One summer my father built an addition on to our house. We got a new living room, kitchen and an indoor bathroom. My mother was proud of the rooms; she went around taking pictures and sending the photos back to her relatives in Sweden. Funny how I’m always at the edge of these “House Beautiful” shots. I always felt like I was at the very edge of my family.
Just look at this room: shiny wood everywhere. What could have been warm wood tones ends up just being cool and flat, the polished surfaces reflect everything back and bounce it off the walls and floors, ricocheting off into empty infinity. The floor is a hardwood tile, the grain going in opposite directions every other tile so it would look like a checkerboard if you could see the whole thing, but it’s so nice my mother keeps it hidden, covered up with a big braided rug, concentric brown circles expanding outward, like a stone thrown in a muddy pond. The walls are shiny walnut paneling, a few shades darker than the floor. There are only a few pictures hanging on the walls, and they are so spaced out that they look absurd, like a single postage stamp on a great big brown envelope.
It’s formal but not tuxedo-and-ball-gown formal, the things in it weren’t particularly tasteful or elegant, but formal in an awkward way: like the way you act when you are forced to have contact with someone that you really don’t like but you can’t show it. Maybe you're not even aware that you don't like them very much, you just don't know them at all. If we were Spanish we would have used the formal “usted” between us.
All the furniture is pushed back against the walls and it’s all symmetrical: end table, sofa, end table; chair, bookcase chair, and they are arranged so that when they are sat in, no one is quite face to face with anyone else. There are no conversation areas here; there wouldn’t be any conversations, either, not really.
Maybe my mother put me in the shot for scale, or maybe just to include another proud accomplishment into the picture. Either way, there I am, right on the edge.