Mom is NOT an Interior Decorator…

27 10 2011

Or, is She???

Judy and I took a little business trip (OK, she took the business part of it), a couple of weeks ago, and found ourselves in Amarillo, Texas on the return-home leg. The trip, to Amarillo, was planned because that is where this architect was born, raised, partially trained, and (most importantly) where my 82 year-old mother resides. Because we could only stay a couple of days, we spent the time visiting with Mom in her modest little apartment located within a senior living complex near downtown.

Late, during the first afternoon and while Mom took a little nap, Judy leaned over and said, “I really like the way Mom has decorated her apartment”. Of course my first reaction (because I’m such a good son), was to chuckle and say, “You’ve got to be joking”; but I could tell, by her expression, that she was very serious and it caused me to look around to reassess my perspective.

As I said, Mom’s apartment is modest but I still felt compelled (as the naysayer) to look deeper to understand the cause and effect of what Judy found to be so interesting. As a little background, Mom’s apartment is in an older, historic building that was constructed, as an apartment complex, in 1927. The once high-ceiling-ed  units now have suspended ceilings to conceal electrical and mechanical upgrades (as well as insulation) so it made it easy to determine that her apartment is approximately 800 sq. ft., a perfect area for a one-bedroom/ one-bath home. As with all of the rental units, the walls, floors, ceilings, etc. of Mom’s apartment home are of a neutral palette to provide a canvas for the occupant(s) to create “Home”. Another important feature is that the bedroom/bathroom/closet compose only one-third of the space while the living/ dining kitchen fill the balance in an open floor plan that creates a warm, inviting living and entertaining space.

But, that’s the tale-of-the-tape, the nuts & bolts, the blank canvas…what had Mom really done with the space to make it Home?

The first thing that you need to know about Mom is that she LOVES garage sales, she always has; I have early memories of early weekend rounds to see what others might be “getting rid of”. I laughed at this for years but was now compelled to look at the items that dotted the walls and filled her shelves. Mom had taken an eclectic, elegant approach to decoration but, not only was there restraint in quantity, there was also an eye toward combinations and juxtapositions of style; perhaps accidental, perhaps with a keen eye…hhhmmmmmmm…I examined family photo groupings (in various frame styles), classical wall sconces and brackets, and a tripartite mirror (adorned with artificial ivy) on the walls. I also took notice of nicely upholstered furniture, and mix of coffee and end tables, and and assortment of antique-style lamps. Mom had even strategically placed colorful, light-reflecting nick-knacks on the wonderful, deep window sills. The thing was, it was not over done but, tastefully “put together”.

OK, now I was in trouble…I liked it.

During this process of critique, Mom joined us for another round of visiting, reminiscing, etc. and I asked, “where did all of this ‘stuff’ come from”. Her reply (and to no surprise), “well, garage sales, of course”; she then proceeded to give me a quick rundown of many of the items and mentioned pricing that was a low a $0.50 but, seldom exceeding $20.00. She also pointed out a few cherished pieces of furniture that had been purchased when I was a child (made in the days of American made, high-quality).

Needless to say, I was impressed. I had often wondered about the roots of my design sensitivities and had always considered it a fluke of nature and even wondered if I had been mixed, at birth, having been taken from a family of artists, architects, and designers; again…..hmmmmmm. Of course, I know now, I came by my talents naturally and I have my Mom to thank. So……


The other lesson…One does not have to gold-plate a space, there are many great finds in garage sales, second-hand stores, junk shops, etc. Another great place, for unique pieces, is Habitat for Humanity ReStores (of which I am personally involved). And, yet another lesson, take a chance and try different things…perhaps, you too, have an inner, artistic side and can simply, economically turn your living space into a warm and wonderful home…just like Mom!


“If You Build It,…

4 10 2011

…he will come”  Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams

The quote, above, is one of  the more famous of one of my all-time favorite movies. The movie, Field of Dreams, was released in April, 1989; a month later, I graduated, with my Masters of Architecture, in May, 1989. Being a Kevin Costner fan, I viewed the film, as soon  as it was available, and instantly added it to my favorites list. Because I’m a fan of the movie, I often think of many of the scenes and also many of the lines; lately, the line above, continues to replay in my mind. And, like many connected with the building industry, I’ve also bastardized the line the line to reflect a philosophy of the last twenty years to say:

“If you build it, ‘they’ will come.”

It seems as though everyone got caught up in this philosophy ; I’ve heard the line repeated often, I’ve repeated it often, and it seemed as though (as in the movie) nothing could be more true.

In connecting some of these dots, I have been reflecting, lately, on the last twenty-plus years, and am amazed at the course of events that I have witnessed; sure there was a blip or two that caused a little worry but, it always seemed to be a temporary bump and everything moved along at exponential speed. As I mentioned earlier, I re-entered the building industry in mid-1989 and immediately played into this growth phenomenon; it seemed as though we couldn’t keep up with the design and construction opportunities that were being presented. As I said, there were slow points, but our design firm was inundated with new industrial and commercial projects including office buildings, retail dealerships, shopping centers, schools, medical facilities, apartment and condominium complexes, restaurants, hotels, factories, warehouses, etc.; at the same time, residential developers were  on a similar building binge creating development after development across the American landscape. Thing were great and, to compound this blizzard of activity moreover, the banks and other lenders, seemed to be throwing money at anyone who could put together a semi-plausible deal. And, all along, that famous (bastardized) line, If you build it, ‘they’ will come”, continued to be repeated and, unfortunately, believed. As a matter of fact, this reminds me of another famous exchange in Field of Dreams:

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.

You can probably imagine the twist but, to assist, it wasn’t Iowa, it was an explosion of expansionism and we all thought it was heaven.

As I said earlier, I too got caught up in the frenzy; repeated the line often, and saw no end to the wave we were all riding. I believed, so strongly, that I started my little firm in 2006, knowing that I would also take the world by storm and, no doubt, get rich in the process. Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid, believed all of those around me,starting churning out a few nice projects, and started planning my empire. Unfortunately, dawn broke on 2007 and, though I couldn’t imagine it at the time, my charging locomotive derailed in such dramatic fashion that I still wince (and shed a few tears) when  I look back on the cataclysm; as quickly as I grew, I fell. Just as unfortunate, many of my contemporaries in the building industry also collapsed into obscurity; as a matter of fact, many throughout corporate America have also faltered and we have found ourselves in a great recession (I still refuse to use the term, depression).

Through this evolution of the last few years, many of us have been humbled and many of us have lost everything (some more than everything). Many of us are still trying to re-build ourselves and, though some have become pessimistic, many of us still believe in the power of positive thinking and are looking at ways to re-invent ourselves. It is not going to be easy, the road back up will be long, rough, and fraught with pitfalls; but, you know what, we are the products and caretakers of the greatest nation on earth, have the power to stare this adversity in the face, and come out on top.

And, while we must learn from these valuable lessons and not repeat our mistakes (or phraseology), I still believe, “If you build it, ‘they’ come.”.  I’m also going to wax a little philosophic and suggest that we can repeat the past, within reason, and will offer one last quote from one of my favorite movies, “Field of Dreams.” (use a little imagination to add or change a word or two):

Terence Mann: Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past[…]And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces[…]America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again[…]it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh[…] people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

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