PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE DECORATING: WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father hated change. My mother loved to redecorate. What could possibly go wrong?

There were lots of fights about decorating in my house growing up. Constantly. My mother won, but it could get surprisingly unpleasant before then – not to mention very loud. My father would shout that all decorating was too expensive and totally unnecessary, no matter how long it had been since the room had been fixed up. He was morally opposed to changing anything. Ever. Not a faded chair, a broken lamp, peeling wallpaper.

Nothing.

The NYC dining room set up for a party

My mother tried to mollify him in many ways. She tried to involve my father in the decision-making process. She tried to give him control over the decorating choices so as to make the change less jarring for him. Nothing worked.

Eventually my mother instituted the blitzkrieg form of decorating, which I call passive-aggressive decorating. Here’s how it worked.

We spent every summer in our house in Connecticut so the New York apartment was vacant for three months., which also meant that the Connecticut house was vacant for nine months.

My mother used her time well. She carefully made all her plans for redecorating a room in New York without telling my father. She chose the furniture, the wall color or paper, fabric for the upholstered pieces. She picked out every lamp, piece of art and chatchkah. Then, when my father was safely in Connecticut for the summer, she’d have the workmen swoop in. They would completely redo the room, top to bottom. One year, the walls in the study went from beige grasscloth to a bold fabric with a deep red background and large, bright-colored flowers.

Fabric that ended up on one wall, a sofa and two comfy chairs

My father would leave one room in June and come back to a completely different room in September. He would scream and yell about how he hated change. He would excoriate my mother about her ridiculous obsession with redecorating. He would get all of this out of his system in one big explosion – and then it was over. After that, he would become gradually used to the ‘new’ room. Then, ten or so years later, when it got changed again, he would rant and rave about the loss of the old ‘new’ room.

The process was reversed when it came to the house in Connecticut. When Dad said goodbye to the New England house in September, my mother had until June to do a complete make-over on one of the rooms in the house. The same scene would occur there when Dad discovered the bi-annual treachery.

After which, all would be calm. Until the next time.

The New York apartment had 11 rooms and the Connecticut house had 10. So this went on every year, twice a year, for thirty years! It’s a pretty dramatic way to get a new sofa or bedroom set. But Mom was persistent. She did what she had to do. Both homes were beautiful, warm, and inviting.

Even Dad thought so. After he stopped yelling.

16 thoughts on “PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE DECORATING: WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

    • My mom liked to get her way and do what she wanted to. She would do whatever she had to do to get what she wanted. So for her, she just adapted her modis operendi regarding decorating. She was a great organizer and planner. She put on amazing dinner parties as well on a regular basis.

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  1. I guess I would be like your father then since I prefer the decor of my home to stay the same year in and year out. I don’t have a single ounce of passion for interior decorating at all despite being a more visually minded person. I need and crave the familiarity I’m used to…

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    • I don’t like to change things often, but when I do, I enjoy the process of decorating. To me, it is artistic and creative. It’s also creating an environment for myself that suits me at a given point in time. My tastes have changed drastically over the years. I used to have an antique country style house, mostly in peaches and apricots, woods and beiges. Now it is much more modern and mostly turquoise and aqua. This is who I am now and I love looking around me every day.

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    • My mom never just changed a few things here and a few things there. She did whole rooms at a time. That’s a much better way to get a cohesive look, though most people can’t do that very often. When I didn’t have the money to do a major overhaul, I would change pillows and accessories, lamps and rugs and maybe a sofa. I’d rearrange the furniture and add different art or photos. That way I’d get the feeling of change without the cost of a total makeover.

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        • I think people need some small changes in their environment every few years. Fabric wears out, things get dirty and tired looking. A new picture on the wall or some new pillows liven up your space and give a tired room a lift. I believe it lifts people’s spirits when their environment goes from shabby to fresh and bright and new.

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    • My father did get furious – twice a year. But I don’t think he really cared that much about his environment. He was an ivory tower intellectual professor, buried in books and music. And he knew he couldn’t stop my mom from redoing rooms every ten years or so, so he just had a meltdown and then put on his big boy pants and went on with life.

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    • I have a theory that the reason women are more receptive to change is that they live with change in their bodies on a monthly basis from their early teens on. They also have to deal with the awesome changes in their bodies during pregnancy. So we are wired to accept and adapt to change whereas men are not.

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    • Absolutely. My mom figured that she could weather the one big storm better than the constant bickering and fighting she would have if she did the decorating in a normal, gradual process. She got all the hysteria over with in one short blast and went on with her life in her brand new room! As I said, she was very calculating and manipulative. SHe did what she had to do to get her way.

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