FOOF: Dwanollah Décor, Part Two:
The Milwaukee Loft Re-Imagined

July 2005

Dwanollah Advises:

  • Get seasonal/holiday stuff, especially when it’s on sale.

You never know…. A sparkly turquoise-and-pink Christmas ornament might look really groovy hanging to catch the light in the middle of a window, or the onslaught of Valentine’s Day crap might result in a couple of not-as-repulsive flower-shaped candle-holders. A lot of summer beachy stuff is perfect for a year-‘round tiki-type look, and those colorful baskets for Easter could be just the perfect thing to hold toiletries, put outdoor plants in, or serve bread.

One of my favorite scores was when THTM and I went up to San Francisco to visit friends for New Year’s Eve last year. We ended up at the Macy’s in Union Square, where there was a mongo post-holiday sale going on. The basement there was piled with high-end Christmas ornaments and accouterments, stuff from all their themed Christmas lines. For some reason, one batch of decorations was all Asian-themed (because, I guess, an Asian-themed Christmas made sense to someone somewhere…? C’mon, even in San Francisco, Asian Christmas is silly!), and I scored! Of course, I fetishize Oriental knick-knacks to a disturbing degree anyway, but this was beyond a mere Chinatown haul. I got boxes decoupage’d with Asian cigarette girls on them, dolls, and more Asian Christmas ornaments than I would’ve thought possibly existed. None of that stuff made it near our tree, though… or even near Christmas. My favorite pieces were the huge gold Lucky Coin ornaments. I had vague ideas about maybe using them with curtain tie-backs, but wasn’t quite sure how or where. Then I got a couple sets of wind chimes that sounded great, but had these horrible, cutesy glass clappers on them. Untied the glass things, threw them out, retied them with the Lucky Coin ornaments, and presto!

  • Don’t be afraid to check the kiddie sections, either

Not everything in the children’s section is kiddie-sized. I’ve found pretty quilts and kick-ass table lamps, not just Hello Kitty and Scooby-Doo junk. And some of the things that look too juvenile when surrounded by other cutsey kiddy crap can actually look quite nice when you get it home (or attack them with spray paint, as you’ll see below). For instance, Pottery Barn Kids has scads of curtains and rag rugs and things that don’t necessarily have to be used in their typical blue-is-for-boys-and-pink-is-for-girls decorating schemes.

  • If you like it, it has Foof potential

It seems like such a no-shit thing to me, but really, you home should be filled with stuff you love, and stuff that makes you happy. So if you come across one really nifty candlestick at a flea market, or get an set of placemats from your aunt that you really love, and it doesn’t seem to go with your stuff originally, you can still figure out a way to use ‘em. Use the placemats under lamps in the living room, or the candlestick as a paperweight in your office. Those vintage shoes that you adore but that don’t fit/go with anything/kill your feet…? Put something heavy in the toes and turn ‘em into bookends. Turn the old table-runner with the stain on one end into a small throw-pillow for the living room. Use the spectacular floral vintage contact paper to cover the top of a wonky table for the guest room, or hang that beautiful beaded curtain you and a friend got on a trip to Baja outside as a backdrop for a jungle-y plant stand. Drape the Mardi Gras beads you can’t bear to throw away around a lampshade. Line up your circa 1970s toys on the fireplace mantle, fill the really kewl empty jar you found with buttons or broken crayons or corks from bottles of wine, save up all the fortunes you get from fortune cookies and fill in a collage with them. Make the vintage tablecloths into café curtains, drill a hole in the bottom of that battered teapot and plant oregano in it, use the mismatched “Thé” or “Sucre” canister to hold bath salts and cotton balls. You may have to hang on to something for a while and try it out in a couple different places/ways before you hit on the right thing, but if it’s something you really LIKE, get it! Save it! Use it!

  • Decoupage isn’t just for gross ladies who wear sweatshirts with hearts appliquéd on them and give out horridly decorated gewgaws for holiday and birthday gifts.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those Kute K(o)untry Kraft types. In fact, most of this shit scares the jeebers out of me. But just because it’s foul in execution doesn’t mean that the theory behind it sucks: namely, it is possible to do fabulous things with some Modge Podge, scanned pictures, and even some sprinklings of glitter. You can turn a crummy, plain, or even downright fugly lamp base or old chair or nightstand into something magnificent. My fascination with decoupage started when THTM and I were ransacking our favorite stores in Brooklyn Heights and THTM saw a gorgeous Victorian screen in one window, completely covered with illustrations from magazines. We couldn’t afford that piece, dang it all, at the time, but we both loved the look of it. Even if it’s not late-1800s decoupage, some Modge Podge and a sponge applicator can work wonders.

