Leo was the crown jewel of my high school wall montage, surrounded by glossy magazine pictures of Beck, Ralph Fiennes, Skeet Ulrich and more Leo. Framing my crush exhibit were notes, drawings by friends, a homemade wand liberally embellished with glitter and a telephone connected to my personal land line. I sat before it all every night, doing algebra on a yellow Formica table.
That was almost 20 years ago, and it was the last time I had free rein to decorate a space exactly to my liking. Since high school, I’d had a series of dorm mates, roommates, then a boyfriend-turned-husband, so I constantly had to compromise when it came to decor.
I found a picture of the Leo shrine last year, while living at my mom’s place in Seattle. Newly divorced and sleeping in a guest bed, I felt a pang of longing for that mint-green room, states and decades away. But this July when I held the keys to my own one bedroom, it hit me: Life had given me another Leo moment. The apartment’s white walls and black floors gleamed. It was the perfect blank canvas.
Now who, or what, would fill it?
Appointing my place with the remnants of married life was bewildering. It had only been a year since the divorce, but unpacking some things — the giant Mr. Coffee, a gray metal filing cabinet short one handle, vases full of corks — was like rifling through a stranger’s boxes. I felt closer to the girl who tacked up teen heartthrobs than the woman who picked items for a “we” life, like a 12-freaking-ounce coffee carafe.
Parting with other items proved more difficult. Things hold meaning. Like my father’s old La-Z-Boy recliner, which I’d kept for years. I’d sat in it while trying to hold his laugh in my memory, my elbows wedging into the cracked leather armrests. But it was just too big for the new space. One tearful Saturday morning I accepted its fate, squeezed it into my hatchback and drove 17 hours straight to set it up in its new resting place in my mom’s room.
I bought measuring tape and dragged friends to flea markets at ungodly hours. I culled Craigslist, stalked Home Goods, polished, shone, hemmed, refinished. I decided to lean into mid-century modern. Jewel-toned throw pillows, a vintage gold telephone table and brass schooner bookends, a marble coffee table. Books, Nintendo, books, Teddy Roosevelt prints, Frye booties displayed as art and more books kept me and Hammer, the cat, company. It was obsessive, painstaking and as deeply satisfying as decoupaging Leo’s border with Heath, Ralph and the occasional Jake Gyllenhaal photos.
Recently, reclining on my couch after a major cleaning jag, I took a long look around and realized every single thing in my house reminds me of me. What a joy.
We don’t have a term for the female version of a Bachelor Pad. But my house, whatever you want to call it, is the equivalent: a comforting oasis, the physical expression of a massive ego stroke. And why not? It is mine, and it is me.
I’m not afraid of compromise, and I know those days will come again. But for now I am luxuriating in my own space, putting the silverware wherever I want and constantly replacing the houseplants, which can’t be compelled to live.
And every so often, I search Etsy for some retro-chic version of that Leo poster.