It’s a curious thing being an editor, in that a certain demographic know who you are and yet they don’t know you at all; only what you do for a living. Something, in the case of editing a magazine, that’s writ large across these monthly pages. Plus, I’m lucky enough to get to bang on about something/anything that particularly tickles me on this page every issue too. I’m happy for this side to be revealed – I’m immensely proud of what the team and I achieve here at ELLE Decoration HQ – but, as a rather private person by nature, while I’ve shared about my beloved Bassets (Stanley and new little brother Henry), beyond that I draw the line. One’s personal life, children, family and friends are the concern only of those involved.
So this month I found myself pondering the curious business of making a home when privacy is important to you – after all, it necessitates the invitation of strangers into this, your most personal space. But, having had a lot of renovation work done recently, I realised the intrusion was less apparent when the interlopers remained downstairs, which even historically was deemed a social zone. Think too of the days of the front room, designed and decorated specifically for the receiving of guests, the controlled physical manifestation of the public face you wished to present to the world. But upstairs, where lie one’s bedrooms and bathrooms, is another matter entirely. These are one’s private sanctuaries, populated by the personal possessions with more acute sentimental value, or those that mark significant moments of one’s life. Here is not intended for public view. But if work needs to be done upstairs, as was recently the case for me, should you meticulously remove all from view? Didn’t even occur to me. But what I felt as various peoples traipsed up and down my stairs was a profound sense of awkwardness and a deep unease.
Am I particularly hermetic or reclusive? Or was it because, in this instance, I was caught unprepared for the gulf between public persona and private self to be breached? I am always aware that once people know what I do, the desire for a quick look-see is almost irresistible. But then I do not set up my home as an archetype of style: it’s simply my private retreat from the world, to be shared with those I love, and the dogs (and even they are trained to stay downstairs!)
I probably should have got all such visitations done when upstairs was still unclaimed, that point in a building project where the handover from the builder has not yet taken place. Your stuff has not rooted, the space is not personalised, just painted. It’s the point that estate agents like you to put a place back to if you’re tryng to sell so potential buyers can imagine it as their own, not yours. But I’m not that organised, and besides, I like to build the notion of home slowly. Thankfully we’re practically done upstairs now, just a closet to build to hide the boiler in the guest bathroom, and I don’t much care who sees that. But that’s it, this home is officially off radar for viewing from now on. Privacy, like many things, is only truly valued when it’s been taken away. As Gaston Bachelard, French philosopher and author of The Poetics of Space, once wrote, “The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” And yes, oh the irony, considering a substantial portion of this magazine is devoted precisely to peeking behind closed doors. But then, luckily for us, some people like to share more than others.
First published as my Editor’s Letter in the November 2013 edition of ELLE Decoration UK