Last week, Ivy’s mother Ellen gave up her macrobiotic diet – but stumbled into Yes! Bookstore (if you read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and think that sounds familiar – it’s actually a real DC bookstore – or at least was…I’d like to think it’s still there).
Want to catch up? You can do so HERE.
Color had been a driving force in Ellen’s life for as long as she could remember. As a little girl, she had several favorite colors and found herself completely flummoxed when asked to declare only one.
What’s your favorite color? wasn’t just an innocent attempt at conversation from a well meaning grownup. To Ellen, it presented a staggering conundrum.
How could she say “yellow,” when it was specifically pale yellow that made her feel light inside? Especially when pale yellow was really best experienced when paired with various shades of blue, ranging from a delicate powder to a punchier robin’s egg. And on top of that, she liked different combinations for different purposes. The brighter blues were definitely better choices for clothing (pastels did nothing for her complexion), but for interiors, she preferred less saturated shades. All of which was nearly impossible to convey since she experienced these preferences as feelings and not intellectual observations.
In the end she usually just said “pink,” which seemed to please her inquisitor. But she always felt like a bit of a sell out.
Eventually, it all began to make more sense as she grew older. First, she learned to sew her own clothes which opened up a new world of creative expression. Later, when she had her first apartment, she was able to experiment with decorating. And it was then that her true life passion was born.
Decorating wasn’t just a hobby for her. It was a lifestyle. She liked nothing better than to hunt through dusty antique shops (to use a term as loose as her budget was tight), and make another family’s discarded furniture her own with paint and varnish.
After a number of years and various affairs with the ever changing color trends, she found herself right back where she started. And everywhere she lived, she based her decor on a color palette of pale yellow and various shades of blue.
This intuitive connection to color and its place in her world wasn’t something that Ellen had ever discussed before since very few of her friends or family members thought beyond perfunctory decorating. So the new people she met in fabric stores and furniture shops seemed like long lost relatives who shared her DNA. And instead of startling her with faces bearing her own nose or eyes, they delighted her with their mirrored ardor for chinoiserie or chenille.
She had no idea that such a world existed. And she promised herself that she would try to infuse her future children’s world with the beauty so often missing in her own childhood home.
Her sweet mother tiptoed through life, leaving her lovely mark on only the smallest corners that she claimed for herself. Ellen sensed this before she really noticed it, and when she was old enough to start finding similarities in herself, she vowed that she would do things differently. Luckily, Carl appreciated her style and allowed her to have free reign in all aspects of homemaking. As long as she was able to make room for the treasures he collected in his brief but defining world travels, he wasn’t overly concerned with paint colors and upholstery.
Ellen suspected that she gained many points in her favor early on by offhandedly professing an apathy for the ubiquitous pink typically attached to feminine style. Carl wouldn’t have appreciated a pink house.
Their first home was the apartment that Carl had lived in while they were dating, so there was only so much she could do in the way of updates before it was time for them to move. Then they bought their little house in in the suburbs where finally, Ellen was able to start from scratch. No more white rented walls – she could do anything she wanted without a single thought about security deposits. It was thrilling.
Even when she was pregnant, as she very quickly was, she continued to paint rooms and sew curtains. She mixed her older refurbished furniture with the new pieces they bought, and decided to call her style eclectic. They never had unlimited funds for decorating, but they spent what could – and Ellen loved her husband for sharing her priorities. Or at least allowing her them.
Eventually, she created a kind of business out of this hobby and made a little extra money decorating rooms for various friends and friends of friends. Carl claimed that he never saw a dime of it in their bank account since she immediately put everything she earned right back into one of her ongoing home projects. But he was proud of her. And he was proud of their home.
When friends came to visit, they were inevitably taken on a tour to see the changes. And since changes were a constant, it was a long held belief of Ivy’s that when people came to visit you were supposed to show them around. She always found it strange when she would go to a play date and never even see the master bedroom.
As most girls do, Ivy absorbed her mother’s sensibilities over the years and cultivated her own tendency to find definition in personal surroundings. Much to Ellen’s chagrin, this included a pink and ruffles phase most likely influenced by her friends. But she would always encourage her daughter’s forays into style development, regardless of how it conflicted with her own taste.
There was one moment in which Ellen took great solace no matter how horrifying Ivy’s latest Barbie-hued passion might be. She often had to bring her children to decorating consultations, and on one such afternoon, her three year old daughter interrupted a rather spirited textile discussion with words that nearly knocked Ellen right out of her chair. As if in response to the client’s hesitation at using a butter colored Brunshwig & Fils linen for accent pillows in her darkly masculine living room, Ivy looked up from a Sleeping Beauty coloring book and made the astute observation that “every room needs a touch of yellow.”
After this, Ellen rarely worried over her daughter’s penchant for over the top frills. Such brilliance at such a young age surely augured for bigger and better things.
I hadn’t planned on a home decor tangent (and I never did get to YES! Bookstore)…but I guess I’ve been really focused on the work I’m doing for my parents and Style Key West and my own little Wishing True blog. But that’s the way I’m doing this this – stream of consciousness writing. I guess it’s good practice for context writing. Tune in next week for a full description of Ellen’s textile obsessions. Just kidding! (hopefully)