Real life decorating for real people.

I spent a recent weekend curled up with a stack of decorating magazines. I read them cover to cover - usually back to front, but that's the way I read most magazines and newspapers. I studied each photograph and tried to determine the particular design element that was being presented. I looked at the colors chosen and how textures were used. I paid attention to what sorts of things were hung on the walls, where they were hung and how they were arranged. Everything was examined, from selections for flooring to the number and placement of accessories. Each photo was scrutinized in the minutest detail. At some point I started to wonder for whom these absolutely gorgeous rooms were designed.

No alarm clocks or clock radios on the bedside tables. While there was usually an abundance of decorative items, there were no tissue boxes or eyeglass cases. Dressers displayed beautifully arranged floral creations and perhaps a cut glass perfume bottle or two, with ornamental stoppers. No jewelry boxes, no lotion bottles, none of the everyday stuff of life. I don't know about you but I want a telephone at the side of my bed. And someplace handy for the TV remote.

And the bathrooms! Don't even get me started on the bathrooms! Do the users of these bathrooms ever need to replace the toilet paper or the hand soap? Do they have their hair done weekly (maybe daily?) at beauty- or barber-shops and thus have no need of shampoo and conditioner bottles? Toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss? The men don't have to shave and the women have no need of makeup? Streamlining and organization can only take you so far. Sooner or later you need a place for feminine supplies, room deodorizers, and the extra cotton balls and swabs that don't fit into the pretty little designer containers. And I can't be the only person who thinks that a plunger, excuse me for mentioning it, should be stored someplace handy to the possible need.

No cords for the lamps, no tangle of wires for the home office computer system. One photograph featured an elegant "work space" with a large bouquet of flowers drooping fetchingly over the printer. I could imagine spent blossoms dropping into the works, and I couldn't imagine how to open the paper tray without knocking the vase over. I suppose the person who would work at such a desk would have no need of a mouse pad, paper clips, or a pile of sticky notes. I wish I could work like that.

I want to know what the rooms in the photographs look like a week later. Are the same three Granny Smith apples still in perfect position on the glass-topped table? Is the fringe on the cashmere afghan still draped just so over the arm of the rocking chair in the baby's room? Does the kitchen counter look bare without the tureen of soup and the matching soup bowls? I mean, the soup was eaten, wasn't it? Am I losing my perspective here?

Show me a playroom after the children have been forced to put away the toys. I'll bet there are no cunning arrangements of stuffed animals having tea, and the blocks aren't stacked into just-right pyramids with one block placed in front and a little to the side. The pillows are all over the room and the bedspread is trailing onto the floor. That's real.

I realize that the decorating magazines present rooms and arrangements that are idealized and stylized. They are intended to give our imaginations a jumping-off point; we are meant to adapt their ideas to our own needs. They do a wonderful job and I will continue to peruse the glossy pages of each publication. Occasionally, however, I'd appreciate a view of a real room, spiffed up for company, perhaps, but real. I want to be able to imagine waking up to the clock radio, to see myself sitting at the computer and actually getting some work done, to know where I would store the supply of makeup without which I cannot face the world. I want to think that I could actually live in the room. Isn't that the point of the whole exercise? Don't we all want comfortable homes that suit our life styles, organized and better looking, maybe, but still us?

Go take a look at the pictures in a decorating magazine. See if you agree with me. I think I'm going to go clean out a couple of drawers and straighten a bookcase shelf or two. It won't end up picture perfect, but it will be real.