A warning, though: don’t waste money on any of the craft-store garbage to decorate with… hell, avoid that whole scary aisle of cut-outs and clip art! Instead, your own trusty scanner and printer are all you’ll need. I’ve decoupaged things with newspaper cut-outs, scans of photographs, scans of fabric patterns, images of old postcards and travel stickers and postage stamps, and Barbie stickers. I’ve done collages of vintage French postcards, Modernist Expatriates in Paris, Betsy and the Great World, and our own travel pictures. We had a table in The Lounge that was done with ads from the LA Weekly for “private massage” and “Asian Only!” and “Be a Model!” and other various personal ad stuff. And glitter. It was stunning, if I do say so myself. So think about a theme or style, and start Google-ing images. Anything is possible: a vintage floral motif, Asian pop stars, retro computer graphics, Edwardian fashion illustrations, illustrations from vintage biology books, photos of you and your friends, old Hollywood, pictures of hamburgers and fries- And whatever you come up with, it’ll be far more unique and personal than using the collection of Cute Cherubs and Angels clip art from the local craft superstore.

Start small. Practice with the $10 table from that garage sale, or that ugly old picture frame that’s been in the back of the closet for years, or, heck, even just a stray piece of wood that you can hang if it turns out okay. Strip any and all paint or finish off the thing first. If you paint it again before you decoupage, give the thing DAYS to dry (and don’t use oil-based paint/gloss; that stuff’ll NEVER dry! I killed my attempt at a Barbie-themed night table for The Playroom that way). Don’t use anything on thick paper; even postcard stock is too heavy, so scan the postcards and photos and print it on regular paper. And der – don’t use originals.

Of course, all things in moderation: a little decoupage goes a long, LONG way. If you decide to honk up that old IKEA dining table with a slew of Classic Greek images, perhaps doing all the chairs with Art Deco thingies isn’t, um, the best idea. In fact, if you’re going to do something as big as the dining table, maybe… just a… decoupage border is best…?

  • Spray paint can make everything a little bit better (if used properly). Ditto staple-guns

While I’m no hardcore dumpster diver, I have been known, on occasion (I SAID ON OCCASION, MISTER MAN! I – wait, what’re you laughing at me for? Mean Husband! MEAN!) to bring home the odd chair or table. And I don’t always salvage with Very Important Decoupage. In fact, I’ve become quite adept at refinishing and re-upholstering simple pieces. I’m currently putting together a set of extra chairs for the patio by finding various plain old chairs (usually with a graceful back), stripping ‘em, and painting them a bright color, then re-upholstering the seats with oilcloth from one of my favorite stores. Glorious!

A can of black spray paint can turn a cutesy, tacky faux-verdigris plant holder into something simple and elegant. A can of red spray paint can make a bunch of odd picture frames into a cohesive yet unique set. You can get boring statuettes and wonk them up by spray-painting them screaming pinks and purples, or make that crummy wicker patio furniture circa 1976 look new with a couple cans of white spray paint. I think I’ve tried spray paint on just about everything but major appliances… and for that, you can take the piece to a place that paints cars. They’ll treat that ugly avocado-green fridge right!

Staple guns are great for some basic fix-it stuff, but are especially handy with Foofing. You can do the aforementioned re-upholstering. You can hang gathered fabric and trim around an ugly table to make a dressing skirt. You can make swags for above your bed. You can even build simple shelves and things with the right size staple gun. Don’t, however, use a staple gun for hanging wallpaper, Christmas lights, or posters. That’s tacky and potentially dangerous.

  • You don’t have to use things the way they were intended

No, really you don’t. Who says you can’t use that night-table as a living room side table, or vice versus? Or the Polynesian rattan patio furniture in your dining room instead? Or say those two kick-ass long drapes you got in über-kitchy 1950s print are too long for your window or don’t look right in your living room…? Use ‘em as a shower curtain (with a plastic liner, of course). If you like it, you can figure out a way to use it. The broken but heavy carved door can become a sideboard or a dining table if you lay a sheet of glass over it, or you can hang on the wall like Very Important Sculpture. Empty picture frames can be backed with screen and used to hang earrings, or can frame a mirror in the bathroom and become a medicine cabinet door if it’s the right size. Shellac those neat-looking cans and bottles from the import market and use them as vases or plant holders. Live life on the edge, dammit!

