Comfort Zone 

Who comes up with this decorative stuff?

Who comes up with this decorative stuff?

Some years back, I was inspecting an early-’70s house, and my customer was following close behind. I turned into the master bedroom and saw the original decorating scheme, still intact. The wallpaper featured dozens of whopping-big great horned owls, the same bird that so many hippie college girls had whipped up into macramé wall hangings. As if to prove that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, the room had draperies, two chairs, and a bed comforter in matching owl motif.

My customer walked into the room and said dryly, “We made the sellers leave all this. It’s one of the main reasons we bought the house.”

I laughed loud and hard, then turned to the customer guy and said, “Oh, yeah. You wouldn’t want to part with any of this swell stuff.” Then I looked him in the eye. He was dead serious. I had hurt his feelings.

That was the last time I offered a professional opinion on decorating. These days, the official company policy is, if the customers like the decorating, then we like it even more.

But sometimes, when there’s nobody around to get offended, co-inspector Rick and I do wonder: Who comes up with this stuff? A couple of weeks ago, we looked at a model house in a new, upscale development. The place had been carefully staged. The dining table was set, and the glasses were stuffed with confetti and colorful paper rods. The fireplace was roaring, even though it was 95 degrees outside. “Yow. We’ve walked in on some faux festivities,” I said to Rick. “Looks like one of those hallucination scenes from The Shining.

Upstairs, in the master suite, there were his-and-hers closets. Each had two outfits carefully laid out. On one side of the closet, a business suit. On the other side, tennis togs, complete with a racket and an open can of balls.

In the study, there were motel-quality paintings, featuring manly hunting and golfing scenes. In the hobby room, a sewing machine was set up, complete with fabric under the needle.

“Who walks in here,” Rick wondered, “and gets sold because of the staging? Do people really visualize themselves in the suits, and hitting the tennis balls, then run downstairs and write a check?”

“I’m not qualified to answer that,” I said. “I’m still wondering who decided that every house needs white carpet all of a sudden. If you ask me, all carpet should be the color of dirt.”

Clearly, guys like me and Rick are excluded from the home decorators’ focus groups. I suppose this is as it should be, because guys like us usually don’t notice the decorating unless it’s so weird that we just have to laugh at it or cuss it.

Still, if the Goddess of Decorating were to appear to me tomorrow and ask for my input, here’s what I’d tell her:

Leave room for all doors to open. I don’t care if nobody ever goes in the basement, there ought not to be a chair in front of the basement door. If a fuse blows, I just want to open up the fuse box without having to take down a picture or a dang spice rack.

No little rugs in front of the doors. They always get kicked under the doors, and then the doors won’t close. A house needs doormats, but keep ’em outside. Stop this crap with the interior doormats.

No unnecessary gussying or disguises. The pull-down stair to the attic ought to have a string that I can reach, not a porcelain knob that’s just beyond my fingertips. No fuzzy commode lid covers. No decorative shells over the Kleenex boxes. No toaster cozies.

I want to be able to walk into a house and tell that it’s somebody’s home. A house shouldn’t look like a theatrical set, waiting for actors to walk in and pretend they live there.

You know how sometimes, on a Sunday morning, you wake up and the pillows and covers are just right? You’re warm where you want to be warm, and cool where you want to be cool? And even though your arm’s going to sleep, you just can’t uncuddle from the person next to you? That’s how a house ought to be. You ought to feel perfectly comfortable in it, you ought to hate to leave it, and you ought to be eager to get back to it.

Visit Walter Jowers’s Web site at Or e-mail him at


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