the-bum. Many is the time I’ve gone into someone’s house – usually for magazine shoots – and felt I was grubbing up the place just by standing there. The things that attract me in a home are belongings that tell a story about the inhabitants: a shelf of books; a treasure of interest; a wedding photo. If I was looking at our home I’d be drawn to my great-grandmother’s old glass jars brought over on the boat from England or Nige’s vintage cameras collected over a lifetime. I love going into my mates’ houses and seeing unfolded washing in a basket, lunch boxes in the sink and school notes stuck to the fridge. There’s life and texture and acceptance in a house that welcomes you whatever its state.
Mostly, though, maintaining a showroom of a house with kids is inviting stress to come and eat you. I’ve seen it happen.
No, I’ve had it happen. If only I can maintain some order here, you think, everything will be all right. But beauty and comfort are in the disorder. It’s why nature is random – why clover grows with three leaves rather than four and why rivers wind and undulate. It’s why pink – contrary to conventional wisdom – looks awesome paired with scarlet. It’s why scars are beautiful and why a shell-strewn beach will always delight.
© The Smallest Things, RRP$34.99
By Angela Mollard
Published by HarperCollins