  • Don’t neglect secondary spaces

The guest bedroom and bath. The front hall closet. The back patio. The laundry room. You may not spend a whole lotta time there, but that doesn’t mean it should be boring, for pity’s sake! In fact, these can be great places to try out stuff, or do things you might not want to live with every day. You may not want a Disco Bathroom as a regular thing, but it’s a fun way to honk up the tiny half-bath off the kitchen. (One of the grooviest things ever is O Nancy My Nancy and Her Semi-Cute Husband’s Pirate Bathroom, f’instance.) Or you can do kernifty things in a guest bedroom that you might not want to do in your own: a bookcase full of campy romance paperbacks or a bright fuchsia Indian spread on the bed or that retro oil lamp you stole from your aunt and uncle’s garage or a bright turquoise-and-lime-green color scheme. The laundry room should be functional, of course, but there’s no reason why you can’t add some fun touches… maybe chalkboard paint or magnet paint on a wall, or Dungeons and Dragons figurine battle scenes on an unused window ledge, or even just kitschy hooks to hang up drying clothes or ironing. Don’t let a closet turn into a catch-all dump: store your favorite linens nicely folded so you can see and admire them, use groovy shelf paper or paint the inside walls something bright and unexpected, hang sachets, hang a goofy poster inside the door. Even if you have one of those crummy, two-foot-wide apartment balconies, you can still Foof it spectacularly. Party lights and Astroturf? Buddha statues and candle sconces? Oriental lanterns, fresh flowers, small cocktail bar, garden gnomes? Whatever you like! Have fun!

  • You can make anything into art if you frame it

One of my favorite things to collect is old sheet music. Alas, I don’t play any instrument, but there’s something about sheet music that I love… not just the look of musical notes and all that, but also the cover drawings. And the titles. And the names of the performers. It all started on a trip to a flea market in Philadelphia about eight years ago. For some reason, I picked up a song titled “Cheer Up! Cherries Will Soon Be Ripe!” And between the spoony picture and the sexual double entendre of the title (not to mention the $1 price tag), I had to have it. I found that most sheet music will fit in most standard-sized picture frames (11 X 7, usually), so I framed “Cherries Will Soon Be Ripe” in a gaudy old frame and hung it up. THTM and I started noticing other spectacular specimens of sheet music along the way. It was usually cheap… especially if it was torn or missing pages, so we could score something with a fab title or cover for usually a dollar or less. And then came the showering of blessings by O Nancy My Nancy’s mother. At a holiday party, whilst discussing the décor of ONMN and her SCH’s new pad, I happened to mention to ONMN’s mom something about the Quest for Sheet Music, and she said, “My brother used to own a music store back in the ‘40s, and we have two boxes of stuff in the garage-” Oh. Oh yes. Yes yes yes yes!

So yeah, you can frame Gramma’s doilies or your own old baby clothes, make collages from old postcards and ticket stubs or notes from your mom, mat favorite book pages and/or illustrations or 1960s album covers or drawings that your nephew did, create dried pressed arrangements under glass with your old wedding bouquet or all the flowers your beloved ever gave you or the bouquet you were presented when you won something important. That beautifully-illustrated set of tarot cards, the map of wherever you went last summer, the colorful wrappers from the bars of soap you got at a foreign market, the label from a box of Men’s Pocky, the footprint-begrimed set-list from that show at the Roxy, the set of British pub coasters- When properly and appropriately framed, it becomes something ten times kerniftier than that Thomas Fucking Kincade print from the, ahem, “gallery” in the local mall.

Likewise, you can hang kewl shit on the walls, like those beautiful hand-painted plates that you love (but never want to risk eating on), in a stunning collage-like display. Wrought-iron salvage is a favorite thing of ours to hang. Groups of things work brilliantly, and possibilities are endless: street signs, hubcap collections, vintage spoon rests, kitschy collages of fake flowers and Christmas lights, old window-frames, retro handbags, computer motherboards….

  • Be careful with tackiness and kitsch

Doesn’t this seem like the most hypocritical bit of advice from me? But I mean it. I love tacky shit. I love kitschy stuff. But decorating with tacky, kitschy, campy, goofy stuff requires a delicate touch, a fine balance. Otherwise, it just looks junky and gross.

