Where’s the Living Room? by Founder Tish

We’ve never had a living room before. Well, technically, the room came with the house, but other than lining one wall with our dream floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, we’ve always pretty much ignored the room, only stopping by to search for a book, or store a hockey bag, or display the piano I swore I’d learn how to play but eventually wound up selling.

The room was a glorified garage.

One evening, as our kids entertained pals in the den, my husband and I parked our friends in our living room/garage for drinks. Two of us were lucky enough to have chairs from my grandmother’s basement. My husband sat on an unpopened crate of Town House books. Another guy sat on a skateboard.

My friend balanced her drink on the vaccum canister and said, “You guys are fortyish now. Isn’t it time for a real living room?”

She had a point. Even my husband agreed she had a point.

It was time to grow up.

Then came the news that, in order to promote an upcoming literary festival, my house was to be featured in the home section of a newspaper. I panicked. My house, my gardens, they’re all suffering from the same problem–absolute neglect.

The interviewer said they’d need to shoot in 3-4 rooms and they gave about two months’ notice. Just enough time to pick out a couple of sofas, some tables, pick up a few lamps and a pair of curtains. And, of course, we’d need to paint. And if we painted the living room, we’d need to paint the dining room, and the kitchen, which I painted yellow once, to match a sweatshirt I’ve since threw out. And then we’d need to paint the hall, which meant painting all the way up the stairs.

I didn’t break this painting news to my husband all at once. I broke it to him gently, one Town House white, washable matte latex gallon at a time.

As the summer weeks passed, we spent our evenings laboring away to get the house ready. Painting. Scrubbing. Moving furniture.

I found a huge five dollar metal milk can with the bottom rusted out, painted it black and filled it with tall sticks. I bought a ten dollar wooden ladder, stained and waxed it and propped it in a corner and hung blankets from it. I ordered tables from the Mennonites and rearranged the bookshelves. I picked up linen curtains from Ikea. I dug up a silver tray from my mother and polished it–yes, using actual silver polish–and filled the tray with thick, white candles.

When the room was fully furnished, I drove up to Newmarket to a particularly toothsome antique mall with prices time seems to have forgotten. For two years, I’d been stalking a vintage ceramic German Shepherd. It was oversized, about the size of a malnourished rabbit, black, brown and cream, with a bright red tongue. Sleek, stylized, 1950’s chic. The canine equivalent of chrome-bordered kitchen table, a beehive hairdo, or an avocado-colored stove.

At $20, the dog was hardly a splurge. I don’t know why it took me two full years to make this purchase. I didn’t trust myself. Just kept walking away, daring myself to forget about the gaudy Alsatian.

In the end, I couldn’t.

A few weeks ago, I bought it. Carried it home and set it on the fireplace.

The living room was complete.

(On a side note, that very day, my youngest son was looking for a book. I told him it was in the living room. He looked confused. “Where’s the living room?” he asked. Poor lamb. This is what our delayed growing up has done to our children. They’re lost in their own home.)

Today, the photographer arrived to shoot the house. We’ve been straightening and cleaning every night this week. While the main floor looked pristine, the upstairs was groaning with laundry baskets, paint cans, and ugly bits and bobs we’d pulled off the main floor. The upstairs had become our new, if temporary, glorified garage.

The photographer asked which rooms he could shoot. I showed him three or four, just like I’d been told. The photographer shot the kitchen, dining room, den, and, of course, the living room. We were done. I could finally relax–no more tidying, fussing and cleaning!

The photographer turned to me and smiled. Said he needed more rooms. He’d been told to shoot seven rooms. Maybe eight. Nine would be best. He glanced up the stairs and said, “Shall we head up?”

13 Replies to “Where’s the Living Room? by Founder Tish”

  1. Okay, what a hoot. Tish, you need to be in the “At Home With…” section of the Saturday edition of the Toronto Star. It’s usually only one or two beauty shots for them. In our place, Danielle and I are fantastic “stuffers” whenever anyone comes over. We’ll be showing a friend around, but secretly harbouring a very real fear that they may want to actually look in the closet or under the bed of any room we are in. And let me tell you, it was good times and bad times when I renovated Danielle’s closet in our bedroom. Lots of nifty new shelves and space for her wardrobe, yes, but we lost a place to mash stuff that needs to go “somewhere”. So where does that stuff go? Well, in our house it went to the basement. No one wanted to go in the basement. It was blah and yuck; perfect place to put the stuff. But then I started looking at it, and it really WAS kinda yuck, even for the stuff. So I renovated it, and now it is nice. We actually spend time down there. The stuff now needs a new home. Yeesh.

