Why decorating your home buys you adventure--as well as furniture.
“Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.” --Gustave Flaubert
Which would you rather do: take a trip to Paris or purchase a chair by a famous French designer?
Psychological research reveals that people gain more happiness from experiences than from possessions. The reason for this? That anticipation of an experience such as a vacation or a gourmet dinner is exciting and endures longer, whereas purchase of an object is anticipated only with impatience: “I want it now!” And, once the acquisition is complete, we quickly become accustomed to and eventually bored with what we have bought. A pleasant experience, in contrast, creates not only anticipation, but new memories for us to savor, sometimes even years later.
I believe there is one major exception to this well-documented phenomenon, and that exception is decorating. Decorating a room, an apartment, or a whole house is not something best done in one fell swoop, but involves a period of planning and anticipation similar to that preceding a long journey. There are so many elements to be assembled and decided upon in decorating even a single room, that pleasurable anticipation may be felt at many stages of the process.
Perhaps the word process is the key: the creation of a beautiful room, even by an experienced decorator whose services we pay for, is by definition a process we become deeply engaged in rather than a one-time purchase. Decorating is a process analogous to an exotic journey, a Grand Tour of the material riches and curiosities the world has to offer, bringing them home, and making them work together, which takes more time than money. Fortunately, in a melting pot metropolis such as New York City, there is a mind-boggling abundance of both foreign and domestic goods to choose from, for those on a budget as well as the wealthy.
I would go further still and say that our home constitutes a world unto itself whose aesthetic possibilities we should explore as if on an adventure. Home is a place of experience--of family, friends, love, passion--as well as consumption.The quality of those experiences within its four walls is profoundly shaped by how we decorate.
When we decorate, we become the artists and authors of our own experience. Decorating, unlike a one-time purchase--or a vacation, for that matter-- is never over with. We can continue editing and adding to our home indefinitely. Decorating is a pleasure which keeps on giving. Indeed, it provides us with the best of both worlds: tangible things we may possess for a long time; exciting experiences of aesthetic planning and choice which create pleasurable anticipation as well as later satisfaction over a job well done.
Just as in an exotic journey, the unexpected may occur. Decorators--and that includes all of us--are famous for changing their minds. You may concoct the ‘perfect’ color scheme only to find that when you implement it it needs tinkering.
To return to my original question, about the trip to Paris vs. the French designer’s chair, buying the chair is like bringing a small piece of Paris into your home, where you may live with it as a reminder of another, different world across the ocean, far away. This is not to say choose furniture over a trip; travel is one of the most transformative experiences our planet has to offer. But if we can imbue our domestic lives with the same verve we bring to our travels--curiosity, flexibility, openness, awe--home will not be a confining routine to escape from but a place of both inward and material adventure.
Above: Hadley Dining Chair based on French designer Jean Prouve’s Standard Chair, c. 1950.
Above: Wiley Floor Lamp, based on French industrial designer Serge Mouille’s Three-armed Floor Lamp of 1953.