First of all, there should have some unifying element. You can’t just jam a Tretchikoff painting, some hula lights, a lawn jockey statue and some glass grapes together and call it done. There needs to be something pulling it all together, a theme or idea. Everything Animal Print? Priests & Boy Bands? Retro-Futuristic Space Age? Gramma’s House? Ancient Spanish Nobility? Waikiki Wally + Trader Vic = TLA? Nouveaux Riches Mega-European Elegance? Twenty Kinds of Travel Memorabilia? Pink Floral Explosion? Yeah!

Sometimes even just a color or pattern can be enough to bring things together; 6 random, tufted throw-pillows might not be anything special kitsch-wise, but if they’re ALL different kinds of brocade-with-gold tassels, then they coalesce into something! Look for something unifying: those Bad Art garage sale paintings on a dining room wall might all feature Women in Hats/shades of yellow/still life fruit, for example. A hodge-podge mess can be pulled together with one very important set of huge bright red velvet couches, or a collection of rattan furniture all upholstered with one pattern of Hawaiian barkcloth can lend a sense of fusion to what might otherwise just be a hot mess. Use an all-pink-and-black color scheme, or make a couple pillowcases for the bed out of the same fabric as the curtains, or paint the walls bright yellow. These details help create necessary structure to support the most eccentric flights of Foof fancy.

Also, use some common sense with over-the-top ticky-tacky Foofing. Your home has to be functional as well as decorative, so don’t, like, line up a whole bunch of dress mannequins in 70s clothes along the hallway where you’re going to keep bumping into them, or cover all the kitchen countertops with superhero decals so you can’t do basic cooking and cleaning. Make sure you can turn on lights easily, flop on your bed comfortably, and take a bath or shower without having to dismantle a whole chunk of the bathroom first.

You also have to be prepared to fully commit when dealing with Tacky Foof, though, because it ain’t for the meek! Your family is going to think you’re weird. You’re going to have to aggressively barter with people at thrift stores and swap meets. You’re gonna have to have the courage to paint something screaming chartreuse, cover a wall with Mexican religious iconography, or revamp your bedroom with a Renaissance Bordello theme! Be brave! Be bold! But be careful, too!

  • Quality over quantity.

Sure, I love a bargain as much as the next person, but that doesn’t me you have to pick up every single $19.99 set of drapes you can get your hands on, or get the rickety dresser from the Salvation Army that has a big splintering crack up one side and two broken drawers even though it’s only thirty bucks. Sometimes (unless you’re on a starving student budget, which, believe me, I understand!), it’s easier to wait and spend the extra money on a quality piece of furniture (and by “quality,” I DON’T mean the Thomasville Pressboard Express!) or what you really want instead of picking something up at the discount store or settling for something not-quite-right, because it’ll last much longer in the end. So sure, that couch we got on sale at that crummy place in the Philadelphia suburbs didn’t break the bank… but the slipcover got all fabric-pill-y and the cushions went flat and, within a year, the thing looked like crap just from normal, everyday use, and in two years, we’d gotten rid of it. Especially, don’t spend money on something you don’t really like just because it’s a bargain. Sure, that blue-flowered bedspread set at Sears is only $75.00, but if you REALLY have your heart set on getting that $300 down comforter, then why waste money on something you’re going to hate in the end? Use the old sleeping bag a little while longer, and save up for what you really want and like.

  • Just because it was shown on an HGTV decorating show doesn’t mean it’s a good idea!

HGTV has really created a lot of problems, and not just for the aforementioned Kute Kraft women in their appliquéd/sequined/beribboned/bedazzled denim shirts. I mean, even the most un-artistic nitwit in the world thinks that, just because they can wield a glue gun, they somehow have the Ability to Foof.

No, dears. No. Not really.

