Pensées (trans. Thoughts) is a speculative column, written by Mariam Khodair, where daydreams of a possible utopia are considered and quiet solutions are suggested in hopes of helping people better their lives in the subtlest of ways.
After having lived in various residential situations over the years – from my parents’ house to dormitories and, eventually, rented apartments – I found that I had developed a sense of hyper-awareness towards my private space; whether it was a shared double dorm room or a furnished-by-someone-else two-bedroom apartment. What I realised was that, regardless of the size of the space or even how long I intended to stay, the place only felt like home depending on how much of myself I was willing to invest in it. And although there were such cases where my space resembled a room in a motel (not even a hotel, sadly) rather than my own personal ‘Zimmer’ (German has a word specific for a room that is in a Home), it didn’t take long before I realised that my psyche was directly affected by, a) my having my own space and b) me feeling at home in said space. That is to say, when I found myself incapable of staying in, constantly anxious to go out, spending more time in cafes rather than at ‘home’, I realised that I had to change something about my life-space. Since then it has been an insightful journey towards understanding what I want to surround myself with, what kind of environment I feel most comfortable existing in and what vision I have for the ideal space that I daydream about when I feel ‘out of place’. And after employing the methods of observation, research, perseverance and trial-and-error, I can confidently say that the following five ideas are fool-proof ways to make a home out of any space you reside in.
The first thing I would suggest to anyone who is finding it hard to feel ‘at home’ is to start by introducing plants to every room in the house. Outside of their immediate effect of making any room look more chic, there is something perhaps spiritually, and definitely psychologically, uplifting about being around plants, or having them around you. Maybe it’s the fact that they release the very oxygen we need to stay alive, or the fact that they ARE alive which helps make a room feel ‘lived-in’, or that having a small obligation towards another living thing can provide one with a solemn sense of purpose. In any case, plants have the most positive effect on any space, be it home, office or outdoor. If I could spend the rest of this article just talking about how amazing plants are I would. Anyhow, there are many ways to include these refreshingly beautiful living things in your space, from dangling hanging plants off exposed piping to placing larger palms in bare corners or even displaying cooking herbs such as rosemary or basil on the dining table. And again, I would suggest having at least one in every room, including and especially the bathroom. The difference it makes is immediate and extremely aesthetically satisfying. On a more local, Cairo-level, I would advise readers to look for ‘plant guys’ in areas like Downtown or Mounira rather than buy them from Maadi or Zamalek for the sake of economy.
For me, art is both a flexible and rigid concept that causes less controversy than it should nowadays, but for the sake of this article that is beside the point. What I mean by artwork here doesn’t have to be a store bought painting or an antique looking sculpture; a beautiful pattern, collage or even an interesting one-page article cut out of a magazine and framed can do wonders in the guest bathroom or the reception. Or if the reader is more artistic/adventurous, try creating your own artwork in whichever style you find most comfortable: geometric and brightly coloured, simple pencil or ink contour drawings, or nicely arranged pressed flowers in a frame will add a personal touch. Even old childhood drawings an add an adorable and warming touch to the bedroom or kitchen. The options are endless and anything can be a candidate as long as it has some kind of aesthetic appeal or a backstory.
Another tip would be not to hide your pretty things. I’m talking about any interesting looking accessories such as vintage-looking sunglasses or a childhood shell necklace or even a nice looking candle holder or unused fancy jewellery box. Everyone has these miscellaneous items scattered in their junk drawers or their unsorted bags and usually it’s those small additions that make a difference on side tables in living rooms and counters in the receptions. With time, you’ll find that you’ve developed an eye for spotting, relocating and repurposing said items, all of which you already own.
As an avid reader for as long as I can remember, to me books are more than just a useful tip to decorate your space; they are valuable, soon to be priceless investments seeing as it seems as though they shall soon be obsolete. However, on a more superficial level, they are great items to display on empty shelves, in pile-filling an empty corner, or even in the bathroom next to the toilet (make sure it’s a brief and interesting read, a collection of short stories would be perfect). Personally, I would advise the reader go to Souq El Azbakeya, especially during their annual book fair in the spring, and purchase some ancient-looking hardback books, which are usually sold for 1/8th of their actual value, as they add an interesting and antique touch. Other good ideas for coffee table books are skill-related texts (‘How to Draw/Cook/Paint’, etc) and knowledge-related picture texts (historical/geographical/biographical) – basically, any easy-and-interesting-to-leaf-through-as-one-waits-here type of book. The more relevant the books are to the reader’s unique tastes and hobbies, the more they can have a presence outside of their decorative purpose, becoming an object of discussion or a subject for a personal project.
Another effective way to add complexity to your space (and also your outfits, by the way) is to drape different layers of garments with complimentary colours and patterns over couches, tables, even hanging down cupboards. These extra complexities give the space visual contrasts and depth, and can be very easily achieved using scarves, old blankets, even cheap ones from Ikea, tablecloths, or even presentable kitchen cloths. On a more general note, it’s always useful to figure out the intended colour palate for each room and stick to that scheme in order to safeguard your space from looking too visually discomforting (pink and red, for example, are rarely a good combination, but a light pink and a regular or navy blue complement each other well). That way, when picking out the different layers, it will be easier to figure out how to pair them so they fit together with each rooms unique set of colours. Additionally, I’ve discovered that drapery can also function in the same way as concealer does for blemishes: if there’s a worn out cushion or an unkempt laundry basket being an eyesore in your space, just concealing it with a scarf, a blanket, or even an elaborately patterned towel will sometimes do the trick.
This is my favourite tip because it’s healthy, delicious and decorative all at once. If real estate magazines can use this trick time and time again, why can’t we all? Fruit bowls are classically to gorgeous décor, both in works of art and in real life. Having a collection ‘on display’ on a nice-looking plate doesn’t just make the room more attractive, it also makes the fruit look more attractive to you, enticing you to eat them rather than risk having them tragically forgotten and left to rot in the bottom drawer of the fridge (as mine usually used to). I would suggest buying whatever fruit is in season and finding a good local fruits and veggies man-with-a-kart rather than buying from supermarket chains to guarantee the quality and have a shot at getting a fair price.
By Mariam Khodair