Design decisions that walk the line between genius and insanity just don’t have the real world consequences that they do for the rest of us
February 3, 2023 11:14 am(Updated 4:21 pm)
In the mid-nineties, my Mum took the train down to the Ideal Home Exhibition in London, where she saw a showroom decked out with a mahogany table, extravagant chandeliers and terracotta sofas set against sunshine yellow walls. She was enchanted, so much so that when she returned to our family home she hired a painter to replicate the wall colour in our own living room, which already had terracotta sofa in-situ.
She left the man to do his job, went out for a while, and came home to discover that as fabulous as it had looked at the exhibition, it decidedly did not lend itself to a 1960s three bed in Doncaster. The painter was so sympathetic – “don’t worry love, I’ll fix it”, he told his crestfallen customer – he repainted it for free. By the time I got home from school, the walls were a conservative Magnolia once again.
It’s a cautionary tale fit for anyone feeling similarly tickled by Lily Allen and David Harbour’s New York family home which features in Architectural Digest this month. The British singer/actor, and American actor, who you’ll likely recognise from Stranger Things, worked in collaboration with designer Billy Cotton and architect Ben Bischoff on the Brooklyn townhouse.
In case you haven’t seen the video, it’s all pretty ridiculous, and by the end of it I’m left with more questions than answers. Have they ever actually used their double-sided sofa after an argument, or does one of them storming out the room still create more of a dramatic effect? Who is watering the huge bouquet of flowers in the fireplace, and picking up the crusty leaves when they start to wilt? Do they really have no regrets about a bedroom with no windows, and a bathroom with a carpet? Really?
David describes designer Billy as “budget unconscious”, (surely a polite way of saying “he didn’t listen to a fucking word we said”) and you have to wonder how many of their features and quirks have been added just because. Why not have a full size pink fridge and matching velvet armchairs in your bathroom, hey? If you have the money, and you have the square footage, design decisions that walk the line between genius and insanity just don’t have the real world consequences that they do for the rest of us. You can always pay someone to fix it, or change it, or simply start over.
Don’t get me wrong; the pair remain genuinely likeable, and clearly find some of their purchases and design decisions as frivolous as us peasants do. This is not an AD tour with the usual cloud of pretentiousness hanging over a doe-eyed millionaire as they earnestly explain how they “designed” their toilet seats themselves. I believe David when he says he loves his black walk-in wardrobe. I love the new bedroom curtains I just got in the sale at Argos. The value isn’t the same, but the feeling is, surely? Having something in your home that you’re glad is there, that in Marie Kondo’s words “sparks joy”, is a lovely thing.
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The point, I think, isn’t that we covet Versailles-inspired commodes bought at auction and refitted with marble tops and gold swan taps (yes, they have those too). It’s that we allow ourselves to be inspired. We don’t see a model on the catwalk wearing head-to-toe leopard print and arrive at the office the next morning equally bedecked. We wear a leopard print coat, or pair of trainers. Celebrity homes should be treated the same. The average person is just not going to be able to achieve this level of design or decor in their own home. But that’s okay. We leave Lily and David to foot the bill when Billy becomes loosey-goosey with the budget, and we cherry-pick the ideas that make our own hearts sing. We can live vicariously through them, tease new ideas out of them, and then apply them with our own limitations and budgets in mind.
When I show their house tour to my mum, now three decades wiser and a dash more cynical, her face lights up at the hand-painted floral wallpaper in the bathroom. “Oh, look at those framed prints of flowers! Twelve of them against flower wallpaper! I’d never have thought you could get away with that, but it looks good!”. Not cynical enough, it seems. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. And why should we?
So, if there are any decorators in the Doncaster area next week, I might just know of a job that’s going.