When I was 5, my parents decided I was old enough to decorate my bedroom. They made a living by building speculative houses in the San Francisco Bay Area, so they were always in the process of decorating something, and I was used to seeing wallpaper samples and fabric swatches lying around.
When I was 5, my parents decided I was old enough to decorate my bedroom.
They made a living by building speculative houses in the San Francisco Bay Area, so they were always in the process of decorating something, and I was used to seeing wallpaper samples and fabric swatches lying around.
But it was a thrill to be making the design decisions myself. My mother gave me an edited selection of colors, fabrics and papers to choose from (I had no idea there were more choices than the ones being offered), and I was hooked.
Decorating my bedroom was exciting, but soon I was fixated on the dining room — I wanted one of my own. I hated being sent to bed early, exiled from the adult world and the late-night conversation that took place there. I dreamed of the day I would be admitted to that world, and what my dining room would look like.
It never occurred to me that I would have to wait so long for it.
During college, I bided my time by decorating my dorm rooms. I attended five colleges, so there was ample opportunity to experiment, with each room more dispiriting at first than the previous one.
As a junior, I escaped to Paris for a year and stayed a decade. Briefly, in my third apartment there, I had a magnificent dining room: a lovely space with 12-foot ceilings, elaborate moldings, 19th-century parquet floors and a marble fireplace. I covered the walls in a delicate flowered paper inspired by 18th-century patterns — my version of Jane Austen in Paris.
I moved to New York in 1980, confident of someday having another dining room but settling for a 500-square-foot Manhattan apartment that lacked one.
Still, I didn’t give up hope. I even had the wallpaper picked out: Bibliotheque, the popular Brunschwig & Fils trompe l’oeil bookshelf pattern by Richard Lowell Neas. The pattern comes in three color combinations, and I preferred the predominantly red one.
In 2001, the dining room of my dreams finally became a reality.
After visiting a friend who was selling his house on Long Island, we fell in love with the place and bought it. It had no dining room, either, but there was space to build an addition.
I filled my new dining room with chairs, a round table, a chandelier I inherited from my mother, my husband’s Regency chest of drawers and a few other pieces, and covered the walls in the red Bibliotheque.
It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that I didn’t like sitting in the dining room. Or walking through it. Or the way it looked from other rooms.
It was beautiful, even elegant, but it was red. And slowly it dawned on me: I hate red rooms. Moreover, this wasn’t a formal English town house; it was a sunny house by the water and needed a bright, summery dining room.
I didn’t have the money to redecorate the room and repaper it in the lighter version of Bibliotheque, which I should have chosen to begin with.
One day, everything changed: I learned I had an advanced case of ovarian cancer.
I couldn’t help thinking of what Oscar Wilde supposedly said not long before he died, about how he was fighting a “duel to the death” with his wallpaper and one of them had to go.
Within a week, I had not only found an extraordinary oncologist but also called the wallpaper hanger and had the chairs painted white.
That was several years ago, and I’m relieved to report that the lighter wallpaper and I are still living happily together.