FOOF: Dwanollah Décor, Part One: Where'd it all begin, or, Where's the Breadbox, Mom?!
April 2005

*Note: Bobby? Remember when I first sent you this to post…? You know, BACK WHEN WE FIRST MOVED IN JANUARY, 2004?!

I am the Goddess of Foof. No false modesty is needed; there is no place for it here. I simply am the Goddess of Foof.

Mrrtha, step aside! Rachel Ashwell, suck on yer palette”! Claudia, Chris, Tracy, all y'all, I'm not intimidated by you! I've been Foofing long before most ‘Merkins knew what HGTV was! Ha! Ha! Ha! *cracking knuckles* and *giving the stank-eye*

In summer 2003, The Husband-Type Man and I made a big decision: after over three years, we were selling The Mansion. We loved it, but with my insane teaching schedule and summer school, I no longer had the time for the fix-it projects I wanted to finish, and, since we had no time to quest for furniture, the downstairs was still nearly empty. THTM wanted a lower-maintenance place so we could travel more, and wanted to move closer to the thick of things in LA. I wanted someplace a little smaller and cozier (because really, even with my love of fix-it stuff, a 16-room two-story was too danged big for the two of us), and someplace with a yard that we didn't have to start from scratch. We put in the call to our realtor. I headed to the library to work on another chapter of my book (and hide!) while THTM escorted hordes of strangers through our home to look, peer, prod and comment.

Then, as it often does with us, the lightning bolt struck. THTM's boss asked him, “Hey, since your house is already on the market, what would you guys think of moving to Milwaukee?” Um… Milwaukee? Milwaukee, WISCONSIN? Uh….

Strangely, it made sense. I already had budgeted for a big Midwestern Research Trip to various Laura Ingalls Wilder/Rose Wilder Lane and Maud Hart Lovelace archives in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. I was applying to grad schools (AGAIN), and we were open to moving for that. Milwaukee is close to Chicago, and we both love Chicago. Then there was the added hoo-haw that you can get a hell of a lot more for your money in Milwaukee, especially when you sell at a 40% profit in LA. And… well… why not?

We first took up residence into a place in downtown LA, near THTM's work, and, for me, Central Library… a small supertrendymodern sort-of-one-bedroom apartment in a converted office building, part of the new Revitalize Downtown Los Angeles stuff that's going on. We moved, packed, stored, organized, moved and packed some more. And by the time we ushered out 2003, listening to all the partying next door at The Standard, we'd sold The Mansion, bought a 2 BD/2 BTH converted loft on the river in Milwaukee (even while keeping the Lil' LA Pad for back-and-forth trips!), and were ready to go.

By the time we arrived at our Milwaukee digs, I'd already had a number of Major Foofing Projects under my belt. The Purple Living Room in New York. The Mansion, with its Lounge, the Old Lady Breakfast Nook, and the Playroom. Our Downtown LA Pad. We knew we wanted this place completely Nested and livable in less than three months. Luckily, my job (finishing that critical book/thesis) is portable right now, so, come January, I fell to. The Goddess of Foof was unleashed on Milwaukee, not dark but beautiful and terrible as the [pun] Dawn! Tempestuous as the sea, and stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me and despair!


And this is Goddess of Foof, Part One: the story of the Milwaukee Loft, and how Dwanollah, the one true Goddess of Foof, beat it into bloody fucking submission!

Let's start at the beginning.

The genesis of my Foofing is long, convoluted, and even slightly sordid. The better part of my childhood Foofing was spent trying to get things to look like they did in my mind's eye… and being wholly dissatisfied that they never did. I always wanted things to look elegant but unique, like in the books I read.

My earliest Foofing attempt was when I was about 11ish. I'd been re-reading A Little Princess, and was, once again, impressed by the description of Princess Sara's parlor-boarder rooms. Heavy tapestry, carved furniture, skin rugs. So exotic! So rich! My tiny room at the time (I was living at Gram's) was all battered 60s blonde-wood furniture, extra junk, afghans stored in lower dresser drawers, the old turquoise plastic radio next to the swan TV lamp on the nightstand. Nothing rich or girlie about that room. I, of course, couldn't afford a throw pillow on my own, so I had to make do with what decorative touches I could find in the dirty ol' storage sheds. I moved lamps, hung a “tapestry” placemat with an embroidered tiger on the wall, scrounged up a perfume bottle and some china knick-knacks… and the result was total frustration. It looked junky, gross, nothing like how I could imagine it, how I could see it as it might be.

