Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Emotional Value of Redecorating

Have you ever, at a crossroads in your life, found yourself redecorating, repainting, rearranging furniture? Something beyond the usual boredom with our decor and desire for something fresh to look at that we all experience from time to time.  I'm talking about anything to change your surroundings, to demarcate today from yesterday, present from past.  Following my divorce, I painted woodwork, turned my dining room into an office and a formal living room into my dining room, changed out kitchen cabinet doors-- something visual to make today's space different from yesterday's space.  How could I leave my surroundings the same when, in fact, everything had changed?

I came across an article yesterday in The Times Magazine that touched me and reminded me of that painful time during which I needed to rearrange.  Joan Parker, widow of the acclaimed mystery novelist Robert Parker, still resides in the home they shared-- albeit unconventionally-- in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The couple maintained separate living quarters within their Victorian 14-room house but were married for 53 years.  Although they attempted a divorce back in the '80s, it was a dismal failure as they could not bear to be apart from one another. So they bought a house that could accomodate their separate routines but still give them spaces to share when they so desired.  Following his death last January, Joan felt pain at every turn in her husband's first floor abode.  Mr. Parker's leather arm chair at his kitchen table was particularly painful for her to see...she often found him sitting in it, clearly not feeling well, but drinking her in visually as she fed the dogs or tended to other things in "his" kitchen. 

Her dear friend and architect, Adam Schoenhardt, visiting one day, whisked the "Sad Chair" as Joan called it out of sight and repositioned it an out-of-the-way sitting area.  In that one change-- simply moving a piece of furniture-- Joan found some relief and an escape from the reminder of Robert sitting sadly at his kitchen table in ill health.  Over the next few days, Schoenhardt rearranged several rooms in Robert's apartment and in this redesign was able to uplift his friend.

This is Joan, in the "Sad Chair" in its new space.  I especially loved her quote at the end of this article.  "My epiphany was, it was all about CONTROL.  I was powerless to prevail over the turmoil, fear, grief, and uncertainty following Bob's sudden death.  Still am, to a lesser extent, but I can control, with the help of my gifted friend, Adam Schoenhardt, the inanimate objects in my house.  So I move, lift, re-use, recycle, drag, discover things and in doing so actively transform my physical living space.  And hope to Christ it empowers me to transform my emotional living space -- at least I can control this part of my new life."

Photos by Trent Bell for the New York Times

1 comment:

  1. Nice post!! I definitely want my home to be a space that helps me to feel good (or say better, and better).


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