Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A botanical theme has emerged.

Decorating is a homemaking job that I wish I could get over and done with and on to other things. This post is about how the realization of that wish is a long time coming. On one level the story bores me to death, even though it's my own house I'm writing about, the house I've been investing in for 20 years. That should warn most of my readers to leave right now and go read something more entertaining.

What's makes me want to tell this too-long tale anyway is the way it illustrates how an incredible amount of mental and physical labor can go into what seems a simple project. I suppose I'm not used to this precisely because I'm not into home decorating and haven't applied my perfectionistic creative energies to it so much before. In a way it's a larger-scale version of my doll clothes effort: what I envision doesn't come in a kit.

If I could make a kit out of it no one would buy it. It's just the best that we could do given our priorities, and with a tract house that doesn't have enough walls to be cozy or enough windows to brighten the view. The story I tell is also amusing if one considers the output of my mental energies compared to the mediocrity of the results.

G.K. Chesterton said,
It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can. 
I'm not sure what all G.K. meant by that, but he does seem to give me liberty, and even to tell me it is my duty, to spend time on my house and property with the purely physical and aesthetic aspects in mind.

One year ago
So, I push on. Last year we changed the arrangement of the living room furniture so that the pictures on the wall didn't work anymore. It seemed that the painting that used to be above a couch was too "heavy" after we moved the piano under it. It was then the largest wall item above the largest piece of furniture. Also, the TV had come out of the closet and found a new and permanent place in a corner, and the emptiness above it bothered me for months while I tried to figure out what to put there.

The first thing that came to mind was a manzanita branch such as I remembered my grandmother having in her living room for a while, a natural curio of sorts. Hers had sat on the coffee table, I think, but mine would hang above the TV to fill some of that airspace and balance out the piano nearby. (We'd need to get a smaller something to put above the piano, too.)

I started looking online for manzanita, but I found only small and twiggy, pale specimens, for use in flower arrangements. So I gave up for a while and spent hours looking for a decorative mobile. Nothing pleased. By that time we were in the middle of the remodel, so it wasn't urgent.

Then in April we went north to Pippin's place, where the previous winter's record-breaking amounts of snow had piled up everywhere. As we walked through her forest we saw several manzanita bushes with large branches broken off. My mind started twirling around the idea that I could prepare my own decorative branch. The others helped me choose a couple that might work and we hauled them home.

Nine months ago
I still didn't know if I could accomplish what I envisioned; I've never been one to do woodworking of any sort. I knew enough to trim off the flowers and small twigs. Then it occurred to me that wood needs to dry out before one can work it. I read that manzanita tends to split, so people have trouble making furniture out of it. Maybe my branches would split too much as they dried?

I left them sitting around in the garage for a couple of months and they only split a little bit. On the Internet I read somewhere to paint them with Danish oil to preserve the wood, so I did that. And one of my children said I should stain the trimmed ends of the branch so the whiteness of the wood wouldn't distract from the lovely smooth and dark bark.
I think this is the one I didn't use.

It was B.'s upcoming birthday party that put the fire under me to get the chosen branch up in the corner. We bravely screwed two hooks into the smooth new ceiling, and I painted them white so they would fade into the background. Then three strands of fishing line were tied to those, and to the branch.

Soldier was here and helped me position it just so; he's tall and strong and could stand there calmly holding it in midair while I fumbled with the almost invisible threads. Then voilĂ ! At last, that one part of my decor was in place (now we only had to ignore the empty space above the piano) and all our party guests could admire it. I began brainstorming on a solution to that remaining space nearby.

Three weeks later I dusted the manzanita with a feather duster and the next morning it crashed onto the TV and to the floor. Nothing was harmed. Guess we needed stronger filament. It took me about two months to get to the store to buy it. Then it took another month before B. and I could make ourselves re-hang the branch. See what kind of do-it-yourself-ers we aren't?

I was sure I knew how to orient the branch, the way Pippin had told me to, but after B. and I got it centered and hung and he'd gone bike-riding, I realized by looking at previous photos that I had it exactly backwards, and it truly didn't look the best. I tried just flipping it over, and that sort of worked; I only had to re-tie one filament, and we were o.k....except that now the branch was a little closer to the ceiling than ideal, and the top of it was vaguely lined up with the curtain rod, which didn't look right. I suffered with that all through Christmas, trying not to care. Of course most people said it was fine because no one wanted to go through the difficulty of doing it over.

