On my way through the living room the other day, I happened to notice that the mantelpiece was bare. No, a burglar hadn't come down the chimney and grabbed the heirloom Sevres porcelain. Nor had the butler taken the silver candlesticks away to be cleaned. We had, in fact, cleared off the mantel over a month ago to put up Christmas decorations.
Our design scheme included hanging ornaments from the antlers of the deer skull that hangs above the fireplace. (No duct tape was used, however.) The look may not have worked for Martha Stewart, but I bet Red Green would have loved it.
We took down those decorations a few days after Christmas. A week or so after that we went out of town for a week. We've been back for a while now, and it took me this long to realize the space above the fireplace was still empty.
Several of my friends would have already decorated that tempting six-foot bare expanse. They would have arranged some color-coordinated combination of ornamental objects in an elegant display that might even enhance the antlers. Then, a few weeks from now, they would take that stuff down and replace it with something equally attractive and tasteful.
Not me. True, as a person with a college major in art, I do claim to have some esthetic sense. I have never owned a painting of Elvis on velvet, bought a couch pillow in fluorescent green, or worn plaids with stripes.
And I do recognize bad decorating when I see it. For example, take—please take, preferably as far away as possible—the Wisconsin motel that my late husband and I once stayed in. On a last-minute impulse, we had flown to the huge air show at Oshkosh. The closest available room we found was in a small town some 150 miles away. It shall remain anonymous, partly to protect the guilty but mostly because I have blotted its name from my memory.
The motel, called something like the Fantasy Inn, was apparently intended to attract honeymooners and those in search of romantic weekend getaways, licit or otherwise. Each room, the clerk informed us, was decorated around a different theme—a jungle room, an Arabian Nights room, an Egyptian room, and so on. You get the idea.
Either because we were Star Trek fans or because it was the only one left, we ended up in the "outer space" room. It turned out to be less than stellar.
Imagine a set for a zero-budget elementary school play about landing on the moon—on the dark side. The hot tub sat amid fake boulders intended to look like moon rocks. The walls and ceiling were black and ornamented with a faint scattering of amateurish painted stars and planets. There were a couple of dim lamps, plus a 20-watt light bulb over the bathroom sink. Applying eyeliner in the dark could make anyone look like an alien. Big round eyes or not, there was no way ET could have found a telephone in that room so he could phone home.
The focus of the décor was a round waterbed inside a structure designed to look like the nose cone of a space ship. To complete the futuristic theme, a video game screen was built into the inside of the "space capsule." Apparently this was the backup plan in case that whole romantic weekend thing didn't quite work out.
Compared to an esthetic disaster of such galactic scale, the potential for even a decorator-challenged type like me to mess up a simple fireplace mantel is minimal. It's just too bad the geologist in residence doesn't have any moon rocks.