AMERI-THINK:The home is the ultimate expression of Me. It is one area over which I have perfect control; a place to display aspirations and live out fantasies ... however eclectic these may be. Home is a multi-faceted Me.
There’s a ‘tropical’ room with whirling ceiling fans and plenty of rattan; an English Tudor dining-room with hammered beams in the ceiling; an apricot-and-gilt bedroom where I’ve indulged my taste for Louis XVI, and a hi-tech post-modernist media room with fauxmarbled walls. What matter if the exterior is red brick neo-Federalist, or Cape Cod shingle? If America is a cultural melting-pot, so is its domestic architecture ... as a quick drive through Beverly Hills will confirm. Forget consistency. It’s impact we’re after.
Members of the aspirational middle classes will have ‘an interior decorator’ as surely as they will have hairdressers, gynaecologists and ‘day-workers’ (cleaning ladies). The role of the decorator is not to impose’ taste (surely not), but to ‘interpret’ the client’s life-style. Ameri-clients will gladly pay the heftiest fees in return for the assurance that they have life-styles.
A good decorator can do much to mask personal shortcomings. Shaky taste can be ‘re-edited’ into something acceptable; even a client who is a real slob can be cunningly re-packaged as ‘California casual’. This means lots of scatter-cushions on the floor and Navajo blankets thrown casually over the backs of chairs so the mess looks intentional.
Yanks enjoy creating domestic scenarios (‘home as backdrop’) and are accustomed to shelling out proportionately. $5,OOO per room, counting furniture and labour, is considered quite average. They redecorate houses from top-to-bottom every time they move ... and they move often. It’s a rare Yank who’s prepared to live with someone else’s carpet or wallpaper. Not only does it cramp his style, but ‘you never know what they’ve done on it’.
Ameri-home is the obvious physical expression of the American Dream. By Euro-standards, even your average shack is ‘super-equipped’. It has Kleenex in every room. It has air-conditioning, micro-waves, media centres, computerized security systems and automatic ice-cube dispensers. It has intercoms, piped gas barbeques, water-and-air purifiers, sprinkler systems and remote-controlled garage doors. Americans are probably the only people in the world who can’t contemplate life without a built-in garbage compactor.
Home as bolt-hole (‘Don’t tell anyone I live here’)
BRIT-THINK:There is beauty (and safety) in anonymity ... which may explain why middle-class dwellings from one end of the country to the other are nearly identical. Brits in every income-bracket short of the very top dislike domestic ostentation, and decline to call attention to their homes (‘just so long as it’s tidy’). They are happiest with formula floor-plans and ‘traditional’ features. From Washington New Town to Weybridge, proud owners peep from behind net curtains and leaded lights.
Round about the 1920s, a little-known architectural genius designed the first-ever bay-windowed semi-detached. A grateful nation has reproduced it ever since (with only minor modifications) from Cornwall to Aberdeen. It is etched on the nation’s consciousness; felt to be the perfect dwelling, and the one which best suits and accommodates the British Way of Life. It is somehow right. The only thing ‘righter’ is a (period) house in the country, if you can afford one. But flats are not right – nor are open-plan rooms, double-volume spaces, warm-air central heating, soaring two-storey widows or radical design-statements. These are regarded as architectural perversions, which inevitably distort life within. Even the Prince of Wales gets publicly sarky every time he spots too much glass.
Brit-homes have no equipment at all. Somewhere in the backs of Brit-minds, an indoor loo-with-low-flush-mechanism is still perceived as a ‘luxury’ (the most over-used word in the estate agent’s lexicon). The heating system doesn’t work, though exposed radiators deface every wall-surface, and scald the cat. For reasons few can explain, Brits will spend many happy hours reading and talking in front of a false fireplace. (They are irresistibly drawn to any hint of neo-Georgian fibreboard surrounding an area of blank wall.) This is Spiritually Right, and reinforces traditional family values. Home is where the hearth isn’t.
Brits haven’t much need for interior designers, since the last thing they’re after is showiness, idiosyncrasy or display. (That’s reserved for gardens and ‘grounds’). Only two decorative themes are allowable, and these are repeated the length and breadth of the nation:
1. For the affluent, aspirational, or upwardly mobile:
The ‘country house’ style. This calls for a great deal of antique furniture (‘repro’ if you can’t afford the real thing), dark woods (mahogany is favoured), gilded mirrors, floral fabrics and swagged velvets, well-worn Oriental rugs (nothing new, and never ‘washed Chinese’) and subdued colour-schemes. Anything, in fact, which looks inherited and suggests Old Money. Can be scruffy, since Old Money often is.
2. For everyone else:
Post Second World War Ugly.
Main design-feature is carpets, fabrics and wallpapers which jar horribly, and look as if they’ve ended up in the same room only because of ‘shortages’. (Brit-style seems permanently circumscribed by the post-war period.) Favoured colour-schemes run to avocado-cream-brown, or alternatively black-with-orange blobs. Or both.