If you’re feeling queasy from all that pink and red on Valentine’s Day, this may be the antidote:
In 1976 Mrs. Chatterbox and I told ourselves that the old San Francisco apartment we’d just rented made up for being small with an abundance of character. It had old-world tile in the kitchen and bathroom, a vintage slot in the door for the delivery of milk bottles, and from the roof you could make out the top of the Golden Gate Bridge if it wasn’t foggy or rainy, which was most of the time.
When we first arrived in San Francisco, Mrs. C. quickly landed a job with a CPA firm, but my art degree made me about as hirable as a shepherd. I walked the streets day after day looking for work, without success. One day I returned home after a futile job search and took out my frustration on our cramped apartment and meager furnishings. An idea for dressing up the place popped into my head. Our Goodwill furniture would look more like an eclectic blend of shabby and chic if I painted the floors…black. I could take inspiration from nearby Chinatown and paint Chinese motifs on the walls. I grew excited by the thought of using my design ability and artistic skills to perk up the place. New furniture was out of the question but we could still have a “trendy” interior with Chinoiserie—mixing Chinese elements with Western ones.
The nice landlady informed us that there were hardwood floors beneath the radiator-stained rugs and we could pull them up if we wanted to. She said nothing about painting the floors black, but I was sure she wouldn’t mind; heck, she might even lower our rent when she saw how fabulous our apartment looked. She might even hire me to paint the other units in the building, and God knows I needed a job. In retrospect, I wish Mrs. C. had talked me out of it, but back then she deferred to me on all things artistic. She didn’t object. She’s much smarter now.
I went to the store and bought oil base enamel paint, black as tar. I piled our furniture in the only bedroom, pulled up the rugs in the living room and tossed them in the hallway near the elevator. Then I began slapping down the black paint. When I finished the living room, I was pretty proud of myself; the room now seemed to have shrunk to doll house size but it looked cool, sort of Chineeezie. Mrs. C. and I settled back and waited for the paint to dry.
Then we waited some more.
I might have bought the wrong type of paint, or maybe it was the cold damp air (we had to keep the windows open because the paint fumes were giving us headaches) but the paint refused to dry. Two weeks later the paint was still tacky. Our cat took to tiptoeing into the living room and rolling around on the sticky black goo. Her fur stuck to the paint and eventually it began to look as though we were growing a Chia Pet carpet.
One day the landlady knocked on our door, irritated that our old carpeting was blocking the elevator. When I opened the door she peered inside. Her eyes widened and she hit the roof, upset that we hadn’t asked for permission to paint the floors. She ordered us to remove the paint IMMEDIATELY. I started scraping with a kitchen spatula, but the paint, while still tacky, had adhered to the floor. I rented a circular electric sander but I was unfamiliar with the deafening machine and left it too long in one spot, resulting in what looked like crop circles on the oak floors. Our landlady didn’t comment on the circles, but she scowled at me whenever our paths crossed and I figured we’d overstayed our welcome. We moved out—and in with my parents since I couldn’t find a job.
My attempt to make our San Francisco apartment trendy was a disaster, and ever since then whenever I see the word chinoiserie I see black and think of a four letter word.
What's you biggest interior design mistake?