Decorating a State Department House – Step One, “Admitting there is a problem”

An allegory comprised of several conversations and occasions…

I’m prepping dinner the other day and Jean has the day off, so is home. “This place is such a wreck,” she says. My head comes up from what I’m doing, attention grabbed. “It’s not your fault, the Didi can’t see dirt,” she continues. “But we need to make it our own, need to decorate.” I look around, see our framed art on the walls and think, “By jove, if this isn’t decorating, what is?” I nod enthusiastically, knowing she wants me to say something, to do something. I add “Mmmm” for emphasis, to let her know I’m listening.
“Maybe we can get some curtains, like the neighbors?” The neighbors’ decorators literally are IKEA, and besides we already have curtains, albeit drab, lame pattern ones. “Or maybe we could paint?” I’m not so excited to paint, putting down drop cloths and such, for a place in which we’re to spend only the next 15 months. I’m a bit befuddled overall, and we shift topics.
Later, I’m at one of the other neighbors’ houses, literally a cookie-cutter of our own, and once inside, I am stunned to find it different. No exciting paint jobs, but there is…stuff. Decoraty-type stuff. Wall sconces, area rugs, plants (!). My small brain begins to reel at the possibilities. If they have plants, WE could have plants! Clearly, I have entered a new realm of enlightenment.

Now I’m on a mission. Before the summer is out, I need to make our house a “home.” I need to do it in such a way that we do not accumulate too much knick-knacky type stuff that will find it’s way to storage or the waste bin once at next post or at Hearthwood, but also fill out at least the first floor, walls, party area, and perhaps some of the outdoors so that our house is suitably grown-up enough to entertain. I also need to make these things permanent-looking enough that the Didi does not try to “put them away” (like the decorative blank books I had on the side table that one time that went mysteriously missing until I found them in the bookcase). Lastly, this stuff can not significantly contribute to our Household Effects (HHE) weight, at whose weight limit we had already met when coming here.

Obvious winners are:
– large copper pots (who doesn’t love those?)
– fashionable area rugs
– wall-mounted things
– decorative, yet functional furniture

Has anyone else had luck or ideas in decorating a temporary living space?
UPDATE: Read on to see what I did

6 Replies to “Decorating a State Department House – Step One, “Admitting there is a problem””

  1. Ha ha! We’re in the fortunate place of having all new furniture here, being in the new house, but that means minimal plants outside. At least the only nude butts that will have been on anything are my childrens’!

  2. Hi, there. I am just reading this and actually started laughing out loud. Steve is far from the decorating guy. Today after 11 months at post we had our pictures finally hung on the walls. It’s like a new place. Yes, I am still sitting on old, ugly GSO furniture that somebodie’s nude butt has probably been on before me, but I get to see my pictures hanging there while I am sitting. I don’t know if you have access to a great seamstress, um um, but I went to a friends and she had slip covers made for her GSO furniture. She had them made in the Phillipines real cheap. She takes them with her from place to place.

  3. Oh man, this hits close to home. This is so going to be us. Neither of us have the decorator gene. For ex, I know not what a wall sconce is. (I googled it and I still don’t.) But I can totally see how the house–>home transformation is going to be crucial. I dig the plants idea. Good luck!

  4. Plants are always good. They especially are important during the rainy season when you can’t get outside as much. If you can find something that flowers inside even better.

    I would recommend plants in the cheapest decorative pots locally produced, or the cheapest pots. Large pots can weigh a ton and will probably cost enough that you would want to sell or keep them. The decorative pots, or copper if that is the best local pot, even if somewhat costly might be negotiated price division with the people who succeed you in that house.

    Area rugs might also be sold to your successor in the house, since they can be heavy.

    For the walls, local fabric art work. If you can’t sell it there, it won’t cost much to add to the HHE and will be of different artistic bent from wherever else you go.

    Over 30 years time, we would start out with little bits of typical not too expensive art from one place, then go straight to another with different space/wall requirements. At the end we have a large amount of art from many countries on the wall and have reduced to a favorite selection of “dust catchers”. The initial investments were generally not large, just stuff we liked or would remind us of the unique places we lived. We always had plants which were left behind or recycled to expat friends.

  5. I’m interested to see what kind of responses you get. We didn’t even export the right boxes to get our wall hanging type stuff. So, our house was mostly decorated with kids’ drawings this time around. I like the plant idea though. That’s something I could get behind.

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