Not too long after, a bunch of the relatives were coming over to Gram's for a Saturday afternoon and dinner. I suggested we have a “nice” dinner… maybe use the china, set the table with candles and flowers. Gram, naturally, didn't want to “go through all that trouble” – she's a bucket of chicken and paper plates type of gal, Gram is, and hates preparation that takes more'n a minimum of effort. But I refused to let go my visions of a long banquet table, elegant linens, bouquets of roses and little dishes of butter, like in the nicest restaurants. I hauled a long board out of the shed, balanced it on the shaky picnic table out back, covered it with a white sheet (because the good tablecloth was too small), and insisted we'd be “dining” there. Gram decided to humor me, and I set to decorating. No fresh roses, but there were some dusty plastic flowers in the shed. I hosed ‘em off. No china or silver allowed outside, so I did the best I could with what was at hand: namely, those paper plates in those horrible plastic holders. No matching candlesticks, no tufted chairs. Ah, me. So there's a picture in one of Gram's photo albums of Lil' Dwanollah, sitting alone outside because all the great-aunts and –uncles preferred to sit on couches inside watching The Game, at a rickety, splintery table set with a gaudy bunch of plastic flowers in a green florist vase, trying vainly to pretend some semblance of elegance into the whole thing.

So yeah, perhaps my obsession with Foof was in direct retaliation to my upbringing.

My mom was heavy into K(o)untry Kute, down-home, earthy stuff. And in the 70s, this meant we had a house full of browns and oranges and yellows, nubby beige and burlap and polished oak and tons of philodendrons and dieffenbachia in macramé hangers. Every so often, Mom would decide to redo the bathroom in “chocolate brown” (which included a BROWN TOILET, so help me! But the bathroom never got finished, so it was just the BROWN TOILET in the TURQUOISE BATHROOM, which is gross even by my standards), or my room in “sunshine yellow,” or the kitchen in “4 th of July” red-white-and-blue…. Too, too cute. Out with the old.

To this day, in fact, Mommy continues on her evil quest to get rid of anything from HER growing up years and replace it with something new and cute from that denizen of evil, Wal-Mart, or Linens ‘n Things. This, naturally, brings me to the woeful tale of the breadbox (and no, Mother, I WILL NOT GET OVER IT! THE SCARS REMAIN, AND ALWAYS WILL! CAN YOU LIVE WITH THE RESULTS OF YOUR ACTIONS? CAN YOU?!):

Gram and Mom's house is full of all the typical old stuff that a family will collect when they live in the same place for five decades. Gram, mind, doesn't even really have a decorating “style”…. Because she and Papa never had much extra cash, they certainly couldn't “decorate” much; they had other stuff to worry about. Gramma still tells about how their first little apartment together was primarily furnished with orange crates that she made flour-sack curtains for, to make them into cupboards, end tables, stools, and whatnot. Gram's style is “this is fine” or “this is good enough”; she, unlike me and Mom, is NOT detail-oriented! Anyway, the furniture there was pretty much all decades-old castoffs and stuff: the china in the china cupboard was her sister-in-law's, but she didn't have room for it at her own house, so it's still at Gram's, some 50+ years later. The bedroom set, unchanged for 15 years, came from a garage sale end-of-the-day bargain, and the set before that, which I used whenever I was living at Gram's, was my mom's from her teenage years. The same desk and chair have been in the same niche since before Mom got married, and the same coffee- and end-tables flanked the same green-and-blue couches for 30-odd years. But some of this stuff has great sentimental value for me. Take the breadbox that sat on the extra cupboard crowding the kitchen doorway. Gram got it for trading stamps sometime in the 60s. In the early 80s, she covered it with fake “wood” contact paper in an effort to make it “match” the kitchen counters, but underneath was that beautiful white-with-sparkles plastic-Formica stuff. It always had Gram's English muffins (and the sandy crumbs of said English muffins), her little loaf of honey-wheat bread (which was always Gramma bread, never the squishy white bread we ate at home), and that indescribable Breadbox Smell. The little handle was broken, so every so often, in the middle of the night or who-knew-when, the door to it would just kerTHUNK open. The breadbox RAWKED!

But one day, when I was in my early-to-mid-20s and living in LA, I came back for a visit. It took me a bit to notice that something in the kitchen was wrong (other than the everything-watermelon motif), but when I did…. “Where's the breadbox?” I asked, expecting it to have been moved, as so many things are at Gram's house, to repose in the storage sheds in opened, mildewing cardboard boxes. “Oh, I threw it out. It was old,” Mom blithely said, unaware of my pain. “You. Threw. Out. The. BREADBOX?!” I shrieked. “Get over it,” she said callously, not caring, not understanding, not even BEGINNING TO FATHOM THE EVIL THAT SHE HAD JUST WROGHT!