  2. We had a room that was at one point a sort of den/craft room. We called it the crap room. As in where do I put this pile of stuff before guests arrive- put it in the crap room. About a year or two ago we decided we wanted seperate offices and the crap room was reclaimed.

  3. Michael – that’s the precise section of the Star, only with a couple of extra shots. Don’t you think homes should be built with rooms for this purpose? A big empty room close to the front door, or maybe the room could be in the basement but have a “junk chute” on the main floor?

    Eileen – What I want to know is who took on the crap room and was it difficult to rename it?

  4. Oh, my closet is wonderful, but not so photogenic. It still gets things stuffed into it, despite the fab design. I like the “junk chute” idea. Now if only one could get someone to deal with the junk once it goes down the chute!

    And Tish, did you actually let the photographer upstairs? I would have been like: “uh, I know it looks like there’s an upstairs, but actually that’s just a really realistic painting of a staircase…”

    We’ll look for the article. We’ve had quite a few actor friends featured in that section.


  5. Thank goodness they gave you two months notice! It would take me a good year to get my house in photographable condition. Well, perhaps if I could get a guarantee of photoshopping (the household style equivalent of “could you maybe shave 20 lbs off of my picture?”).
    I remember once trying to sell our house when my children were little and when I’d get calls from the real estate agent that they’d be there in 20 minutes I’d first freak out and then I would pile all the crap in laundry baskets and lug it out to my car in the garage. My car would be filled with laundry baskets with dirty dishes, toys, all sorts of clutter….

  6. Who knew, Tish, what price literary fame would entail? The great news is that you DO have a living room and a lovely downstairs that I’d love to see. Please tell us that this section of the paper will be online.

    And, um, now I understand Jack Madigan’s “decorating” projects. 😉

  7. And to think all these years I thought all those people who invited me over to their pristine looking houses just didn’t have all that “stuff” that multiplied in mine. Thanks for enlightening me, Tish! And I LOVE the idea of a room just for the junk…

  8. This was great; love the vacuum canister table. We have one of those, too!

    We don’t have a basement (or attic, really), so we store everything in an unused bedroom dubbed “the seventies room.” (So-called because much of it is used to store old macrame plant hangers, awful lamps, a giant boxed beercan collection, and the fugliest decor this side of Happy Days.)

    When people come over, things get even more interesting. I’ve been known to throw the giant Rubbermaid tub in which I wash dishes into our empty clothes dryer to hide it.

    Maybe this phenomenon could be called “Stuff Shuffling.”

    I’d love to see the photo shoot shots!!

  9. Danielle – those upstairs shots are going to be so ick. My bedroom is NOT attractive, yet he shot it. Poor guy had no choice. He even shot my bathroom (that was one quick cleanup – he had to wait while I trimmed the shredded threads hanging off the curtains I made myself and didn’t hem properly).

    Jenny – I SO remember those real estate visits when my kids were small! Good thing you weren’t selling the car too.

    Larramie – the best thing that came out of that shoot was I finally got the main floor painted creamy white. I’ve made many paint color mistakes and my husband is pretty patient about all the repainting, but he wouldn’t have agreed to this amount of work without this little nudge.

    Gail – I think these junk-free people really do exist. They must have some junk, but not enough to warrant a junk room like the rest of us. Maybe only enough for a small drawer…

    Jess – I’d love to see the Seventies room. Is all your 70s stuff sitting around, or are those macrame plant hangers actually hanging around holding spider plants. (Why were they always used for spider plants??)

  10. There’s always at least one “room of dispair” in every house I live in. Sadly, the bigger the house the more rooms that are like that. In my current abode I have 1 1/2 floors of dispair. Few people are allowed above the ground floor level of my house.

    PS. What colour of white did you paint, Tish?

  11. Hilarious! My house is usually pretty neat, but giant piles of clutter have been multiplying on my countertops since I started working hot & heavy on the novel. Every week I think – THIS WEEK I’M GOING TO CLEAN OFF THE COUNTERS…

    Tish — Why WERE they always used for spider plants? And does anyone even HAVE spider plants anymore? My mother used to have a giant spider plant hanging via an orange and beige macrame contraption. The style police will be happy to hear that my mother is now macrame-free.

  12. Maureen – it’s a custom formula I came up with when I used to paint houses. It’s in the PS pages of the US version of Town House.

    Lisa – There should be a show – What Not to Plant…

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