Other people’s houses

May I Come In? is the most fun I’ve had in book form in a while. It’s pure voyeuristic pleasure. If you’re nosy, if you like to peek into people’s homes, if you enjoy finding decorating ideas to steal… oh honey, you’re going to love this book.

The subtitle is ‘Discovering the world in other people’s houses,’ and it fits. Author Wendy Goodman is a kind and gracious tour guide. She comes from the magazine world (she got her start as Anna Wintour’s assistant) and the homes featured in her book were first featured in The New Yorker and other mags. She has a good sense of humor and I enjoyed reading this almost as much as I liked looking at the photographs.

Goodman divided her book into seven types of houses and occupants. I felt most drawn to the Neo Traditionalists, but there were rooms in other chapters that just swept me away.

It’s so fun to page through May I Come In? and be judgmental. Here’s some of my reactions to seeing certain rooms: too fancy, too dandy, too busy, too severe, too scary, too cluttered, too frilly, too overdone, too underdone, too insane.

Honestly, you could not pay me to live in some of these houses.

One thing I realized as I looked at all the inspired rooms is that aside from space – high ceilings, large rooms, big windows – it’s the little touches that drew my eye the most. Like an ornate empty frame on the wall with two plain black framed prints hung within. Ideas abound for you to borrow and make your own.

Here’s another: Joe Serrins (architect) divided his ceiling into four quadrants and painted each a different shade with the lighter colors in the darker corners of the room. It’s looks good and works to help brighten the darker spaces. Brilliant!

One of my favorite rooms was in the Extreme chapter. The décor was based on a painting of a teenage Marie Antoinette. The bedroom is pink – and I mean entirely pink – to match the blush on her cheeks and the Tiffany blue living room matches the blue of her dress. It’s beautiful and while it’s overdone, it’s surprisingly serene.

On the other hand there’s another bedroom with serious serial killer vibes. Picture a room with a giant bed where everything is white with abstract black squiggles. The walls, the bedspread, everything splattered with black ink. Nightmarish.

Each home has an accompanying text with details about how Goodman got the story. I loved this one: Ruth Lande Shuman founded Publicolor in 1996 “empowering and changing student’s lives through the use of color in public schools.” She lived in a beige apartment until someone asked her, why doesn’t your apartment look like you? Good question!

Or there’s Richard Christiansen (multi-hyphenate) who said of his dark blue room “I wanted it to look like Donatella Versace had designed an opium den.” In the photos it almost looks like it’s underwater. Very dreamy and moody.

There’s one spread of the same apartment photographed nine years and two owners apart. The photo at the top is the original owner. This gentleman had it packed full of chairs and couches, tables piled high with books and treasured objects. Then a family moved in, painted everything, brought in a mod couch, and the difference is incredible. I kept flipping back and forth in amazement. (For the record I’d rather live in the cluttered version.) See for yourself – if you had to choose – which one would you feel most at home in?

I highly recommend getting this book and immersing yourself. Below is an article about May I Come In? if you need more persuading. The pink bedroom is featured!

Reading this emphasized to me that things like your home and your style are deeply personal and it’s better to listen to yourself and recognize your own preferences than to follow trends just to be trendy.

You don’t want to end up with a squiggle bedroom.


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