Friday, December 18, 2009

Nature v Nurture

As I was strolling arm-in-arm down the street with Miles Redd the other day he was reminiscing about his childhood. Oh, wait. Perhaps it didn't go quite like that.

Redd and I did have an exchange about his childhood, but it was more like this - I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Thomas Britt a few weeks ago. In my living room. Britt is from Kansas City and was in town to see friends. My editor and I thought it would be interesting - great fun, really - to interview him for the magazine. Beyond interesting, it was fascinating and immensely entertaining.

He told me stories of Studio 54 and maharajahs, but some of his most interesting tales were of his growing up. He told me of redecorating his parents' dining room while they were out of town. Really redecorating. Painting the floor and walls and installing salvaged columns and moving things around. "How'd they take it?" "What?" "The redecorating, when your mother came home from her trip, how did she react?" "React?! She loved it, of course!"

Of course. That is the kind of mother I want to be, but sometimes fall short. The kind of mother who would come home to find that her incredibly talented son had redecorated the dining room, better than she, and celebrate it. It got me thinking.

So I shot Redd an email. Did he, I wondered, begin showing an interest in lacquer and lamps while knee-high? And if so, did his folks just hand him a paint brush and go back to the Journal Constitution? Pretty much.

"As a child I had a fascination with with front doors and chandeliers," said Redd,"the grander the better. My bedroom was an ever-evolving canvas. I remember arranging stuffed animals and was always into the arts, painting and drawing.

My parents were very supportive. My mom, ever clever, would get me to decorate the house for Christmas. I would slave on pomanders and polish all the silver, but she had a strong sense of her own style and we did not always see eye-to-eye. I wanted ball fringe on everything, and my mother had a very colonial approach to things. She loved that scrubbed, Spartan look - polished mahogany, hemstitched linen, very plain silver, air twist glasses. She taught me restraint and understatement, and I suppose I teach her about a certain grandeur.

My mom has [my] Christmas list from age five requesting a fire place in my room. I thought falling asleep to the dying embers would be nice."

If only one of my boys would refer to me as "ever clever," I'd be quite content.

Image courtesy of Miles Redd.


Gwen Driscoll said...


Love it. I often wonder what my Lucy will think of me when she is older. I have dark thoughts of her thinking, "Mom is always working, always on the computer!" And then I think, but maybe she'll remember all her beautifully wrapped packages under the tree at Christmas and how much she loves to come to my office and "play" with the fabric samples & phones! Lord knows I hope a client isn't calling in when she is playing design assistant on the phones.

Nonetheless, I think a parent's greatest compliment is an understanding and respect of them from their adult children.

I hope Lucy can teach me something one day and hopefully redecorate my house. I'll be way to tired at that point to keep it fresh and interesting.

Thanks for the great post.

Ragland Hill Social

columnist said...

It's an ever interesting, (if not ever clever) question - to try and understand when "it" began, (one's inclination to design). We have the conversation in our household, and I think it begins at an early age, (about 7 or 8). Usually it's infulenced by someone, and in my case my grandmother, although I only worked that out quite recently, some 30 or 40 years on.

Jeremiah said...

Ah, we have to wait until your Britt piece is published before we see it here. Gotcha. said...

Very charming, this read left me with a grin on my face;)

Happy holidays!

mary said...

I'm in love with this post! Laughing til my sides hurt. The time will come when "the boys" will think that you are clever, but maybe it won't be what you want to be remembered for (I know: better clever at something rather than nothing). Have a great week-end now that school is out for Christmas break!!!

Town and Country Mom said...

How I enjoy your writing style and your insights! This post leaves me inspired--both to follow my own design dreams and to be a better mother to two teen boys, who have interest in design only when it comes to sporting goods and cars, and to a pre-teen daughter, who is constantly re-arranging her room.

Have a happy weekend.

Style Court said...

Lovely post. Miles has a great sense of humor and I think that might be why his beautiful rooms feel fresh and inviting.

So many decorators seems to have a good story about playing with color as a kid. Didn't Alexa Hampton get permission to paint her bedroom black? And Anne Coyle's parents supported her when she painted her room lime green, if I've got that right. Very glad you asked Miles. Wish we could see his childhood art.

home before dark said...

Graham Greene said something like in every child's life there is a moment when the door opens and the future walks in. I think much of what becomes is hardwired. It's what happens on that continuum called nurture, life experience, that allows that seed to grow. Or in Redd's case, Bloom Big Time. There is that nerve wracking-guilt inducing thing called motherhood where we don't want to hover, over encourage or horrors that hollywood mother syndrome. I think the B boys are getting exposed to their heart's calling. You just may not have seen it yet. Afterall, Magnaverde came home from softball practice and studied 1947 magazines in great privacy to fuel his dreams. Loved that story of his on EEE's blog this week.

Relax, mom. You're doing great.

Susanne said...

Love your blog! And particularly any post with Miles Redd as the subject. You always seem to glean new information from him, providing a different angle from the usual write-ups. I cannot get enough of his thought process and design insight. Thanks!!!

Karin said...

They will. In time.

Toad said...

What I find from boy children is that when they are old enough to spend a lot of time away from home, mom's become more appreciated.

They see things done at others homes that wouldn't be tolerated or "done" at home and they love mom more.

Isabella & Max Rooms said...

A fireplace for your bedroom on your Christmas list?! How telling!

Happiest of Holidays! Janell

Karena said...

Icons of the interior design world....your friends! Great post. Miles and Thomas both do some of the most astounding work!

Marisa said...

Patricia-- what fun, Miles is so inspiring and I loved hearing what drew his eye as a child. Merry Merry!

Frognall Dibdin said...

I never realized how chic my mother was until I was in college and brought friends back home during the holidays. The boys will come to appreciate what a talented mother they have as you continue to set the example that you do...

Linenqueen said...

My Mother was very careful about quality. We used to go to the Plaza there in Kansas City and visit expensive shops. Never could we afford the merchandise but always my Mother would educate me about quality; why one thing was better than another. And just as often why a thing was just expensive without an accompanying increased in quality. I grew up with taste and the ability to discriminate. For whatever reason, your boys will choose wives who embody your sense of life. And these dear young women will kneel at your feet for all their decorating decisions. Lucky you will have a whole new generation to guide though the intricies of interior design.

Keep on blogging, we love you. Ann

Errant Aesthete said...

Mrs. Blandings,

What a charming and thoughtful post. I loved everything from the air twist glasses to Redd's understanding of the exchange between his mother and himself: "She taught me restraint and understatement" and he, in turn, taught her "grandeur."

So often, I think, it's not about the choices in decorating, but the history, behaviors and shared experiences that inspired it. How fortunate for him to have had not only a "clever" mother, but more importantly a loving and supportive one as well.

Renee Finberg said...

there is no question about it,
his abilities are innate.

xx merry Christmas!!

Vanessa said...

Love your writing and wit! I too enjoy hearing about a designer's early interest and opinions on decorating and design.

Greet said...

Decorating talent is yet to see at an early age I think! I loved to decorate for Christmas with my mother at the age or 6 à 7 years old!!

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2010!


Millie said...

As the mother of 5 sons (including a Myles), what can I possibly add here Patricia? Except to say that my heart nearly burst when recently I overheard this gem from a meeeting of the brothers. 'Hey man, that sofa you want might be big & cheap, but remember what Mum always said about style over substance!'
Millie ^_^