My family displays a wide range of cosmopolitan tastes when it comes to décor and architecture. In architecture, my wife admires Queen Anne, French Provincial, Federal, Tudor, Victorian, Italianate, Renaissance, Cape Cod, Georgian, Colonial, Byzantine, Gothic Revival, Spanish Mission, Bungalow, Ranch, Tuscan and Rustic styles. I, on the other hand, appreciate Log, Igloo, Spruce Bough Lean-to, Tarpaper Shack, Sod, Cardboard-Box-in-an-Alley, Orc Castle, Tipi, Dome Tent, Pickup Camper, Tree House and Rustic architecture.
When it comes to interior décor, my wife favors Bistro, Urban Eclectic, Vintage, Boudoir, English Cottage, French Chic, Retro, Southwest, Victorian Romance, Beach House, Shaker, and Rustic. In contrast, I have developed into a rather discriminating connoisseur of Grunge, Valdez Trawler, Men’s Locker Room, Greasy Spoon, Hunting Lodge, Pastoral Bovine, Random Chaos, Gut Pile, Jiffy Lube and Rustic decors.
For a while this created a dichotomous tension in our connubial solidarity. It became difficult for us to balance our divergent tastes. For instance, I might come in from the barn yearning for a little Pastoral Bovine atmosphere. On an impulse to surprise my wife, I would begin to redecorate the living room.
Using random bootstrokes I would blend an organic medium into the carpet, producing bold texture, scent, and color enhancements. Then I would tastefully drape my well-worn Aussie Drover duster across the back of the sofa. Finally, I would brilliantly tie together the Pastoral Bovine elements by vigorously brushing off my hair and clothing, a patented technique which allows hay and grain dust to settle onto all exposed surfaces of the room in an understated, but pervasive accent.
Just as I would be adding the finishing touches, my wife would appear, adjusting the baby’s breath and silk ivy in a swag she was arranging. It would be just my luck that she was on her Victorian Romance kick. For someone claiming to dislike my Pastoral Bovine scheme she sure would have a cow!
If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have a problem blending décor styles. Personally, I think Bovine Romance would work: Lace and bailing twine–a tea set combining the elements of a Hydrangea chintz teapot and cups made out of upturned cowbells with handles made out of castration rings–a porcelain mantle clock trimmed with 24 carat gold finials and a cameo of a Guernsey heifer. It would work, if my wife would let it, but she’s a purist.
We hadn’t been married very long before it became clear to me that the only culture my wife possessed was growing in a little sourdough starter crock on the back of the stove, and I told her so. She retorted something about me being the most talented “inferior” decorator that she had ever seen. Shortly thereafter the discussion began to lose its cordial tone. When the dust had settled, we realized that our relationship was in jeopardy of deteriorating.
We discussed it and agreed that our marriage was more important than any idiotic décor or architectural peccadilloes that the other might be cursed with, so we struck a deal. We would stick to styles for which we shared a mutual appreciation. It sounded like the perfect solution until we compared our lists to discover that the only taste we shared was Rustic. So “rustic” has described every house we have lived in for the last 15 years.
At this point, it is necessary for me to define “rustic”. This is important, because I have run into some embarrassing misunderstanding through the years. It turns out that there are more definitions of rustic than there are spindles in a Queen Anne porch. Let me cite two cases in point.
On an airplane once, due to a computer glitch, I had the good fortune to be seated in first class. It was a stimulating and novel experience for me. I soon fell into conversation with a gaunt gentleman wearing an Armani suit, a Rolex watch and too much moustache wax. He introduced himself as Sir Milliquent Feldspar. When I mentioned my fondness of all things rustic, Mr. Feldspar proceeded to display photographs of the “rustic” country house he had just purchased in the South of France. Somehow, gilded wainscoting, ceiling murals, and marble fountains didn’t fit my definition of rustic.
Then there was the time I needed to replace a taillight lens that got broken when my son left a tree growing out in the middle of my driveway when he was done climbing it. It was one of those things that probably cost 4.97 cents to make, but could only be special ordered at the dealer for $497.00. I got out the phone book and started looking for junkyards.
The first call I made was answered by a voice that sounded like he’d been gargling with Drano. Yes, he had the lens, and, yes, I could have it for five bucks or a case of beer. Drano gave me directions to his place:
“Da third gravel road to da right. Take dat for about thirteen miles till ya pass da toxic waste dump. You’ll see a lane on da left. Watch out for da ruts. Last week, I hadda guy in a Hummer high center and rip out his whole rear end. Almost hurt his Hummer, too! Anyway, my place is about three miles down da lane. Can’t miss it. It’s a real rustic place wid a fence. Wait at da gate and honk so’s I’ll know to put da Dobermans away.”
He wasn’t kidding! His place was, indeed, “real rustic”. It was part Quonset hut, part school bus, and part converted chicken coop. On top he had cobbled together some sort of a cupola from car doors and the bottom of an old wooden boat. He had nailed tarpaper to any surface that was flat, and squirted spray foam on whatever wasn’t. Drano’s concept of “rustic” wasn’t one that I shared.
So, when my wife and I talk about rustic, we mean unfinished or rough—basically anything that creates the effect of having minimal human involvement. We like natural materials with plenty of character, especially wood and stone. Basically “character” means that we want the wood to be loaded with knots and warts and burls. We like our stone to have flaws and distinctive graining as well. I never could understand why someone would want to have an exposed wood surface and then pick something with a straight, fine, knot-free grain. What’s with wood that doesn’t look like wood?
I know it isn’t always easy to find building or décor materials with character, but whenever we have run into that problem, we find ways to improvise. We used rough-cut lumber for our kitchen cabinets, but it just wasn’t rustic enough, so we tweaked it. We laid it out in our gravel driveway, scattered a five-gallon bucket worth of assorted nuts and bolts across it, and drove on it for about a week.
Then we collected it, brushed off the stones and bolts that weren’t embedded to deeply, and took a blowtorch to it. You should see the character now! The first time houseguests see our kitchen, they ask us if anyone got hurt in the explosion.
The best thing about rustic is that it covers up a multitude of sins. If I don’t mow the lawn for three months, I can just call it rustic landscaping. If the wall I build is eight inches out of plumb and forty-two degrees out of square, I just call it rustic. If it takes four years to get siding on the back of my house, until the OSB sheeting is hanging in weathered gray scales, it looks rustic. If my carpet is blotched with a grid of unsuccessful attempts to remove cat, dog, ferret, and baby nephew deposits, it’s rustic.
No-one ever knows if I am lazy, incompetent, unfortunate, or charmingly rustic. No-one, that is, except my wife, and she better not tell anyone if she values our connubial bliss.