Volume 74, Number 50 | April 20 - 26 , 2005

The big white lie: A window onto spring-cleaning

By Wilson

Forget about apartment makeovers on “Queer Eye” and “Trading Spaces” when “spring-cleaning” this year. The most honest reflections of American interior design are on “Cops” or “Animal Precinct.”

A giant color TV is always blasting away at top volume, homey decorations are askew, and the “before” on this type of unadulterated “reality TV” never gets an attractive “after.” These messy dwellings aren’t shown in the Pottery Barn,* Crate and Barrel or Ikea catalogues either, where all the floors are clean and cordless, light and bright — it’s the people who push this impossible look that should be arrested.

According to the Style section in the March 6 issue of The Sunday New York Times Magazine entitled “All White Now,” Pilar Viladas writes “white is the new black.” But whenever I see a white on a chair or someplace where a rear end’s supposed to go, my face turns burgundy. Like a fresh blanket of snow or a carton of milk, white goes bad fast. And just who do those people with ivory-colored, high-maintenance carpets think they’re fooling? Evidence of vacuum cleaner tire tracks and toxic chemicals on accidents (evil red wine and satanic coffee!) is everywhere. One false move, and that pristine sectional gets slapped with ugly/ill-fitting slipcover. In this city of bus fumes, restaurant exhausts, construction debris, disaster aftermath and toxic contaminants, white textiles are the impossible dream, a deceptive and ephemeral lie.

Ironically, I feel you can never own too many white shirts (and still can’t handle the wearing of white on the lower half of the body during “wasp” season). And many years ago, I even an idea for an East Village boutique that sold only white merchandise imported from Turkey, called Underware: For Home and Body. Thick and sumptuous towels, curtains, tablecloths and sheet sets of the highest thread count. Lush terry-cloth bathrobes, warm blankets, high-quality pajamas and underwear, including T-shirts, tights, and socks; and lovely hand-embroidered camisoles. My co-partner had a large, storefront apartment with tremendous foot traffic, and a huge courtyard out back. It used to be a dentist’s office until the ’70s (when the entire city went down the toilet), so there was excellent/diverse plumbing throughout, and lots of tiles and marble. I fantasized about window displays, inventory, an outdoor fountain. But an obscure zoning law ruled that the essence and/or basic nature of the business at said address could not be changed — unless I came up with lots more money, patience and a shifty properties lawyer.

Recently, I had to use a fan and a hair drier to blow dirt into a corner and dust out the window because HEPA vacuum cleaner broke, and I’m starting to feel like Martha on Mars. This past winter, the hard angles of my trendy mid-century furniture (that just so happened to come from a store called White), have given me so many bruises I look like I’ve been in a fight. Hey, is that “Cops” at the door?! Before I get arrested, I’d like to share an exclusive/you-heard-it-here-first apartment secret/strategy with the readers of this fine publication:

This spring, if you’re looking for a cheap rental, get outside, ride a bike, walk around — and take a look at the windows. If they aren’t the new, brown metal windows — that always break and are difficult to raise and shut, and in some cases have even severed digits — and they’re the wooden, dirty and dilapidated ones, you’re in luck. The person living there is either very old, eccentric or suspicious and /or didn’t want the landlord, or anyone else, coming inside, or to pay a major capital improvement/M.C.I. rent increase. The place is way rent-regulated, and if the leaseholder doesn’t have succession arrangements worked out with a lawful family member, it could be yours provided you “network” early on with the landlord — or get the tenant to adopt/marry you for at least two years.

Just don’t fall for the big white lie in spring-cleaning and interior design. White isn’t even a color!

* Caution: Pottery Barn’s catalog features the worst/most dangerous candle arrangements: next to curtains, dried/dead foliage displays, places where a pet or pet tail can knock them over, etc.

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