Sunday, July 26, 2009

Little Miss Muffet

I’ve been going through something of a nesting phase. This might strike some as odd, since I’ve been living in the same apartment for the last fifteen years.

But actually, it is that very longevity that has sparked the change.

Usually people move several times in the first ten to eighteen years after they graduate from college. They move in with a roommate, or several, they periodically upgrade to bigger places in better neighborhoods with fewer cohabitants. They fall in love and find places with partners. They get jobs in different cities and move their whole lives to someplace new. On average, most people will live in no less than 6-8 different places between the ages of twenty-two and forty. And at each step along the way, they will adjust or totally reimagine their personal space and style. They will get rid of stuff that no longer suits them or matches their lives. They will find things to fill the new spaces in which they live.

I, on the other hand, returned to Chicago from college with a partner in tow, moved into one apartment only to fall in love with the apartment next door a year later, and simply shifted one door East. When the partner, who eventually became the husband, became the ex-husband, I kept the apartment. Lovingly filled with Mom-and-Dad-me-down furniture, and treasures from flea markets, antique stores, the Salvation Army and EBay.

I’m a natural pack rat and collector, and my place is ginormous and happily contained my gatherings without ever bursting at the seams.

The problem with this is that time flies by and one day you wake up and you are less than a year away from being forty, and you are still living in the place you mostly put together in your twenties and while you love your things, there is something a little bit Version 1.0 in your surroundings. You look around and realize that while nothing is bad or wrong, it just doesn’t completely reflect who you are today. You want it a little cleaner, more sophisticated, more elegant, less cluttered.

If you are very lucky, which I am, you will have a really good friend who also happens to be a kick ass interior designer who will show you how to use a combination of moving your existing stuff around and doing the kind of purge that most people do naturally when moving from place to place, to totally bring a fresh look to what you already have and love.

As a part of the big re-org, my friend suggested we move two large ivory club chairs (long ago gifted from Mom and Dad) into the front bay window where they would make a lovely bright sitting area. This was a very smart move, and I could immediately imagine sitting there to read with a cup of tea, or enjoying a cozy one-on-one with a girlfriend and a bottle of wine. Unfortunately, getting the chairs into the light also made one thing amazingly clear.

They were filthy.

Not moldy gross or food stained, but dirty from years of arms resting on the armrests, of heads with various hair products leaning back against the pillows, of vacuum cleaners bumping into the legs. Natural wear and tear, to be sure, but on ivory fabric in the bright light of the sun, not so attractive. So I called a cleaning company to come give them a good steam, to bring back the fabric, to make them as close to new as possible.

They arrived with a piece of equipment that I originally mistook for an earth mover, which they parked on my front porch and snaked big tubes into the living room. And after blowing the fuses in my 103 year old apartment no less than three times, finally figured out which outlet to use and they got to work. It took the better part of an hour, but the chairs and matching ottomans became, if not like new, much better and brighter than they had been. They propped the seat and back cushions up on their ends on top of the deck of the chair and warned me to flip them around every hour or two to ensure complete drying, to not reassemble the chairs for at least 12 hours, and to not sit on them for another 24. No problem. I paid, and left to go grocery shopping.

When I returned I went to flip the pillows around as instructed.

And discovered that the fabric on the deck of the chairs where the cushions were resting had not been tested for colorfastness, and that one side of each damp cushion was now stained and streaked with a rusty orange color, having pulled the dye out of that fabric.


What had been clean now looked like it had been upholstered in odd tie-dye.

I called the company and they assured me they would be back that evening to re-clean the cushions and not to worry.

They did return.

They were not able to get the orange out of the cushions.

They took the cushions with them in order to use the better chemicals etc. back at the warehouse, and told me not to worry.

They called four days later to tell me that they had not been able to get the stains out and had sent the cushions to New York for another go.

This made me ponder. Exactly what sort of magic unicorn or wish-granting genie do they have in New York that can clean fabric better than what we have here in Chicago?

Apparently, none. I received a call last week that they cannot fix the problem and they are now going to have to reupholster the chairs and ottomans.

On the one hand, I feel very badly for them, especially the young man who made the expensive mistake. On the other hand, YIPPEE!!! NEW UPHOLSTERY!!!

I was so excited, I cleaned out my closets.

I know. Sort of lame. But there is something really freeing and empowering about reimagining the space in which you live, so that it better fits who you are and the way you want to live. For some people, it means starting from scratch, a totally new place or getting rid of everything back to the drywall and getting everything new.

For me, it is just about letting go. About looking around and realizing that less can indeed be more. That there is as much of an endorphin rush in giving things away as in acquiring. That setting out to do a Version 2.0, or even 3 or 4.0 can be a really important step in your personal growth.

I’m feeling all self-actualized and stuff. And very grown-up.

Which for someone who is sort of almost forty, is a very comfortable place to rest.

Which is good, because at the moment, I’m a little bereft of chairs….


  1. I love that feeling of getting rid of clutter.

  2. Sounds like a real "next phase", when you're finished you'll love the results and how nice to have such a talented friend. Enjoy!

  3. Im just totallyimpressed with the company. Who has that kind of stand behind their work and fix their mistakes anymore? Wow!