The battle continues to this day, with Mom trying to get rid of or throw away the “old” stuff and replace it with cute “new” crap, and me, desperately, valiantly trying to save every vestige of a bygone era that I can. The old dining table? The one that matches the china cabinet, that's been there for 40 years? Gone. Mom scored a round oak country table at a garage sale. The old blue-and-green brocade couches? Long gone, once Mom brought over the new, evil beige nubby K(o)untry Kute Kouches, complete with Kolor-Koordinated Kute Pillows! Mom's oak coffee tables now reign where, for generations, the old Danish modern coffee table resided, and the hi-fi was resigned to the BACKYARD (before I rescued it!) for years in order to make room for Mom's oak sofa table and collection of Disney videos and potted philodendrons and dieffenbachia. ARGH! I've had to act fast, or else who knows what might happen to Gram's pink Melmac platter, end tables, cork-covered-lamps, or even Mom's own graduation picture! Next thing you know, I'm going to find out Mommy's chucked the china cabinet in favor of something more K(o)untry Kute, and'll've replaced the china with an adorable set of new dishes. (Gram, through it all, just rolls her eyes, reclines her chair, and looks up from her pocket Keno game to see what's on AMC. She's used to us.)

The topper came when Gram's side gate broke. Now, the gate, admittedly, sucked. It hadn't opened easily even when I was a kid, and it made gawd-awful screeching sounds and had this gnarly rusted metal spring. But it was still the gate from Gram's house. So when Mom informed me in passing during a phone call that the gate had broken and they'd replaced it, I went bat-shit. “WHERE IS THE OLD GATE?!” I demanded. “In the trash!” said Mom, in her best Mommy “der” voice. “WELL GO GET IT OUT OF THE TRASH!” We debated THAT for about 15 minutes, until Mom was finally convinced that I really wanted the gate to use as a trellis in The Mansion's backyard. Alas, we sold The Mansion soon after, and the gate went into the trash anyway. *snurfle* I lost the spoils of the battle, but I won the war!

My Foofing Tendencies pretty much stagnated for most of my young life. My taste clashed with Mom's, and my insane love of details clashed with Gram, period. But I still craved an atmosphere that fulfilled me in some way. The turning point came when I, around 21, was bored, and decided to check out the public library, something I hadn't really done since childhood (since my late fees are legendary. I don't think I have EVER returned a book on time. I now like to think that I am consciously contributing to the upkeep of the public library system, but, ah, I'm getting sidetracked yet again….). Exploring, I picked up a biography here, some poetry there. I found myself in the section with home décor books, and started poking around. Soon, I was carting a stack of everything from “Art Deco Décor” to “Laura Ashley Complete Guide to Home Decorating” up to the checkout desk. The chatty old lady at the checkout desk asked the obvious question: was I planning on redecorating? “I'm just getting some ideas,” I said. “The problem is, I like so many different things… Art Deco, Old English, Victorian, 60s mod….” The old woman looked horrified. “Well, you certainly can't do them all at once!” she said, laughing at me. I, of course, agreed with her.

But on the way out, on second thought, I couldn't help wondering stubbornly, Well, why not?! Why not!?

Why shouldn't I surround myself with stuff I like, instead of what “fits” or “goes” or “matches” according to hoi polloi?

Readers, a seed was planted.

Another found root when I started reading Judith Krantz. No shittin'. I mentioned in my LIST of Trashy Books that what I dig about Judy is her obsessive details, and my first experience with this was when I first read Scruples around the same time. One of the characters lived in a New York apartment with “half-shadows lit by lamps with rosy trimming, several armchairs in pink and white toile-de-Jouy with flounced skirts, a flowered carpet, and fringed red draperies, and in the background [he] could hear Piaf singing something familiar about the poetic misery of love. Every little table in the room seemed to be covered: framed photographs, ferns, flowers, paper-covered books, records and magazines.” (91) Atmosphere, you guyses, ATMOSPHERE!It didn't come to full fruition, though, until I was working for the Big and gNarly bookstore chain. I'd recently begun hosting events in the children's section, and the store manager asked me to put together a window display to help advertise it. I fretted and worried and hemmed and hawed for days… and then I took action. I plowed through the storage shed. I arranged for “loaner” stuff from the local Pier 1. I ordered extra books and got promotional things from publishers and museums. I spent my own money at Cost Plus when the feeble $25 store budget didn't cut it, and, finally, created this:

PICTURE: LIW WINDOW- Robert, you need to scan this one!

