On the whole, the Pink House Husband is a very tolerant and long-suffering man, especially when it comes to my rather bold home decor choices. However, he does enjoy the odd moan. Here are his top three complaints:
- Home is too cluttered
- Home contains too many weird items
- Home is too pink
Last week, when PHH objected to my latest cushion acquisition (too cluttered; too weird; too pink), I had a lightbulb moment. Instead of ignoring/arguing with PHH's interior design-based complaints, perhaps it was time to let him have his own way for a while!
To be clear, by 'his own way', I mean 'within strict boundaries set by myself, resulting in his realisation that I'm WAY better at this than he is, so he'll stop whinging in future'. And by 'a while', I mean 'about 20 minutes'. Which is how the idea for 'The Pink House Husband's Styling Challenge' was born.
Here's how it works: I will set PHH three styling challenges, as follows:
- Styling the empty mantlepiece
- Styling the Alphabet chest, with the birdcage lamp on top
- Styling the over-loo bathroom shelf, using a MINIMUM of eight items
To help/persuade him to partake, I gather a selection of potential styling items. I make it clear that while he's free to use any of them, he's also free NOT to use them, and to roam the house - and/or streets - finding his own decor. I explain his performance in each challenge will be scored out of of 10.
The thing about PHH is that he's really very clever. He knows how to work Excel spreadsheets with actual formulas (not just to write shopping lists); he genuinely understands tax; and there's nothing he doesn't know about carbon footprinting a packet of crisps (yes, this is a thing). But PHH is not just smart; he's also creative - apparently he got an "A band 2" in Higher Art (Highers are like A Levels in Scotland - A band 2 means you're practically perfect) - and highly competitive.
So when I say I'm setting him a creative challenge which involves a) intellect, b) creativity, and c) the scope to decorate our home as he sees fit (i.e. better than I do it), he's quite keen.
OK, in exchange for his public humiliation I also have to promise he can watch the Netflix programme of his choice that night, and that I'll do the post-kids'-bedtime chocolate run, but after that he grudgingly agrees. Let's see how he gets on...
Challenge 1: The Empty Mantlepiece
PHH: 'What? I have to style the whole mantlepiece?'
ME: 'Yes. Do you know what styling actually means?
PHH: 'Mmmm...sort of...making it look nice?'
ME: Yeah I suppose so. So - do you want any tips?
PHH: No. If I'm going to be humiliated on the internet it's probably better it's me on my own, naturally incompetent, instead of demonstrating my inability to take instruction. [NOTE: this is how PHH actually talks - I'm not making it up]
ME: Whatever works for you. On you go then.
After scanning the props table, PHH makes a beeline for the three manly brass Buster + Punch candle holders, which he places at one end of the mantlepiece. Next, he picks up the vase of faux peonies and puts it square in the middle of the mantle (where I usually have it). A few seconds' pause, he selects a picture of the kids (I knew it!) and plonks it at one end. He stands for a few seconds, gazing at his handiwork. Finally, and with a flourish, he picks up the pink potted succulent and places it next to the picture.
PHH: There! I'm finished!
I look at the mantlepiece. It is basically empty. He has spent approximately three minutes 'styling' it.
ME: Come on; there's hardly anything there - can't you get creative?
PHH stares at me, before turning his attention to a small knitted cactus I bought a couple of weeks ago that he declared 'completely pointless'. Suddenly he vanishes out of the room and I hear him going upstairs.
A few minutes later he wanders back in, empty handed, and starts making a cup of tea.
PHH: That's what I want it to look like. I like the mantlepiece without much stuff on it. You know that.
ME: So do you think the mantlepiece looks better than when I style it?
PHH: No - you have an eye for it. But you put on too much stuff.
ME: Can you do better than this then?
ME *exasperatedly*: Then TRY!
PHH *patronisingly*: One can always do better, is the point. I'm content with what I have achieved.
ME *in desperation*: How about some books?!
PHH: Books don't belong on a mantlepiece.
And with that, he takes a gulp of tea and demolishes a Jaffa Cake.
SCORE: 3/10 (serious lack of imagination, but could have been worse)
Challenge 2: The Alphabet Chest
ME: So this time you need to style the alphabet chest with the bird lamp on it.
I take a photo of the chest, as above.
PHH: Let's see the photo.
After studying it for a while, PHH springs into styling action. The first thing he does is - gasp! - remove my beloved bird lamp, carrying it to the other side of the room. Then he unplugs the pea-green Jielde table lamp from the kitchen table and places it on the cabinet instead. I eat three Jaffa Cakes while forcing myself to stay silent.
