September 9, 2003
A Greek Guy Eye on Interior Design
Over the last few weeks, I've been helping my girlfriend renovate and redecorate her place. The words "renovate and redecorate" are foreign to almost any guy's vocabulary, but particularly so to that of a Greek guy. If you think about it, growing up with a Greek mother probably stunts most guy's sense of color and style. If your mother was like our mother, you probably grew up in a immaculate house devoid of all color and creativity. The walls were white and she'd beat you with a
koutala if you ever got crayon on them. Growing up with a Greek father, you probably were enveloped in a rabid sense of Greek pride that exhibited itself in things like naming your little league soccer team after that year's Greek Soccer League champion, even if your team's jersey colors weren't the same. (In fact, you probably only played soccer, because your father never taught you how to play baseball.) These scaring influences certainly leaves Greek guys with a messed up sense of interior design, even more so than others in our gender.
I first realized this deficiency in style when it came down to picking out room colors. First of all, girls never make this task easy for guys, because they overwhelm them with choices by bringing out the classic color palette of about 230 colors on a folded page larger than the menu at a Greek diner. And over 88% of these colors are just fancy ways of saying the basic eight colors that came in the your first Crayola box growing up. After eliminating the Martha Stewart color palette and moving on to the more masculine sounding "Duron" palette, I was forced to give an opinion on colors. It was no surprise how my finger instinctively always landed squarely in the middle of the blue section. It was even worse when I actually stopped to read the names of the colors and discovered such names as "Mediterranean Blue," confirming in my mind that this is what she should paint every room in her apartment. It might as well have read, "Aegean Blue" considering how dead set I was on the color. Of course, when asked to choose an "accent color," my "Greek accent" automatically picked the only color that in my mind, goes with blue, naturally, white, or "Acropolis White." I was surprised that she even had to ask me for my preferences, seeing as she's been on this website, and has seen its color scheme. To my disappointment these colors were rejected as "wrong" in favor of more "neutral" and "warm" colors for the living room, dining room, and the bedroom. I thought I had a half a chance of winning her over to a blue and white bathroom by disguising my Greek bias with arguments like, "Blues are nice in the bathroom because blue is the color of water," or "Wouldn't you rather have a crisp, clean, white bathroom?" Of course she reminded me correctly that water is in fact "clear," and not "blue," and that according to that logic, she'd need to install an all-glass bathroom, which would be a tad expensive and not so much private.
Having picked the colors for the rooms, the actual decorating and furnishing of the bathroom was the next area where my Greekness would not allow me to give any sort of plausible advice. After thumbing through a few decorating magazines, and studying the layout of her bathroom, my girlfriend thought that a pedestal sink, one of those without a cabinet underneath, would look great in her place. Now when she mentioned pedestal sinks, I had thoughts of a short Corinthian column with a sink on top. Of course there was no such Greek-styled pedestal sink in the Home Depot, so a potential disagreement was saved, but the seafood lover in me almost argued for the clam shell shaped sink as a close second. I was however happy to see her pick up faucets by a company named Pegasus. Now see, that's a faucet I can get on board with. I am so glad that she doesn't pay for water in her place so I can have the Greek water coming from the Greek faucet emptying into this boring non-columned pedestal sink all day long. In finishing up the bathroom, I was disappointed that none of the home furnishing stores we visited carried the Greek Key shower curtain, Golden Fleece bathmat, and olive oil soap dispenser that I had in college.
I was pleased though that she got marble tiles for the bathroom floor. In Greece, where marble grows on trees, or more like out of the sides of mountains, marble is pretty easy to come by, so it's used everywhere from subway stations, in-ground pools, telephone booths, barbecue pits, and even bathrooms. My brother and I have an uncle in Greece who owns a mountain from where he extracts marble. We always thought it would be cool to "import" some marble to use in refinishing a house, building a pool table or creating the world's most expensive and dangerous backyard slip-and-slide. And by "import" I do mean the classic way that Greeks import things, stuffing expensive or perishable items into a suitcase, or putting them in a wooden box, and not declaring them at customs. (Have you ever been at the airport and accidentally picked up someone else's 80 liter wood-encased olive oil tin? We did. How embarrassing.)
Having struck out on the paint colors and in decorating the bathroom, I figured I'd be totally lost in many of the furniture and home furnishing stores. My girlfriend and I visited places like Storehouse, Bombay Company, and Pottery Barn. I thought I had shot of liking the things in Pottery Barn, but was upset when there were no amphorae and no goats. We also checked out the least "Greek guy" of all places, Ikea. First of all, everything's in Swedish, which last time I checked sounds nothing like Greek, and Sweden is nowhere near the Mediterranean. What could I possibly have in common with a bunch of cookie-cutter-furniture-designing Swedes, except for my love of their meatballs, and their love of our Greek island beaches in the summer? Everything at Ikea came in silver, or brushed nickel, or light wood. Greeks like gold and paint their furniture, their houses, and the even the bottoms of their trees, white. Ikea was no place for me. I was surprised though to see that the Swedes do like blue plates, mixing dark blues with light blues, and both of these colors with white. Again, I lost on the argument that blue plates will hide water spots from the dishwasher because water is blue.
In searching through all these furniture stores, the one thing I absolutely fell in love with was the idea of her having a leather couch in her living room. Now I don't know if there is anything particularly Greek about leather, except that Greek guys love leather jackets, and that girls love wearing leather pants at Greek nights. Actually, I do remember seeing the commercial growing up for the Chrysler Cordoba with Ricardo Montalban, Mr. Rourke from TV's Fantasy Island, or Khan from "Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan," saying something about "rich Corinthian leather." I assume he means Corinth in Greece, but outside of that commercial, I had never heard of Greece having a reputation for leather.
While there's nothing Greek about a leather couch, there's something very Greek about a Greek guy wanting somewhere comfortable to lay down after a long day of being wrong in the eyes of his Greek girlfriend on anything about interior design. I may not know the difference between crown molding and chair molding, or between a brushed finish and a polished finish, but I do know that it's hard to convince a Greek girl that you're right about anything in the realm of interior design, even that one time out of a hundred that you may actually have a meaningful suggestion. (Face it guys, they're right about 99% of the time on these issues. Therefore, our jobs, much like our Greek ancestor Hercules before us, is to lift heavy things, tear things off their foundation, and labor, labor, labor.) Regardless, I think I've convinced her that a leather living room set, including a couch, chair and an ottoman is the way to go. It's a shame though that the most comfortable and, in my mind, the coolest piece of furniture in her living room will share its name with the empire that ruled Greece for four centuries. Oh well, I guess I can overlook that if it allows me to put my feet up and watch soccer, and actually be right about one thing regarding interior design.
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