The case of the missing gay gene

Among the many stereotypes about gay men, a common one is that we all have fahbulously good taste, particularly in interior design. It’s in the genes. It comes naturally.

When Stew mentioned to his brother on the phone that we might be hiring an interior designer he heard his sister-in-law jokingly shouting in the background, “You mean two gay guys don’t know how to decorate a house??”

Indeed if you watch Home and Garden TV–we’ve tried to but can’t take more than 10 minutes at a time–all the interior designers seem to be either women or gay men. And for my money, a lot of the stuff they come up with–maybe because of time constraints–is pretty cheesy. One show is called “Design on a Dime,” and the results often look like they are worth about that much.

Some of our gay friends seem to be blessed with the gay decorating gene. Two guys from Chicago who moved to San Miguel around the same time we did, bought a house, added rooms here, combined some there, converted the garage into something else, knocked down walls, redid the backyard to include a small pool and must have bought what to us seems like several truckloads of furniture, mirrors, pictures and doodads. We hear the remodeling and redecorating proceeded with military precision and self-assuredness. The results are unquestionably beautiful.

A few weeks ago their home was selected for the weekly San Miguel Home and Garden Tour, a walk-through of houses deemed to rank high enough on the fahbulosity scale. (Coincidentally, many of them also are for sale and the tour is one more marketing ploy.)

That is not the case with Stew and me. If in fact gay men carry some sort of interior-design gene in their DNA, we may be deficient. Our previous homes in Chicago were very attractive and most of all comfortable, or so we were told, though Architectural Digest never came knocking at our door to do a spread.

As much as Stew and I labored over the mechanical aspects of the house–plumbing, wiring, rainwater catchment, sun exposure, insulation, etc.–we don’t have a clue what to do with the interior.

For us the hard part is the furniture, drapes and other details. We own only scraps of furniture. Most of the pieces we brought from Chicago, at considerable cost, probably should have stayed there. We’ve gotten rid of most them and are down to the most minimalist minimalism. Check out the pictures above.

Around the dining room we have four green outdoor plastic chairs, the rugs are threadbare, one with holes created when our dog Lucy had one of her panic attacks. The cats have been exercising their claws on a 10-year-old Lazy Boy that remains just about the most comfortable seating in the house. The bed is OK, particularly the Tempu-Pedic mattress.

Other than an Eames chair, a Eileen Gray table, a really funky architect flat file converted into a coffee table and two Aeron office chairs, we really own no furniture of any great value. Maybe we can also keep the oak library table that now serves as a desk.

So about six months ago we decided to hire an interior designer. The first guy we tried to work with was straight, though I don’t think that was his fatal flaw. His fees definitely were a problem, especially when he charged us for breakfast meetings and other random missions. We added it up mentally and figured that at rate it would cost us $20,000 before we even got out of the kitchen. He was talented, though.

The second audition was with a flamboyantly gay interior designer whose house in San Miguel was nothing if not stunning. Color combinations unimaginable to most mere mortals, and oversized art and wall hangings that hit your eyes at every turn. The guy’s imagination was incredible plus he was a very good photographer. But his house reminded us of a production of “Turandot”: Something that triggers an initial “WOW!”, followed shortly by a “But Geezus, I wouldn’t want to live here!”

He also seemed to be the antithesis of “Design on a Dime.” From the sounds of our conversation, he seemed to work instead in increments of a thousand dollars punctuated with many shopping trips to Mexico City.

Part of our problem is that during our time in San Miguel our tastes have evolved to the point that we can’t really visualize what we want any more. As is the case with many gringo expats, we were once enthralled by the so-called San Miguel Style, a heavy, Neo-Medieval, colonial type of decor.

At the hands of experts, the San Miguel Style can work. At the hands of gringo amateurs, though, it has turned into an industry of cliches: Cathedral-size candlesticks, two-ton dining room tables, enormous wrought-iron chandeliers, crucifixes and altars to unknown saints, lots of kitschy folk art and pictures of Frida Kahlo. Yes, poor Frida continues to suffer a daily death by a thousand reproductions on tee shirts, shopping bags, paintings, plates, napkins, flower pots and what-have-you’s all over town.

Though can’t visualize exactly what we want, Stew and I seem to have a clearer idea of what we don’t want. We’d like light-filled rooms and functional furniture, not overstuffed colonial sofas and chairs. We’d like Mexican colors and motifs without the trite folkloric rigmarole. Most of all, we want an original, interesting look.

We also want it to be homey and comfortable. The home of Billie and Ned, a couple from Texas, represents that ideal.

Following the Chinese opera set designer we talked to a very pleasant woman at a local furniture store. She seemed eager but wedded to the furniture and styles sold at the store where she worked. Understandable, except the store specialized in the San Miguel Style, which we had decided was not our thing.

Ultimately we settled on Anne, a San Francisco designer who came to San Miguel about five years ago. We visited her house, which was large but not intimidating and artsy but not impractical, despite the fact that it’s reportedly on the market for $1 million-plus.

So far what we like most about her is that she tries to accommodate our tastes and lifestyle, which includes two dogs and three cats. She also seems to respect the fact we’re not on a movie star’s budget.

We’ve started by buying two area rugs (shipped from the U.S.), two leather recliners and four dining room chairs (to be followed by two more). We’ve also ordered two wrought iron (but somewhat contemporary) chandeliers for the big living/dining room. Still to come are designs for some shelves and a large media cabinet.

When it’s all done we’ll give Anne some credit–but without totally debunking the myth of the gay decorating gene. We still want people to walk away muttering, “That’s a fahbulous house, but what else do you expect from two gay guys?”

3 thoughts on “The case of the missing gay gene

  1. This is hilarious. You should have my brother and his partner visit. They definitely have the mysterious gene, so we usually solicit their input for free. But your place at Fox Lake was very charming and homey. No need for expert design.


  2. Thanks for the pictures of the completed interior. Love it. I'm curious about the light fixture over the kitchen counter. It looks like the two rings are adjustable. Can you pull down the bigger circle and will the smaller circle move up? I once planned to build a dining are light that would be balanced on pullys, so you could raise or lower, using a coiled cord to supply the power. When I furnished my house 40 years ago, I ended up buying a sofa from an office furnishings store, because everything else was too overstuffed to suit my taste. Too bulky.


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