This Must Be the Place: Putting Down Roots – Finally – As a First-Time UK Home Owner

Chapter Seven: Oh! You Pretty Things
(Wherein the Author Reveals a Frankly Unsettling Obsession with Home Accessories)

I can’t walk through our downstairs living room without looking at the mirror. Not in the mirror, although I occasionally sneak a peek at the old mug in passing just to make sure I don’t have mustard in my goatee or my eyebrows haven’t fused together overnight or something. (I live in mortal fear of the unibrow.) No, at the mirror, a simple oak-framed piece of glass, the latest addition to the still-evolving décor of our flat. It’s as Scandi-minimalist as they come and possibly too plain for many tastes, but to me it is a thing of unparalleled beauty and elegance. Not only does it bounce light around a somewhat dark space, but its blond wood frame is aesthetically harmonious with furniture pieces nearby, so it ties the room together with aplomb. And when the hubby put it up, he couldn’t have positioned it more perfectly on the wall – dead centre over the sofa – so I’m proud to say that it’s very, very well-hung.

This mirror that has enchanted me so is all the more precious because it took forever to find. We scoured the far reaches of the internet during lockdown, scrolling past scores of candidates, from gilded showpieces worthy of Louis XIV to novelty reflectors shaped like hearts, clouds, martini glasses, even Tardises.

Or is it Tardi?

And while the hubby is indeed a die-hard Dr. Who fan, nothing we saw was right. When the shops finally reopened after lockdown, we ducked into every antiques emporium we could think of in our area, to no avail. Weeks went by and at times it felt like the Ark of the Covenant would be easier to find than this mirror! (Paging Indiana Jones to the white courtesy phone.) Eventually we discovered via Google a glass and mirror specialty shop on the other side of town, so we made the long trek there one Saturday. The glittery disco balls and spangled stars dangling in the shop window brought to mind the prom scene from Carrie and gave us pause, but since we’d already schlepped so far, we put our doubts aside and went in. Good thing too, because the inventory inside was much classier. We hemmed and hawed over a few options before choosing the majestic specimen that now hangs in our abode.

By now you’re probably thinking, jeez, so much fuss over a mirror! This guy needs to get a life. I hear you, dear reader. You’re being a little judgy, if I’m honest, but I get it. A mirror is not something to obsess over, really – it’s not Idris Elba or The Mandalorian or a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza or… did I mention Idris Elba? And yet I am seemingly unable to stop fixating on it and other accessories that the hubby and I continue to collect to give our flat flair. The pewter-and-copper John Lewis floor lamp that arcs over our IKEA rocking chair just so. The frosted glass column vase, purchased to add panache to a lighted alcove above our dining table. The arrangement of delicate dried flowers that gives our downstairs loo the appearance of a sun-dappled meadow in springtime. (Well, maybe that’s going a smidge overboard.)

Earlier in this series, I marveled at my newfound fervor for keeping our home tidy and making sure that every household item is in its proper place. A similar development is a yearning of late to bedeck our domicile with pretty things. Whether they’re essential to our daily lives is kind of irrelevant. Like, we didn’t need another mirror – there are already four elsewhere in the house, including a dressing mirror in each of our two bedrooms. But the new one just looks so nice, and it reflects the ambient lighting in the living room so nicely. And isn’t nicely-reflected ambient lighting what makes life worth living?

Being of the gay persuasion as I am, I feel like I should have been born with a natural affinity for chic home accessories. (I know I’m perpetuating a cliché, but prove me wrong. Show me a straight guy who cares about cut-glass tealight holders.) Yet, as with the housekeeping bug, this need to tastefully adorn lay dormant in me until quite late in life.  It wasn’t that long ago that my decorating style was rooted firmly in kitsch and my windowsills and shelves were jammed with dusty snow globes and other tacky bric-a-brac. I once owned and proudly displayed a souvenir ashtray from Florida in the shape of a tiny toilet with the words “Rest Your Ash Here” printed on the seat. And until recently I would have never thought to buy a mirror just to dress up a wall. In my lengthy snow globes phase, my attitude would have been, I have a mirror on the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, so why would I waste money on another one when there are records and beer to buy? A wall mirror as a room enhancement was an extravagance for rich folk in fancy mansions like that one they got there in France – whaddya call it – the Palace of Ver-sales. (Apparently I was much more of a yokel back then.)

When I moved in with the hubby, I put the snow globes and toilet ashtrays in storage and for a number of years I left the decorating duties largely to him. I do remember my eye for home décor briefly peeping open just after we relocated from Canada to the UK, while we were still in our rental digs. One idle afternoon I popped into a charity shop to see if it stocked used vinyl. As I wandered through the shop, I spied a ceramic bowl in a display case and a strange feeling stirred in me.  Charmed by its lovely blue-and-white floral pattern, I totally forgot about my vinyl search. I checked the price tag and found it was only £3, so I was moved to buy it… even though I had no actual use for it other than to spruce up an undetermined spot in our home. I took the bowl back to the rental flat and, after much deliberation, perched it on a low shelving unit in the dining area, where we kept our cookbooks. It looked like it belonged there and on the spot I pronounced myself a genius at interior design.

It now holds pens and mints

That brief dalliance with decorative objects blossomed into a lasting love affair once the hubby and I secured a place of our own. Now I’m perpetually on the lookout for the next stylish what’s-it that I absolutely have to have. One recent Saturday we were in a local home décor boutique that sells everything from embroidered pillows to up-cycled milking stools to wall paint with colour names like “Aged Paper” and “Biscuit.” (This is how we spend our weekend afternoons now.) We were looking for a glazed plant pot that would serve as a mate to a midnight-blue one in our living room, which holds a devil’s ivy that cascades rather fetchingly down the side of our drinks cabinet. Amongst the shop’s bits and bobs we found a small pot that was lighter in shade and which had a different etched pattern than the one we owned. We debated whether it was too different, but my newly honed Spidey sense told me the two pots would complement each other. We bought it and took it back to the flat and sure enough, I was right. I have to say I was quite smug about it.

Cute, but not too matchy-matchy

The central theme running through this series is that becoming a new property owner has triggered a sudden onset of adulthood in this middle-aged Peter Pan.  The home bedazzling urges I’ve described are just another symptom of that galloping grownup-itis. But if they continue unchecked, I know I’m eventually going to have a problem. There’s a tipping point where an accrual of accessories becomes clutter.  I need only think back to that overabundance of snow globes to know I’m susceptible to this type of excess. If I want to keep our beautiful flat looking its best, I’m going to have to check my obsessive impulses.  I’m going to have to learn how to edit. One accent mirror is a smart way to brighten a room. 37 accent mirrors is a distress signal from a hoarder. And very likely a narcissist.

[Blogger’s note: I’m an American expat living in Portsmouth, England, with my British-born spouse. We moved to the UK together a few years ago and stayed in rental accommodations for a time, but eventually the property bug bit us and we purchased a place of our own – a first for this fifty-something vagabond. Here you can read about the adventures in decorating and DIY that have followed. Check back soon for the next installment in the series!]


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