I was immediately dubbed the Goddess of Foof by my delighted manager, and asked to do the windows on a regular basis. I was on my way.

Other decorators, actual professional decorators, usually have some catchy decorating philosophy to sell. Mrrtha and Rachel and Tracy and Mary and Christopher will bang on about “affordable elegance” or “timelessness” or “comfortable living” or “color matching” or “beauty and function,” which can get pretty freakin' pretentious, if you ask me. Dwanollah's Foof Filosophy is less of a salable commodity and more of a mindset, a “well, figure out what you like, and then figure out how to do it!” no-der approach. Don't be afraid to paint something or strip paint from something. The Salvation Army is your friend. Beg, borrow and steal from your friends and family. Break rules. Invest in good furniture pieces. Expect Foofing to be a work in progress. Blah blah blah and all that stuff.

But, I guess if I had­ to distill Foof into something salable, I'd say it's all about creating a unique and personal atmosphere. You just have to figure out what the hell that means to you.

So then, how does Dwanollah-style Foofing work, when realized in real-life home situations? Lemme tell you!

I like displays, vignettes; I like stuff to be personal and tell a story. I don't like matchy-matchy things. I love sentimental stuff. I love clutter. I love putting seemingly disparate things together, so that their meanings shift (which is my approach to critical research too, but I digress. Again), and I love irreverence. There isn't enough chintz-print in the world to satisfy me. I love old stuff, not this cheap, flimsy-ass pressboard crap that passes for furniture now. I love wonky collections of special things. I love bright, strong colors. I love it when people come into my living space and go, “Wow!”

Of course, Dwanollah Décor now has to live comfortably with The Husband-Type Man's décor, and Nesting in our various pads, mansions and digs have helped us fine-tune how we like our homes to be: namely, like US! Luckily, a lot of our taste is similar – we both love irreverent, wonky stuff, books ‘n shit, and kick-ass antiques. In fact, on our first date, when the Not-Yet-Husband-Type-Man came to pick me up, the first thing he said to me upon arriving at my book-cluttered, weird-knick-knack'd pad was “I LOVE your place!” (The second thing he said was “Oh, you have a cat!” and fawned over Mouse, which endeared Fat Bunny Poo-Head to THTM for life.)

But as far as the décor stuff that clashes, well, we just figure out how to make it all work. This is where it can get tricky, because we have very different approaches... even though the end results are close or the same. I think, plan, decide, and am usually 95-100% what I want by the time I'm ready to pick something out. THTM likes to try this or that, and decide a couple months later “No, I don't think I like that after all.” Sometimes it means we hang four different arrangements of stuff on a wall before we decide which works best. Or sometimes it means we have an obsessive list of what will go where months before actually moving. It often means beatings, big fights, crying, silent-treatments, manipulation, plate-throwing and door slamming, then hot make-up sex-

Okay, or it really involves bartering. We each have stuff that's important to us, and we ain't afraid to bargain with it. Having such-and-such curtains really matters to THTM, having such-and-such rug really matters to me. Well, then, how about if we do tradesies… if I can pick out the rug, you can pick out the curtains. If you can pick out the washer-dryer, I can pick out the stereo. You don't care about the guest room? Great, I don't care about the dining room, so go to it! Who picked out the paint for the kitchen last time? Okay, then the other gets to pick it out this time. You choose the table, I'll choose the chairs. This is your office space, this is my office space. I don't go into yours, you don't go into mine. You gotta hold the frame! Look, spaghetti arms!


So that's some background. Next, whyn't you check out what we had to work with?


So, steel-gray, metallic, and ultra-mod doesn't exactly go with our wonky shit.


Again, it's groovy, but it's just not us.



Still …look at that brick! Look at the ker-nifty architectural elements! This place ain't gonna look like ANYONE else's!



Damn, that tile's an eyesore! It's gotta go! But…check out the bathtub!


Stark. Sleek. Mod. What're we gonna do with all this?



The second bedroom, Silver Bathroom, and walk-in closet. So much space. So much potential



And how can we honk this up without making it look stupid and junky?


The groundwork has been laid. What will the Goddess of Foof do with it? You'll find out next time, when Dwanollah takes you on the first of her room-by-room tours of the Newly-Foofed Loft!

But first... a pre-foofing LIST!

:|FOOF: Dwanollah Décor, Part Two: Where'd it all begin, or, Where's the Breadbox, Mom?!

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