I had to buy a piano lamp before I could decide what would go behind it; our old one was shot. Piano lamps are expensive! The cheapest one I could settle on was out of stock for a few weeks, so we waited on that. I had looked at so many paintings or other wall decorations, many hours of browsing over several months, and found nothing I wanted enough to spend money on.

So I thought I would saw and paint some wooden birds to hang up there...they needed to be warm and colorful, because the corner with a black TV and a stark naked branch turned out surprisingly modern and chilly. (Maybe what I need is a branch about five times that big, just sitting on the floor behind the TV and reaching toward the ceiling...and permanently trimmed with Christmas ornaments...? )

But then we must return to how I'm not a woodworker, or a painter for that matter. I think it was on New Year's Day that I felt desperate to make some progress; I decided to spend money and get something. B. and I knew we needed color there, and we knew the parameters of what the measurements needed to be. I bookmarked some paintings, and when B. came home from watching a football game we chose one and ordered it. Whoopee!

The painting arrived and sat on the floor near its destination for over a week. I knew we needed to be in the right mood to even talk about putting it up. In the meantime, one day I got a burst of courage and all by myself re-did the lines supporting my manzanita. I think it might be as much as an inch lower. A most satisfying inch.

Last week we hung the picture. Those are giant poppies providing the splash of color. I hope Mr. Chesterton is happy and won't mind if I get back to my sewing and reading now.

10 comments:

magsmcc said...

It works! I love it- but why didn't you point out that the signature red poppies are also carried through in the red lamp in the foreground? This is humility not required by G. K.! And what about that quote anyway? Seems a bit too terrestrial for pilgrims on earth... I like the Morris thing- objects of beauty AND use. Like Literature- I'm with Moliere on plaire ET instruire!

GretchenJoanna said...

Mags, I beg you to tell me more about Morris, and elaborate on the phrase from Moliere, so I can make peace with decorating. Who knows what GKC was getting at!

M.K. said...

Oh, GJ, this was a MOST enjoyable post! Although I'm ashamed to admit that I got enjoyment out of your decorating angst :) I think the room looks truly beautiful, comfortable, simple but elegant. The poppies match the lamp shade. I think my favorite piece is that rocker, though. Lovely. You done good! I just had to laugh at how long it took you both to DO things; that feels SO familiar! And "trying not to care." haha! We often leave things sitting so long that we forget they're actually supposed to be HUNG. "The mood" must hit first.

Harmony said...

It looks great! Those red poppies are amazingly warming, and I think it really helps the cohesion of the room to have them coordinate with the lamp. Better than birds! I am glad you gave such careful consideration to all of it, because it does reflect you and your imagination :^)

elizabeth said...

Nice! I like the red...

Left-Handed Housewife said...

Wonderful! Such a transformation.

I like the GKC quote, though I wonder if Mags isn't right; it's a bit earthbound. At the same time, sometimes I feel like I need permission to put creative energy into my home. So I'm glad GKC has given it to me!

xofrances

Amanda said...

Beautiful! Those poppies are the bold stroke you needed. I love it!

wayside wanderer said...

I enjoyed reading this, too, mostly because I can so relate to it. I don't do anything fast so you decorate at my speed. The poppies are "practically perfect in every way" and the lamp shade is, too. I've learned something new, too, about manzanitas. That is just fun to say. =) (Do we have those in texas? I need to go see.)

Gumbo Lily said...

I really like the hanging manzanita branch. You remind me that I have a hunk of honeysuckle branch in the garage. I trimmed it this fall and thought I would use it decoratively some way in our home. But it sits, awaiting inspiration. I like the pop of red poppies and the red lamp which adds warmth and interest to your room. Well done!

Jody

Kari of Writing Up A Storm said...

This post of yours soothes my troubled heart, for we thought we'd be all through with our painting and repairs by Thanksgiving, and here we are, boxes everywhere, and still waiting on the kitchen crew. I must be patient. I love your red lampshade! xo Kari