The beautiful Airbnb I couldn’t wait to leave

By Ingrid Fetell Lee
The Beautiful Airbnb I Couldn't Wait to Leave

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“How much easier would life be if I could live like this?”

This question ran through my mind as we checked into the Airbnb that my better half found a couple of days ago, when the painters confessed they would be three days late in finishing our house (due to totally preventable circumstances), and I had a full-on meltdown.

We’d been out of our home for ten days by this point, and I’d been riding a roller coaster of emotions, only some of which had to do with the house. All I wanted was to go home and start putting things back in order, but for now, the Airbnb would have to do.

The Beautiful Airbnb I Couldn’t Wait to Leave

The style of the house could best be described as “beachy modern”: white sofas, bleached wood, big windows, lots of cane and rattan. It’s the kind of style that’s ubiquitous out here in the Hamptons, the Platonic ideal of a beach house that might be featured in say, Dwell magazine. It’s not too stimulating, and has a hotel-like quality (each bedroom neatly appointed with identical white sheets, four pillows, and textured crochet throws) that makes it an ideal landing pad for when you’ve been through it and just need to catch your breath.

As I went through the well-rehearsed motions of unpacking for the fourth time in two weeks, I found myself counting the advantages of this kind of decor. It’s easy, for starters. The month I spent obsessing over wallpaper swatches and matching paint colors would be irrelevant in a space like this. (After all, white goes very well with white!) I could order furniture from a handful of tasteful modern online shops, and not have to annoy my husband with my refusal to buy something until I’d trawled every antique shop in the nearby area. There’s less to clean, less to maintain. If something breaks, it’s easily replaced. And this home is finished, unlike mine, which feels like a perpetual project. There is a lot to be said for this kind of home.

Except… I couldn’t help but think about all the things I’d miss. The pile of feathers on the bookshelf. The rows of shells on the windowsills. The rugs we haggled over in Marrakech, the mirror I made a full-on presentation about before purchasing. The Matisse prints we sleuthed out at the flea markets in Paris, the half-broken chairs we affectionately call “Ernie chairs” after the mustachioed vendor who sold them to us at Brimfield. The books — 30 times the Konmari-approved quantity of books — that have shaped our minds and our stories. A hotel-home might be easier, but it wouldn’t be home — for me.

There’s no right or wrong way to make a home.

But the choices we make shape our lives. The person who owns my Airbnb wants to live simply, elegantly, with no muss or fuss. And while I can aspire to elegance, at the end of the day I’ll trade it for fun. For play! I’ll take some fuss and complexity for a shot at a place that feels creative and inspiring, that saturates my memories with color and joy.

My version of home comes with a little more sweat and tears, though. To wit — the mid-week freakout I had after seeing the first photos of our painted kitchen. It was too light. Too bright. “Ugh! Why am I like this?” I moaned to A. through tears. “Why can’t I just not care?” (A couple of days later the wallpaper went up and guess what? The color turned out lovely.)

The gap between my in-progress home and my Airbnb refuge highlighted for me how important it is to make the choice of how you want to live intentionally. We often start decorating thinking it’s about colors and furnishings without realizing that what we’re actually creating are feelings and rhythms and moments. When we misstep in designing our homes, we tell ourselves that we “got the color wrong” or “aren’t good at design,” when often, what really happened is we chose something that is not the right fit for us.

When we ask…
  • Why does that rug, which looked so good in the Pinterest photo, feel so crazy in my living room?
  • Why does my all-beige space make me anxious instead of calm?
  • Why does the very sensible advice around where to put my children’s toys feel totally unworkable for me?
  • Why does my bedroom look exactly like my inspiration board, and yet I secretly hate it?

…we’re sensing that there’s a misalignment between the feeling we’ve created, and the feeling we want to have.

Decor creates feeling — and it does so whether you intend it to, or not. If you know how you want to feel in your home, then you have a crystal clear compass for knowing when you got it “right.” You can choose colors that supposedly clash, or art that other people might think is strange, and not worry that your choices aren’t “good” — because they make you feel good.

Recently I was reading about the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, and came across this description:

He agonizes over his children’s cartoons as if he were Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. He will pour whole oceans of effort and time and money into the smallest effects: the way a jumping fish twists as it leaps, individual faces in a crowd reacting to an earthquake, the physics of tiles during a rooftop chase scene. Miyazaki insists that, although few viewers will be conscious of all this work, every viewer will feel it. And we do. Those tiny touches, adding up across the length of a film, anchor his fantasies in the actual world.

This is what a home does:

It anchors our fantasies in the physical world. Each choice we make determines what that world of our home will feel like. Most people will not notice all the specific details (and you don’t need to be as obsessive about them as Miyazaki!) but they will feel your intention.

So how do you want your home to feel? Do you know instinctively? Or do you need to think about it? If you don’t have a clear sense, try remembering houses where you felt at home. What did they feel like to you?

We finally came back this morning, to the same house, but an entirely different home. I’m excited to show it to you soon, but in the meantime, I’ll share a few moments…

…G. running around the kitchen saying “Do you see the beautiful red flowers?”

…Me, surprised into a smile every time I leave my office for a glass of water

…A. asking, “Should we do some more rooms in April?”

If he’d asked me last week, in the throes of contractor problems and uncertainty about how my wild ideas would turn out, I’m fairly certain I would’ve said no. But looking around at the rooms we’d just finished, I felt a little leap in my chest. “Sure,” I said, “let’s do it.”

Reminder: My free live home workshop is coming soon! Learn how to create a home you love without moving, renovating, or spending money you don’t have. Save your seat right here.

March 8th, 2023


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