Twenty-five years ago, as I meandered through the maze of Portobello Road, I bought a small, vintage painting of a woman and young girl walking into the horizon. Three years later, my daughter was born and that painting remains, in my mind, a portrait of the two of us. We’ve walked a lot of miles, just us, and even today that watercolor seems to capture the years that we created adventures to carry ourselves through the days. The painting has lived in several houses and two countries, always in a spot that would reassure me of our shared journey.
This past spring, my daughter graduated from college and found a place of her own, not far from home. But I was growing a little sad and very sentimental as I passed this image of mother and daughter, since my sidekick was not with me in the same daily machinations. So I decided to hang it, of all places, on a wall in my closet. Sounds strange, I know. But there were so many days, countless days, that she and I would huddle in the closet, either because she was looking for something to play dress up or, later, because she was looking to raid the options for an event or forever.
This story is specific to me but I tell it because I’ve grown to love that painting in my closet. It makes a utilitarian space into one lush with memory and happiness. I think of those old-school jewelry boxes that would open up to reveal a ballerina twirling slowly to music. She wasn’t even close to lifelike but the joy of this small figure becoming fully animated within the confines of a dark space was so marked and sincere. Witnessing such an ordinary miracle is self-perpetuating: you begin to rightfully believe that life, opportunity, and hope exists in the most unlikely places. And, at some point, you begin to actively search those corners out, even in your own home.
Small spaces are not hard to fill but adorning them in a personal manner makes them special in unexpected and substantive ways. A half bath can take a wild wallpaper that would have no business in a large room. It can also take diminutive pieces of art that would be lost elsewhere. Even a staircase can be tiled so that each riser offers a step into color and pattern. We love a glass cabinet or bookcase with interior paint—it makes the space just as intriguing as its contents. So while a nook or a closet may not need decoration, a little bit of ornamentation makes an overlooked space into something close to extraordinary - as covert and as vibrant as the dreams we hold closest to our hearts.