Transcending Spaces

A television show rolls into town, interior designers and carpenter in tow. Two sets of neighbors trade houses in a decorating scheme to surprise each other. Sound familiar? Well, it did. KEVIN GUILFOILE reports.

Before the Show

Mia, neighbor:
I’ve been a huge fan since Season Two, and I’ve seen every Season One show in reruns. I even watch the British version, Changing Minds. Actually, I was the one who turned Connie onto it, way before it became popular. My favorite designer is Tamara. Did you see that kitchen she did in Seattle? It was so utilitarian.

Connie, neighbor: Mia and I usually watch the show together and if we don’t, we spend all the next day talking about it. She’ll say, ‘My God, can you believe what Leigh did to that woman’s dining room?’ But most of the time, Leigh is only being true to her convictions. If Leigh decorated the room in a way that exactly reflected the philosophy of the homeowners, then what would be the point of even bringing in a designer?

Mia: I’m a little nervous being on the show. But I have all the faith in the world in Connie and Bill. They know exactly how we think, and they won’t let Dan do anything crazy like glue tree bark to the wall or allow the design scheme to be overly influenced by Hume. Also, we have our fingers crossed for some crown molding!

Connie: What would be the worst thing they could do? Let’s see… I don’t like any sort of ‘Country’ motifs. And I would be really upset if they painted the furniture. Really, really upset, because those pieces belonged to Bill’s grandmother. Also I’d hate to see any Heidegger in there. Our family spends a lot of time in the living room and I wouldn’t want it all gummed up with angst. If Dan absolutely insisted on going existential, I could maybe—maybe—live with Kierkegaard, but only as an accent.

Day One

We were really excited to meet Tamara, and she was so sweet. Plus, we’re both expecting babies in about five months, so we have that in common. After we cleared the room, she revealed the first part of her plan. Although it was very blue (not necessarily my favorite color!) I saw right away how much it was influenced by William of Ockham. I put my hands up and screamed, ‘I LOVE IT!’ And I’m sure Connie will love it, too, because she’s a minimalist.

Connie: Things didn’t get off to a good start over at our house. We got into it with Dan right from the get-go. He announced his ‘theme’ for the room, which he called ‘Perfectly Plato.’ I was like you have got to be kidding me. Then he tried to throw our pre-show interview in my face because he heard me say I wanted to do something ‘retro.’ That was true, I’ll admit, but by ‘retro’ I meant the 1920s. You know: Art Deco, Logical Positivism. And enough already with asking instead of telling. Just now Dan said to me, ‘If I disobey and disregard the opinion and approval of the one who is wise, and regard the opinion of the many who have no understanding, will I not suffer evil?’ Whatever. I just wanted to know if Tad was building them a new armoire.

Mia: Tamara taught us a mantra to go with our theme: ‘Whatever the designer does is by definition good.’ It’s hard work, but we’re having lots of fun with Ockham’s Razor. Every time we run into a problem we say the same thing. Like when we found out the ottoman Tad built wouldn’t fit through the front door, we looked at each other and, laughing, all shouted at once ‘The simplest solution is usually the most valid!’ Then we cut the bastard in half with a chainsaw. What’s that? Oh, right, the ottoman, not Tad! Ha!

Tamara, designer: We’re having such a good time—my homeowners are very hard workers—and I haven’t even told Mia and Larry about the best part yet! Shhh! It’s a secret!

Connie: I’m sorry, but I’m still not buying into this Plato theme. Dan wants to turn Larry and Mia’s bedroom into a cave beyond which exist realities that cannot be directly perceived by the senses. Does that sound romantic to you? We’re supposed to have at least some input regarding what happens to our neighbors’ house, but when I suggested we apply Frege’s System of Mathematical Logic to the installation of crown molding, he gave me this really condescending look.

Tad, carpenter: Dan gave me his drawings for the bed and I spent all morning building it only to find out that his measurements weren’t even close. Anyway, I asked Dan where we were putting it so I could get the actual dimensions and he said that a ‘bed’—at least how a carpenter like me would know it—doesn’t even exist except as a thing participating in the ‘Form of Bedness.’ These freaking designers, I’m telling you.