PHH pauses, studying the prop table. I've made this too easy for him, I think. I should have left him to find his own props. Although if I'd done that there's a very real chance the the Challenge would never have taken place at all.
He makes his move, selecting the colourful pile of green, pink and yellow Wallpaper City Guides, and the green vase filled with yellow roses, plonking the vase on the books, next to the green lamp.
I can practically hear his thought process: 'green goes with green - job done!' He steps back and surveys the scene.
ME: Why did you put the vase on the books?
PHH: Cos it creates a nice shape.
ME: That's a classic styling trick. Have you seen me do that before?
PHH: Dunno. Maybe. But it's all about getting inspiration from different sources.
Smirking, he goes through to the kitchen and starts chopping vegetables to make soup. PHH likes soup. It's actually number one of his three favourite things of all time, including me. Rugby is number two.
PHH *calling through*: I'm not finished the styling. I'm just thinking about what else I could do.
He thinks while chopping six carrots, four celery stalks and an onion. Then he puts the knife down, comes back through and starts fiddling with the lamp and the angle of the books.
ME: Is that it?
He goes back to making soup. Onions and bacon are sizzling now, and the kettle is boiling. Broccoli pieces have been added to the mix. PHH walks back to where I'm waiting. He scrutinises the top of the alphabet chest.
PHH: Actually yeah. I'm content with that.
ME: Talk me through it then. Why did you lose the bird lamp?
PHH *considers for a few seconds*: It was too bitty. Too messy. All those little dabs of colour with the alphabet letters and the colours in the picture above.
I look at the 'before' picture. I kind of see what he means.
PHH *warming to his theme*: The colour of the books is consistent with the picture, but they're not too in-your-face.
ME: And the flowers?
PHH: Cos I like nature. Job done!
He once again heads back to the soup pan.
ME *following him to the kitchen*: You've used a pink book. Why? I thought you'd had enough of pink.
PHH: I quite like pink. In small doses.
He looks at me pointedly, then goes back to stirring the pot.
SCORE: 6/10 (I guess he had a valid point or two. And he did make some soup)
Challenge 3: The Bathroom Shelfie
ME: In this challenge you have to use eight things to style the bathroom shelf.
PHH: But it'll be too cluttered!
ME: Objection noted. But that's the challenge.
PHH: But I don't want to. It's an artificial constraint.
ME: Well what do you think the rest of the challenge is then? A perfectly natural way of living?
PHH gives me a scathing/defeated look, wanders into our bedroom and returns with a pink scented candle and a blue-green ceramic pot. He then proceeds to rummage in the under-sink cupboard, removing a green plastic turtle, a purple rubber duck and an orange Nemo toy. I fear piss-taking may be in progress.
I wait, perched on the loo seat, as he vanishes downstairs. I hear clanking in the kitchen. Two minutes later he returns with a wooden tray, upon which he has placed:
- a small succulent
- a golden apple ornament
- the kids' neon-bright swimming goggles
I'm not impressed with the direction in which this seems to be going. But instead of chastising his lack of commitment, I decide to leave him to it and go downstairs to faff about on Instagram. After five minutes he joins me.
PHH: I think I'm done.
I give him the same stern, 'oh-are-you-really?' look my six-year-old receives post 'room tidying'.
PHH *decisively*: Yes. I am done.
ME: Do you want me to come and inspect your work?
PHH: Yeah. OK. *pause* I shouldn't have had that whisky last night. It's making me feel...jittery.
ME: Are you sure that isn't the bottle of wine you had before the whisky?
We head upstairs to the bathroom, where this scene awaits me:
I'm so surprised that the marble shelf isn't filled with garish bath toys and swimming goggles that for a moment I can't make out what I'm seeing. And is that...coral?
ME: Um. Wow. This looks...pretty good. Can you talk me through your, er, process?
PHH *beneficently*: Of course. So I was starting with a palette of white, grey and brass with the marble shelf, white tiles and grey grouting, and the loo handle. This looked quite bland and flat, so I thought, you need different colours to catch the eye...
My jaw has literally fallen open. Who IS this man?
PHH: ...and that's why I used the black box and the coral and the greeny-turquoise things. And then the brass frame and the candle holder thing looked like they'd fit nicely. And then I just chucked it all up there.
My Pink House Husband is looking at me like a cat with a lovingly mangled mouse. Then I realise: he actually cares what I think! I manage to resist stroking his head.
ME: That's really very good my love.
PHH: Great. Right, now go away. I need a pee.
SCORE: 8/10 (who knew? Pink House Husband can STYLE)