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.
This article is a continuation of its counterpart 5 Easy (and Thrifty!) Ways to Spruce up Your Living Space, but with a more ‘conceptual’ outlook on renovating space, considering general ideas rather than specific objects as suggestions to make your place feel like home.
This section, by nature of being more general than the others, is more widely implementable in different aspects of enhancing your ‘interior design’. For starters, the only thing that is better than having a set of identical chairs at a dining table is to have an eclectic collection of different-sized, cushioned and styled seating options. This, of course, is intended towards a more modern, casual style rather than a classical, formal one, which is much harder to pull off without spending a fortune. This suggestion also applies to the previous article’s section on drapery, and can be implemented when considering carpets, bed spreads, kitchen and bathroom towels. Together with having formed an intended colour scheme is the foundation for every room’s ‘personality’ and helps create an environment that is more purpose-oriented with a relevant ‘ambience’, i.e. relaxed and casual for a den, productive and formal for an office space, et al. There are some loose tips, like avoiding mixing two patterns of a kind (like two polka dotted pillow cases) and instead juxtaposing different styles to help bring out the best in both of them (like abstract stripes with dainty floral) and trying to keep a balance so it doesn’t turn into a competition (a sequined, sparkly pattern deserves to be supported by a humbler solid coloured counterpart) and so on. These kinds of ‘rules’always vary from person to person, although there are universal guidelines, to some extent that, when followed, always yield good results.
One of the most influential aspects of a space is its lighting. Although people have varying tastes when it comes to the preference of brightness and colour of their space’s lighting, the ‘yellow’ incandescent bulbs (energy savers are ideal!) which have a warmer, easier-on-the-eye glow are usually more comfortable than their ‘white’ fluorescent, hospital cousins.
Outside of the bulb specifics, another important variable in lighting is the fixture itself: having a multifarious collection of side lamps, fairy lights, even minimalist desk lamps and local, good quality candles is the key to setting a textured spatial illumination and having dimmer alternatives to the installed overhead lights that get too bright towards the end of the day.
The last point on this subject would be placement. It is important to take note of two things when considering where to position your light sources: firstly, the function of the light and its intended surface area to cover in the specific room; and secondly, the main object of its ‘attention’, as in the space that the light’s rays will be perpendicular to, thereby attracting to it the most attention. The second point is critical when positioning a light next to a work of art, or if lighting fixture is primarily designed for display rather than practical use.
This might not seem like a relevant suggestion at first but, from experience, it really does factor into how homely a space feels. That is not to say that without a pet a place wouldn’t feel like home, but more accurately it is an added plus, for the same reason as with plants about having ‘life’, literally, existing around you except with a pet it’s on a more profound, emotional level. This option, of course, would mostly apply to people who already enjoy the company of animals and, more critically, ones who live a lifestyle that caters to being responsible of another living creature. Luckily, every pet comes with its own degree of responsibility, for example dogs require higher attention than cats, who only need to be fed and played with every so often.
What I would suggest, especially if the reader wants to stay on the cheaper side, is to look around your neighbourhood for a stray kitten or puppy (every district in Cairo is ‘littered’ with them!). Another personal tip for those who either have a busy schedule or a tight budget is, in addition to sticking to cats rather than dogs, to stay away from ‘dry food’ or even special ‘wet food’ tins because it is not only overpriced (more expensive than most of its human food equivalents!) but unnaturally concocted for natural beings. It is unreasonable to suggest that an artificial substance is ‘better fit’ for an animal that is a product of nature, despite there being an entire industry behind it. Anyhow, to keep things light and on topic, the point is to just feed your pet whatever you are eating! My kitty eats tuna, chicken, egg, rice, bread, peanut butter and even (believe it or not) Oreo cream and she’s as healthy as can be. The only costs end up being her litter and doctor’s appointments, which are less frequent after the first few months and not nearly as expensive as one regular pie from Pizza Hut. All that being said I want to discourage any readers who do not plan on treating their new pet with the utmost care and attention from considering this option, as it is okay to not be ‘an animal person’ but it’s unethical to be neglectful of a living thing that is your dependent.
I know that wood is one of the more expensive materials in general, but even a little of it goes a long way aesthetically. Anyone who has seen the inside of a Swiss house (Google it!) or a log cabin understands the warmth wood exudes into any space. Personally, it automatically makes me want to be drinking hot chocolate with mini marshmallows while wearing mittens. Aside from recommending it over plastic and most metal items, even faux-wood always makes for a cosier option than not. And, if the space is a permanent residence, as difficult as it is to find one, I would strongly recommend finding a trustworthy, local carpenter to custom-make furniture (you could use the store-bought versions as a reference to avoid the dilemma of having too many stylistic options or none at all to work with). In this case, a bit of research would help facilitate the process for you and your carpenter, so I would suggest making a ‘scrapbook’ of inspirational visual examples and quick observational notes that can help direct you towards the kind of final product you hope to see (check out airbnb.com or the Ikea website or even pay attention to the living spaces in your favourite movies!). This will guarantee that you’re getting your money’s worth (although it largely relies on the carpenter having a strong moral and work ethic) and that the furniture will be tailored to the unique dimensions of your space and the item’s intended function. Otherwise, smaller objects, such as frames, coasters, bed-in-breakfast tables, bowls and others also usually have their wood or wood-alternative options as long as you keep an eye out for them.
Last but not least, the only intangible suggestion that can fill ‘the emptiness’ of a space in a way that no tangible thing can: Music. When I was a kid, the radio was always on in the kitchen, playing the latest music and filling the sound space with melody and rhythm, creating a constant flow of auditory energy. Now, I generally prefer playing minimalist instrumentals and piano tracks (check out George Winston!) or on chore-filled days I’d rather listen to something more energetic (like Nirvana or Sonic Youth) or if I’m being completely adventurous I’ll put my whole library on shuffle or find a cool-looking playlist on YouTube.
Those are just examples of how music can be a great supplement to many kinds of situations, creating an extra dimension to your space and providing a ‘texture’ to passing time. Take a couple of minutes to make a track list of your favourite songs and play them out loud in your space, if you don’t already, and I guarantee that your space will feel more like your place.
By Mariam Khodair