Think about all the major moments in your life, times of splendid inspiration or utter meltdowns. Where were you when that moment occurred? Were you driving in a car? Most men are naturally gifted when it comes to processing a large volume of information while driving a car. Were you in the shower? Stunning how women come out of the shower with major pronouncements. For our family, it was “the couch”.
Inanimate objects have no special power. As rational people, we know better. Yet, many of us carry a lucky rabbit’s foot, a four-leafed clover, or, if we’re on a pitching streak in the Major League, we might even wear the same socks. Is it the object that has the power, or is the object a bit of a crutch which gives us an extra boost of courage? Well, our “couch” has special power.
For most of my life, I was a business and numbers person = pragmatic but quick decisions, rule with head over heart, cool and rational. It was difficult to empathize with the touchy-feely emotions of others as they wrestled endlessly with small decisions or perceived injustices. I had to work on that part of my character, and thus learn to stop, breath, and listen to what others said and felt. I am aware impatience with whiny people is my Achilles Heel.
When we bought the B&B, I was finishing a few more degrees at a local college. I knew renovating and decorating would be pricey, and thought I should take a senior level class on “period architecture and interiors”. In that way, I could, at least, talk to an interior designer and not sound like a fool. More importantly, with limited funds, I couldn’t afford to be taken advantage of by an interior designer who was working on HER “vision” which didn’t fit MY budget. Admittedly, I falsely presumed interior designers were fluff-queens, or those who could not excel in disciplines like business or biology. Of course, I was wrong about interior designers and worked my ass off to get a “C” in the class.
One class, taken on a lark, for ALL the wrong reasons, saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime and made me a better person. The class also allowed me to make faster decisions, fiscally prudent decisions, which were better decisions…. pragmatism returned. Strangely, one single class helped my family and friends with divine inspiration, and many tears. The class taught me about the power of spaces, big and small, and the power of …. the couch.
Practically speaking, the class taught me about color of floorcovering, first, upon which everything rotates around. Thus, all the furniture in our large home can be moved to any room, even the upholstered pieces, and even though all the rooms LOOK different. For instance, one room is red/Oriental trim, and another is an English chintz explosion, but the furniture works anywhere. It’s a masterful trick, and dozens, if not hundreds, of times we have moved furniture throughout the house for various needs. Yet, more importantly, the class taught me about small spaces versus large spaces — and how people respond, physically and emotionally, to those spaces.
To me, it was like discovering gravity. We always knew it was there, but now, I understood why it worked. We all have small spaces in our homes and people are instinctively drawn to them. The class explained the why.
Small spaces are intimate, lower ceilings, lamp-light versus overhead lights, quiet, not in a traffic pattern, a place where one “feels” safe sharing a secret. Large spaces are public spaces, big and grand, where we might be wearing a mask, more apt to hide our true feelings. Thus, if you might want to learn how someone really feels, listen to them closely, and do it in a small space. AND be particularly cognizant of big versus small spaces if you have children, because all spaces are perceived as bigger from a child’s point of view.
Our house is big and has tall ceilings. Therefore, creating small spaces presented a challenge. I started with “end of traffic pattern”, and then created everything else for small spaces, including a cozy couch, in a nook, with low light, in front of a fireplace. The result was surprising, unbelievable, but 100% proven and accurate. All kinds of people, especially children, would gravitate to our master bedroom couch, when they want to unburden themselves of …. anything. From adults to little ones, the couch….worked.
We created another space, upstairs in my office, for a small space secret couch, underneath an enormous window. My son’s friends would divulge all their innermost fears, family problems, girl problems, school problems, even abuse…. while sitting on that couch. One Friday, as was typical, my son’s friends came home and invaded my office. After work hours, one by one, the friends drifted away until only one remained. He decided to spend the night. After dinner, the boys were talking about random things. I tried to leave a few times, until he told me, “I miss talking like this – like we did when we were little kids…”, never mind …. the boys were only in 7th grade at the time. The need to talk, be together, bond, is part of human nature. We all need it. The couch… makes it happen.
When I married my current husband, with four daughters, the legend of the couch grew. LOTS of tears and drama with girls, and I practiced my listening skills as the years flew by. Our children were good at spotting people whom they thought needed a little help, and they brought them home, to the couch. Over time, the family understood the couch, often joked about it, but always respected the strange power the couch had. “The couch” became analogous to an unburdening, truth telling, unconditional love, support, self-conscious, forgiveness, repenting, revelations, protection, bright ideas, and courage to move forward.
I was folding laundry one afternoon in the bedroom and a 14yr old Gunner and his buddy came sauntering in. “What’s up?”, I said. They were working on filing their first patent for an invention they cooked up… which actually, was pretty cool. “We need to think….”, they said, and plopped down on the couch. We hashed it out = patent filed.
Another time, my son became serious about a young woman, who was having family problems. He brought her home, weekend after weekend, until she softened. As Gunner said, “If I can just get her to the couch, she’ll be fine.” Another time, Gunner warned a friend who sat down on the couch, “Be careful when you sit there, all your deepest thoughts will be revealed.” A daughter called, having problems with her new husband. “He needs to spend some time on the couch”, she said. And then, many moons ago, we got a knock on the door at about 2:30am. It was a young man from down the street. He was terrified and burst into our home as soon as we opened the door. He was crying and ran from me – through the house – straight to the couch…. the safe place. He curled up in a ball, and cried for hours.
For about 5 years, we had a cottage on the shore. It was a tiny house, but had a big and oddly shaped master bedroom. Husband got it on a whim. When I got there and we finalized our plans, we put in another “couch” and chaise lounge in the extra master bedroom space. The girls and the one boy child, Gunner, and their friends, utilized the couch small space more than ever before. After a particularly rambunctious afternoon, husband and I were downstairs putting things away but the kids headed upstairs to shower. By the time I got there, I found 8 youngsters sprawled, sound asleep in various positions – all around and on top of the couch. Small space, cozy, safe, good light, comfy.
We created another small space, downstairs at the beach house, directly off of a large side porch. The kids found a couch in a garage sale for $1, and desperately wanted it. Had it recovered with $1/yd fabric and stuffed it into a corner, with an old TV, and an overstuffed chair and ottoman. The space was so small an adult could barely turn around. For the kids, it was everything. The kids begged to have their sleepovers THERE, instead of their bedrooms. It was the Saturday morning cartoon spot, the build a fort spot, far enough away from the kitchen to share secrets. With access to the side porch, that spot became the kid’s entrance, a pick up spot for play dates, or if another kid in the neighborhood was lonely, they could always find a friend… at that spot. Husband admitted, years later, when the kids and I were not at the house, he often fell asleep there. What is it about small safe spaces?
I’m looking at the couch in our bedroom right now. If it could only talk. It needs to be recovered again, fix a few springs. How many girlfriends, kids, a few policemen after a bad call, tears, infidelities, secrets, plans hatched, report cards, young men planning their engagements to the love of their life….. has that couch seen?
If we think back to our grandparents homes, when we were children, we found those couches and small spaces when we were young. Grandma never took an interior design class, they did on instinct.
Bigger is NOT always better. For comfort of the soul, create small spaces as well.