December '12

The Toronto Star

Read the online article :

At some point, the bachelor will be judged by his pad.

Sure, he can hide an unsightly inner sanctum from a prospective mate for a while. But soon enough, the hideous frat-boy horror in which he squats will have to be unveiled. From here, romantic prospects hang in the balance.

“I’m not sure I’ve ended a relationship because a guy lives in a disaster zone, but it’s been a factor,” says a 30-something female pal with the ocular ability to spot shelf dust at 20 paces. “At some point, watching a guy mindlessly exist in his own squalour every day changes how you view him.”

Translation: Wall-mounted deer heads, hockey stick furniture and NHL-themed wallpaper dramatically undermines a chap’s romantic allure.

Most of us bachelor types are oblivious to the silent revulsion induced by our interior decorating ineptitude. Where we see sacred fortresses of male solitude, she sees as an expression of our inner selves, a crystal ball revealing the future of what life might be like lived under the same roof, an early distant warning.

We are unaware of the female science of décor-based personality assessment. We are unknowing in the ways of fabric swatches and paint colour chips. Linking window covering choices to relationship suitability seems as incomprehensible as practicing restorative yoga.

The take-away here is that if you’re the typical single-and-seeking suitor, your domestic surroundings could likely use an upgrade. And you needn’t waste your time or money trying to do it yourself. That’s what got you into this literal mess in the first place.

Consider an expert.

“I hate these shiny pillows,” Toronto interior designer Laura Hay declares upon entering my living room for the first time, her face gradually re-shaping itself into a grimace.

“And silk drapes? No. We’re not in China. Shiny, dainty, silky pillows on a canvas slipcover can’t be more wrong.”

Hay isn’t what you’d call an interior design diplomat.

She possesses the kind of unyielding female vision that the single man needs — discerning and frank, like that of a sister who understands what your girlfriends would be thinking if they were standing where she is right now.

“If I walked in here for the first time, my first thought would be, ‘I don’t want to hang out in here. And I don’t even want to touch those pillows.’ ”

This explains so much.

“Men tend to just buy stuff they like without thinking about how it will all work together. You can’t just hang a hockey jersey on the wall and expect it to fit.”

On the hockey jersey issue, we vigorously disagree. This is evidence, says Hay, that my design instincts are dangerous and self-defeating.

Over the course of several meetings, she transformed the living room in my Beaches home from something resembling a nursing home waiting room to an “urban cottage” cast in deep rusty reds and browns with textured fabrics, a Roman window covering and chopped birch wood branches ruggedly poised by the fireplace.

An ornate, red carpet was banished to make room for a customized sisal rug, a reupholstered automan in a woven leather fabric and a “splash of drama” provided by a throw-rug.

“The animal hide rug is like an art piece on the floor that adds a masculine, modern effect,” Hay says reassuringly of the bold flooring choice. “It also says bachelor and adds interest to the room without being a piece of furniture.”

In one corner, a rustic-looking metal bin doubles as repository for newspapers and magazines once splayed out across the couch. And two tree-trunk lamps give the room new coziness with light cascading from ivory shades that match the original couch and chair.

“Now I feel like I should be reading a coffee table book on a Sunday with my sexy journalist boyfriend making me lattes. It’s part of the female fantasy. It says, ‘He’s got interests,’ he’s sophisticated and gets why this comes together.’ There’s an intelligence to it. It speaks to who you are rather than just being a collection of stuff.”

The lesson here, gentlemen, is as follows: Interior design holds the power to make you seem far more interesting than you really are. It’s the kind of optical illusion we can all get behind.

Hay also tackled the most heinous visual offences in my home: the pantry.

A small room off the kitchen, it is home to a gradually expanding junk heap of canned food, pots and pans, tools and abandoned car parts.

“It’s disgusting” Hay deadpans on first inspection. “Where do I start? My thought is, ‘Here’s a guy who needs a woman badly. It’s gross.”

Her vision included black marble countertops and maple cabinetry to match the kitchen, new lighting and a customized window cover.

The re-design learning curve includes strange, new worlds. Hay escorted me to the Crystal Tile and Marble showroom in north Toronto, a vast library of granite and marble chunks — from neon aqua to radiant orange — from around the world. She wisely talked me out of choosing a countertop featuring the team colours of my beloved Vancouver Canucks.

The final, far more refined, results were dramatic. My disorganized food chaos was tucked away into maple, shaker-style cabinets, new counter space became a breakfast bar for small appliances once cluttering the kitchen and a new wine fridge has turned me into a collector of fine yet reasonably priced nectars.

“Now, it’s an extension of the kitchen rather than a drop zone,” says Hay. “Women notice cleanliness and organization first. Filth is a deal breaker.”

Pantry 2.0, despite its diminutive size, now tells a story, she says.

“Women picture themselves in the space and a wine fridge speaks to a lifestyle that women want to be a part of. It says, ‘He cares about wine and entertaining and being social.’ ”

Live in visually upgraded space for a while and you become cooler and more confident than you really are.

And in that moment, you understand that Laura Hay is not just an interior designer and woman whisperer.

She’s a courtship engineer.

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