Dan, designer: I’m getting a lot of resistance from Bill and Connie, but I know that once they understand my vision they’re going to love it. They think ‘Perfectly Plato’ refers only to the famous student of Socrates and the author of the Dialogues—sounds pretty boring, I’ll admit. But when it comes to the romance they’re looking for, they forget that we have the Neo-Platonists, and even the Renaissance Neo-Platonists to draw from. Honestly, what’s sexier than a boudoir based on St. Augustine?

Mia: I don’t know what to say. I thought things were going so well, but then Tamara gave us our homework and it all went kablooey. She wants us to put stencils on the ceiling showing dinosaurs and man living together. In the first place, I hate stencils. Ick. But, on top of that, Creationism? I don’t want to be one of those ‘difficult’ homeowners, but I don’t think we can do that. On principle.

Tamara: I’m very disappointed. Things were really humming along but now it’s the end of day one and I’ve got a mini-revolt on my hands. Mia doesn’t like the stencils and Larry says that Bill will object to my ‘Creation Science Flair’ because he’s a paleontologist. Well, I’m a designer. I’m supposed to challenge people. If I gave in and let every homeowner have whatever she wanted, then all we’d ever do week after week is Descartes, Descartes, Descartes. Nothing but boring old suburban Cogito ergo sum. And Creationism is so in. If I even suggested Natural Selection to my New York clients right now they’d laugh me out of the Upper East Side.

Day Two

Well, we were up all night putting plaster on the walls and then staining. It’s horrible. Ugly. Brown. Damp. I wish I’d put my foot down at the beginning. All I wanted for this bedroom was something subtle and romantic, maybe with a French twist—Rousseau, for instance—and I should have said something. Instead I went with the flow and look where we are. In a [expletive] cave.

Dan: Apparently Connie and Bill decided to take matters into their own hands last night and so we’ve got a little situation this morning. It seems they went ahead and put up crown molding. Now, aside from the fact that your typical Greek cave didn’t have crown molding, they insisted upon using Frege’s System of Mathematical Logic to install it. Of course, if they had asked me, I could have told them that Frege’s theory was refuted by Russell’s Paradox in the early 1900s. So not only do we have a design element that’s completely inappropriate to the room, I’m not sure how we’re going to take it down because I have no money left in the budget for Bertrand Russell. Maybe Tad will have some idea.

Tamara: We worked out a compromise on the ceiling. Instead of Creationism, we’re going to stencil it with Christian Eschatology: Book of Revelation. Judgement Day. End Times. That sort of thing. It’s a little less hip, but I’m okay with it, and my homeowners are happy. That’s really the important thing.

Tad: The basic problem with the crown molding is this: Some mathematical sets are members of themselves, an example being the ‘set of all sets,’ which is, of course, also a set. But is the ‘set of all sets that are not members of themselves’ (which in this case includes the ‘set of mahogany paneling inexplicably nailed to the wall of a fake cave’) a member of itself? If it is, then it isn’t; if it isn’t, then it is. Gottlob Frege lived almost 80 years and he never came up with an answer for that. We only have two days. The crown molding stays where it is.

Connie: We got everything loaded into the room and then Bill asks where the television is supposed to go. Dan laughs at him and he shows us this metal screen. His idea is to hide the TV behind the screen and, using mirrors and a piece of muslin, project shadows of the television images onto the wall of the cave. I started to cry.

The Unveiling

I was so nervous at the reveal I was shaking. When they finally said ‘Open your eyes!’ I was about ready to burst. Omigod, I LOVED it! It was so beautiful. It’s like our own little Hobbit hole! Of course, I wanted to know where the bed went, and I’ll admit I wasn’t really clear on the explanation, but we’ll get used to sleeping on the antelope skin. At first I couldn’t tell what Larry was thinking, but finally he said, ‘Hey, I got my crown molding and they didn’t tear out my ceiling fan. The rest of it, I could give a crap.’

Connie: I was feeling bad about what we did to Larry and Mia’s room until I saw the way they trashed our place. They say Tamara based the design on the teachings of William of Ockham. Ugh. There’s a fine line between a minimalist and a poor person, you know? The entire room’s empty except for a cheap ottoman made out of particle board—and somebody sawed that in half. What happened to our sectional sofa? And the entertainment center? There’s no place for the kids’ toys, and the praying—Christ, these Franciscan monks prayed like six times a day! Who has time for that? And I hate, hate, hate the stencils on the ceiling. I don’t care if they’re supposed to be War, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death. Horses say Country to me. And I hate Country.