“You talk funny.”
In retrospect, I should have shown her the door the moment those three words sprung from her pouty, Greco-Italian mouth like an upscale restaurant hostess’ over-stressed blouse button.
I didn’t want to hire a designer but I felt obliged to do so. Considering the money we were willing ourselves to spend, it seemed prudent to involve a “professional”. It’s not so much that I’m horribly fashion-deaf, just that I’ve been known to paint rooms orange; as in Dukes of Hazzard vehicular orange. Besides, the contractor we intended to hire, a trusted friend, stated in no uncertain terms that it made for a much smoother renovation experience for all involved, despite the added cost. Considering the mutual disdain for shopping that both my wife and I proudly possess, help seemed warranted.
Still, I was reluctant. I knew there would eventually be trouble. So self-aware was I that I even made a small peace offering to my neighbour and friend, herself a schooled but non-practicing designer, hoping that a box of chocolates would lessen the disappointment of my vowing to not involve her in our renovation. It’s one thing to develop reciprocated contempt for a stranger you will never see again; quite another with a neighbour and mother of your son’s best friend. I knew this was the right decision, I just never envisioned it proving true so quickly.
I harbour a strong disrespect for the entirety of fashion. It’s not that I can’t appreciate pretty things. I just find the whole concept of fabricating wants repellent. Perhaps this stems from a childhood filled with shopping trips to K-Mart each August to stock up on the hot new fashions from three years ago. Or maybe it’s a lifetime associating formal wear with bright red, Home Hardware suit jackets. Whatever the reason, I see fashion/design as nothing more than a superficial racket attempting to brainwash you into liking certain things depending solely on the season or year in order to satiate society’s rapacious desire for relentless consumption and that this aggrandized but manufactured advice alone justifies its elevated cost. Oh, and it will also impress the hell out of your friends and ultimately convince them to do likewise.
A few years back when I was still doing a little consulting work as an oil and gas geologist, I billed out my services at $100/hr. It was and remains a ridiculous amount of money in my mind considering minimum wage is only now being inching towards $15/hr. But that was the going rate and clients willingly paid it. This interior designer charges $150/hr. She also has a ten hour minimum which, in retrospect, suggests I’m not the first client to quickly tire of the bullshit. It also makes my geologist billing rate seem a whole lot less obscene.
For this not-so-shy sum of money, you get a bubbly expert telling you all the awesome things you should do to your house to induce jaw-dropping envy in the friends you invite over for wine, hors d’oeuvres, and vacuous, hair-flicking conversation. Bi-monthly. Considering the number of social engagements we’ve hosted over the years coupled with the number of social engagements we’ve been invited to over the years, I’m baffled as to how that bi-monthly figure was deduced. Even if a less regular entertainment schedule is more realistic, the point remains that you are expected to design your home, not for daily living, but rather to impress on the rarest of days. It’s kind of like saying you should prepare an elaborate turkey feast daily so that you really wow your family at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
All this nonsense costs money. Lots and lots of money. And if I’m anything, I’m cheap (oh, look at all the synchronous head bobbing). I’ll take your word for it that the $100 toilet probably doesn’t flush away my troubles as well as I’d hoped, but you’ll have to put some effort into convincing me the $1100 toilet does better job of it than the $600 toilet. By all means, raise your eyebrows and give a little nod of appreciation when you realize I’ve served you Bick’s pickles rather than No Name but I defy you to so much as recognize, let alone be impressed by, the brand name of the toilet that just made your excrement vanish.
Which brings me back to, “you talk funny.” It was our first meeting with the designer our contractor had recommended. She was very friendly and pretty, as you’d expect. You don’t get a lot of Marty Feldman looking types in beauty related industries. After getting us up to speed on how our business relationship would work, we started walking around the house discussing what we thought we might want and what she thought we should want. We were all trying to get to know each other as quickly and non-superficially as possible both to limit the cost but also to hasten the creative process. Time was literally money, after all.
She spoke those words in response to my sincere, almost pathetic entreaty that, “It’s not so much that our apprehension is an affordability issue as much as it is a philosophical issue.”
I was never comfortable with the designer after that statement. We continued for a few more sessions not wanting to once again chicken out of a large purchase as we so often do. We even got to a finished design though that required an unnerving number of, “I don’t think that will actually fit,” and, “You forgot to include this thing we talked about,” on our part. We even spent part of a day shuffling through several of our city’s finest upscale plumbing, flooring, and countertop retailers and even made actual firm decisions, an act that typically leaves us curled up on the floor bawling like an abandoned calf.
There was a brief period of elation, or relief, at having compelled ourselves to complete this uncomfortable first step. After years of waffling and indecision, we allowed ourselves a moment of pride in getting this far but doubt soon resurfaced like a nagging cold sore. Does $7500 in shower fixtures, a figure I’m told is mid-range, really make for better showers? The bits and pieces don’t look all that different from what we’ve already got or could buy at any home reno big box store. As far as I can tell no masseuse pops out of the spout to provide a happy ending to my bath. And while the $12,000 natural stone countertops look damned sexy, I can buy you a fancy map for much less that’ll show you literally half of our country is covered by the stuff.
Doubt eventually led to another decision, one far more common for us, sadly. We decided against moving forward with the planned renovation. Upon hearing the news, our designer disappeared faster than a middle manager whose mistress just told him she’s pregnant. I guess there are plenty of folks out there waiting to be dazzled who don’t talk so funny.
It’s been six months since that fateful decision and though guilt and shame still badger my mind, it was the right one to make. We’re already questioning the final design plans we’d drawn up a mere half year ago. We’ve also got some great new ideas that I’d love to include in any future renovation. In the meantime, we’ve decided to plod along at our own pace with some DIY projects and hiring directly where needed. It’s not as glamorous and we still struggle with merciless indecision, but our bank account remains far more robust. And we’re decorating the way we want not the way we’re supposed to. Just nothing orange … yet.