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The Vacuum Issue 6 spacer Issue 6
Suites You - Decorating The Northern Irish Home
by Sarah Lappin
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One of the most interesting parts of being an outsider to Belfast is my inability to stereotype. Having only a peripheral understanding what groups have been delineated and what they stand for means that I have to rethink not only preconceived notions about Belfast and Northern Ireland, but my prejudices at home as well. For me to examine what kind of throw rugs a bachelor in Belfast uses and then extrapolate about his social group is verging on impossible. I am not an anthropologist, i don't have a nice acronym-derived vocabulary of classifications from which to choose in the Belfast context.
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However, not one to be undone by an unknown, I set off rummaging through my memory for images of houses I'd visited in Northern Ireland. Most architects and technicians in Northern Ireland have at some point in their careers done work for the Housing Executive. I've spent many a rainy morning, lunchtime and afternoon looking at homes in North, East and West Belfast, wondering if their roofs were ready for replacement or pondering if renewing their fasicas will get rid of their pigeon problems. What I noticed during this activity was that people in Belfast are incredbly, unbelievably house proud, a term I didn't even know existed before coming here. Open heart surgery can be performed on just about any kitchen floor I've seen here; people iron their sheets with starch! and really do worry about their window treatments. The Christmas period meant thousands of decorations ; one woman in West Belfast had completely covered her entire ceiling with vertical streamers and stated with hand on heart that she'd only just started with her decorating for the season. Time after time, people would apologize for the "state" of their monastically immaculate sitting rooms. ( I did have one colleague tell me about entering a house for inspection and discovering that the unreal, Godforsaken odor emanating from upstairs was the olfactory effect of the family donkey and his lifetime's worth of, well, organic deposits. "Can't leave the family donkey outside in the cold, now.") However, this was certainly not my experience.
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I was left with the impression that Belfast people are very careful with their decor and treat cleanliness (I was taught to never use the word "very" by an early composition teacher, but sometimes, the situation requires it) very, very seriously. Still, I thought this might be a good opportunity to re-examine these notions of mine and decided to interview three women living in Belfast of different ages and backgrounds, living in different neighbourhoods.
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The first person I spoke to is a thirty-something married career woman with, quite frankly, the most well-decorated house I've ever seen, Laura Ashley catalogues have NOTHING on this place. Interestingly, she said that it's her house where the money goes. She doesn't spend money on the usual girlie things like clothes that don't fit or stupid shoes or bad makeup that seemed interesting at the time in Boots. Her house was completely renovatedand she continues to add to it with new furniture, different knick-knacks. She seems as focused on the house as she is on her career, to terrific effect.
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Number of people living in house: two Favorite room: Kitchen. Why? Full of light, but also private, to the back of the house, overlooking the garden Color: uses cool colors in south facing rooms, warm colors in north facing ones. Paint or wallpaper? Both. Subscribe or regularly buy decorating magazines? Yes Garden: large, well organized. Significant other help in decorating? Sometimes will buy individual pieces which fit the overall decorating scheme. Aspirations for the house: More light, or get a new one and decorate in a very chic, slick modern style.
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My second victim is a woman originally from Singapore who came to Belfast a few years ago via Derry. She has one young son and works full time, as does her husband. Her house is in constant change. She doesn't have any preconceived plan, but lets the house develop as it wants. Most of her wall decorations are paintings and drawings she's done herself, often with quotations from authors or inspirational thoughts.
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Number of people living in house: three, but a two-year-old counts for about 12 Favorite room: Private study. Why? Personal space, full of books. Color: Very important and has used strong ones, like magenta, in the house. Paint or wallpaper? Paint Subscribe or regularly buy decorating magazines? No, but might pick one up now and then Garden: Yes, has clear cut ideas, but has not yet implemented. Significant other help in decorating? Again, yes, will sometimes buy individual pieces Aspirations for the house: Spend more time in the garden, which is far more important than the interior of the house
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The final interviewee is a mother of seven from North Belfast. She's lived in the house for 15 years and wishes the kitchen were much bigger. Her house is traditionally decorated, complete with dado rails and striped wall paper. With seven kids, she has never had space for a junk room. Number of people living in house: three, but six other children and other family are always around. Favorite room: Living room. Why? "It's right cosy, it's where people like to spend their time." Color: Darker colors, fairly traditional Paint or wallpaper? Both Subscribe or regularly buy decorating magazines? No Garden? Small one in front, husband’s domain Significant other help in decorating? No Aspirations for the house: A bigger kitchen or preferably sell it and move to a nice big bungalow in the country, near the sea.
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Three very different women from divergent backgrounds with three distinct ways of forming their interior environments. One precise, planning, constantly looking for improvement and change; one interested in the organic development of her home, hanging home-made images as the mood takes her. The last very practical, decorating in a traditional manner in order to raise what to me seems like an impossible number of kids. All three seemed to crave more green space, or at least time in it, with more light. Not a surprise considering this murderous climate. What does their decorating sense say about their social groups? I don't know I ain't from here, you tell me.
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Suites You - Decorating The Northern Irish Home
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