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a great personality
by Yee-Fan Sun |
1 2

Everyone knows the universal code. Hear the words "great personality," of course, and what your mind automatically interprets is "not so much to look at." It's a shame, really: all euphemisms and clichés aside, I'll take a great personality over superficial prettiness any day. Pretty is just so two-dimensional -- great for glossy magazine pages, not so thrilling in real life. Give me interesting, challenging, mysterious, charming, quirky, comforting: substance, not surface. Real beauty has depth. And that goes for homes as much as it does for people.

My favorite houses aren't necessarily the ones in which every piece of furniture looks like a work of art, and every object is placed just so. Decorating isn't about good looks as much as it's about good living. I like a house that looks well-loved, a house in which the unique character of its inhabitants is gloriously, unabashedly in full evidence -- quirks and all. Frankly, I don't have a lot of interest in houses in which it's obvious that every sofa, every painting, every knick-knack exists for the sole purpose of aesthetic value. Blame my inner art-snob, but there's something truly appalling to me about the idea of buying a work of art based primarily on the reason that it matches the couch upholstery. Physical beauty matters, let's be honest, but it's just one small factor in the overall equation for a fabulous home.

Good looks provide superficial enjoyment but character offers texture -- both literally and figuratively. A room that has character appeals to the senses on a level that goes way beyond simple aesthetics: you don't want to look at it, so much as revel in it. A room should be touchable, full of fabrics that make you want to run your fingers over them, sofas and chairs and beds that invite you to sink into them, flooring that feels lovely as you shuffle across it in your bare feet.

But objects have texture in a more abstract sense too -- through their sense of history, and the meaning they possess. I frequently cite my cheapness as the reason so many of the objects in my house have been acquired at thrift shops and estate sales. But while that undeniably plays a role, there's another reason I tend to love the old stuff better than the new stuff: I think that objects take on a resonance when they've lived long lives. I like to imagine the sort of woman who might have chosen the lovely 1950s sectional sofas that I purchased at an estate sale, decades later, in pristine condition. I wonder about the unknown artist of the moody abstract landscape painting I picked up at a moving sale. The antique Moroccan rug that sits in my living room is a favorite possession despite the fact that I probably paid way too much for it, and that there's no proof that it's even as old as the eager and astoundingly gifted Moroccan rug salesman in Fez assured. I like the idea of the myriad lives that rug has led, regardless of what the truth may be -- on top of which, there's the additional matter that the long process by which we came to be suckered into buying that object makes a great story in itself, a hilarious memory from our honeymoon that my boy and I never tire of relating to folks when they comment upon how much they like the rug. There's a mystery, an intrigue, that comes from the secondhand objects that I've snagged that I just don't get from the perfectly attractive shiny new goods I see when I wander a Target or an Ikea.

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