I was talking to a designer about a eek ago when she brought up an interesting point. For whatever reason, most men do not discuss interior design with their friends. She says that when she showed a client of hers a fabric, he may be really excited about it then, but he will not go and tell his buddies “You won’t believe the window treatments I picked today. This has been a considerable obstacle for her and myself, and wanted to try and figure out why.
I read a lot of “Men’s Sites” and they talk about virtually everything. You can read about work out routines that make your abs pop, seduction techniques and grilling recipes. A few days ago there was even an article on the intricate world behind Ukrainian Mail-Order Brides. There is a certain level of schizophrenia in literature for men, yet none of the personalities touch this topic in any real depth. Once every six months or so a throw away article advocating having house plants to show women you are the nurturing type might show up, but other than that it is pretty slim pickings.
It has long been my belief that well-rounded men should be able to discuss anything with some level of intelligence, but this isn’t always the case. We all have a vast metal library of sports, weather, politics, fashion, landscaping, cars, physical fitness, women, movies, finances, education, law enforcement and dozens if not hundreds of other very broad topics, but not interior decorating. If this topic comes up, it might as well be in another language. We will sit the, sip our drink and nod accordingly.
It was this week that I figured it out the first reason we don’t talk about it is a long standing social evolution. I never thought about it until watching Mad Men last night. There is a scene where Betty had hired an interior designer to re-design their formal living room. Betty, who stayed home all day, had final say about the room. Meanwhile Don seemed to look at the re-design as simply a means to keep her happy. He didn’t really care because it wasn’t a fight worth having. It was as if he said “you can hire a decorator if you don’t ask me again”.
SO WHY DIDN’T HE CARE AND WHY DID BETTY CARE SO MUCH?
The reason rests in the past. The home has never really been a status symbol to guys. While both men and women take pride in family, clothing, and social skills when they calculate their own net worth, the difference prior to the 1970’s was in the home and job. When men were the breadwinners, guys took stock of their home the way newspapers list a house. They may have a 1,500 square foot home with 3 bedrooms and two bathroom, but beyond that they didn’t care. Women, in lieu of a job, too stock of every stick of furniture and every painting in that house. So while a guy could brag about a recent promotion, a woman could only discuss their new window treatments. Women socially evolved for generations to know what looks good in a home, meanwhile the man didn’t care. He could be spending his time reading a technical manual and getting better at his job. This is why your grandfather may have painted, but he never really “picked” the paint. That wasn’t his job, it was hers.
This trickled down into the newer generations. My father, who is turning 55 this year. never discussed interior design. He wouldn’t admit it, but that skill wasn’t taught to him. A father in the 1960’s may teach his son construction, fishing and cars, but fabric selection wouldn’t be his area of expertise. It would be his mother’s. Flash forward fifty years later and here we are in dingy apartments with a pizza-box coffee table. While women now have the duel status symbols of the job and the home, guys have not started to transfer a degree of pride into the home yet.
The other problem with masculine interior design is that many men look down on it to some degree. The modern culture, for whatever reason, has officially conceded decoration to the feminine and the female. Think about what you thought about the last time you saw a D1 defensive linemen with a interior decoration major. “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” was a major hit back in 2003 or so and its entire premise was that most guys don’t know how to create a style. Rather than answer the call and start learning what we could about interior design, we just laughed and made homophobic jokes.
But it was a movie in late 1999 that really solidified the adverse relationship between men and interior design. Fight Club’s tale of insomnia, schizophrenia and soap gave men a new stereotypical man in Tyler Durden. While Tyler and the Narrator have issues, Tyler was the self-actualized of the two. He knew what he wanted and went for. Men may have identified with the Narrator, but they wanted to be Tyler. So when he said to “Fuck off with your sofa units with your strinne green stripe patterns”, men listened.
Hopefully, as more and more is written about masculine interior design, the more we will realize that it is an important issue that we have to pay attention to. We need to realize that Draper’s apathy is due to the fact it wasn’t truly “his” house and that Tyler was simply the “id” of a deeply disturbed insomniac. Martha Stewart is not going to be polishing brass on the Titanic forever.