I’ve seen some really atrocious, chintzy-looking things just because someone got a little glue-gun happy with the jeweled thingies, saw an HGTV show on “ragging,” or picked up a kit for something-or-other at the local craft store. Home Decorating right now is a hot commodity, and companies’re gonna try to cash in, so that means places like Michael’s Craft Supplies and Bed, Bath & Beyond are crammed full of hiddy crap in an attempt to convince people it’s stylish and personal décor. And sadly, most of The Hoi Polloi [sic] falls for it. For instance, once, THTM and I got to laughing hysterically because we overheard a couple talking about what an AMAZING and UNUSUAL and CREATIVE decorating thing they were looking at, and, when we figured out what it was that had them so begoogled and enthralled, it was… um… bamboo. Just bamboo. In a pot. Which is everywhere. So… if everyone has the same floral/ivy swags accenting their curtain rods, the same arrangements of candles-on-trays in their coffee tables, or is doing the same (dear God) wreath-making crafts, how personal can it be? Foof – REAL Foof – steps it up, and if you’re gonna REALLY Foof, you have to understand what REAL amazing, unusual and creative touches entail; you must develop your own unique and discerning Foofy eye. So HGTV and the “let’s make an adorable angel-decoupage scrapbook tissue-holder!” or “I’ve glued ten million sea-shells I got at a craft store around my bathroom mirror so my house is now Cape Cod Style!” specials can kiss my fat foofy ass! You can cram your pre-packaged Mosaic Tabletop kits and Make a Decorative Shadowbox kits where the sun don’t shine! REAL Foof does not come from a kit or a TV channel! Ha! HA! *smite*

  • Fill your home with stuff you love and that makes you happy, not stuff to prove something to anyone else (i.e. Conspicuous Collectables, Décor for Dummies, and/or “I Bought It Because It Was Expensive, So It MUST Be Good/the Best/Better than Yours”)

You can tell the difference between people who have pictures of people they love because they love them, and people who have pictures of family members because they think they’re supposed to display them. They’re the same kind of people who hang those pre-framed prints of flowers or fruit that they bought for $14.95 at Linens ‘n Things because it matches the kitchen tile, or who have a shelf of glass figurines because they’re expensive. Totally impersonal. No imagination.

Take my collection of books. Yeah, I’ll admit, the stacks of century-old leather-bound volumes can look pretty danged picturesque. But that’s not important. What’s important is that every single one of those books means something to me. They’re books I’ve studied. Books I’m writing about. Books my Künstlerroman girls read. Books I unearthed in dusty stores in Milwaukee or San Diego or Hay-on-Wye or Pasadena. And see this shelf here? When Elizabeth, my mentor, retired a few years ago, she gave me her entire collection of Burnett books to “pass the torch” to me. (And you bet I went back to my dorm room, shaking, and sobbed like a baby! It was like the Pope giving you his personal copy of The Bible!) They aren’t there because they “look nice.” They aren’t there to convince people I’ve read important literary masterpieces or that I’m a “collector.” This isn’t a Library of Literary Classics set of gilt-trimmed hardcovers, which can be yours for 12 monthly installments of $29.95, and’ll look impressive on the built-in bookshelf in the office (or, heaven help us all, those Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. *shudder*). These books are a daily part of my life.

The Chagall prints are another example. THTM didn’t pick them out because they matched the color scheme in the living room, or because he wanted people to think he was sophisticated. He just plain loves them. The Chagall windows at the Chicago Art Institute are one of his favoritest things. And he once pointed to a print of “L'Envol” (“Joy”) and said “Look! There’s us!” I grin every time I look at it.

All of the old photos, the art on the walls, the knick-knacks, the stuff displayed in vignettes, even the dishtowels here mean something to us, and being in any given room is a happy experience. Aw, here’s the mohair blankey I got when I took Mommy to Ireland last year, and here’s the spectacular camel-lamp I scored at the TJ Maxx across the street from the Mondo Condo to tease THTM because of our inside joke of me being “surly as a camel” when I have my crank on, and here’s the breadbox MiL gave me, and here’s the

weird turkey-shaped Wild Turkey bottles that my mom’s boss discovered in a box in a closet when she moved and gave to us, and here’s an adorable picture that THTM’s dad took of him when he was 8, and here’re the books we laughed ourselves silly over one evening at Wacko, and here’s one of our wedding pictures with both of us grinning ear-to-ear, and here’re the linen kitchen towels my mom embroidered with vintage designs, and over there is the little table I decoupaged with vintage French perfume labels, and on this counter is THTM’s favorite cookbook and my favorite cookbook, and there’re my Gram’s old doilies-

It’s like living in a scrapbook, kinda… a cozy, wonky, totally unique and personal scrapbook.

And THAT, Readers, is what Foof is all about.

:|FOOF: Dwanollah Décor, Part One: The Milwaukee Loft Re-Imagined

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