It all started with the stain on my sofa. The stain is about eight months old and, in this time, it has grown bigger and darker (sticky fingerprints – not mine, the kids). And I've been ignoring it, mainly because it’s just one of the poor sofa's problems: its cushions have lost their shape, it has a big dip in the middle and it creaks in protest even before you go to sit on it. I know it’s time to relegate it to the great sofa graveyard in the sky (if it doesn't relegate itself first), but we're saving up for renovations on the house, so there's no point putting the poor thing out of its misery just yet.
But suddenly, last week, the sofa stain got to me. It happened during a visit to my friend Sarah’s house. I was there under the auspices of seeing her new sofa (a gorgeous, sumptuously tactile velvet number from Loaf, with super-deep cushions that, quite frankly, I could spend the rest of my days curled up on).
Was I jealous? God, no, of course not...
OK, OK. Yes, yes, I was. Very.
Am I the only person to get house envy? I suspect not. Different things set me off – a friend’s wall colour, the glass roof on someone’s new extension, a box hedge (yes, it has been known). I don't have to know the people and it can strike at any time – when staying in an Airbnb, scrolling through Pinterest or flicking through Livingetc in a doctor’s waiting room (I deliberately do not buy homes mags for the reason they make me depressed). Houzz, the home of online interiors porn, even has a regular blog called The Cure For Houzz Envy, in which they explain that this problem “occurs when you look at beautifully styled photos of well-appointed rooms for a long time and feel forlorn and hopeless about your own home".
I know that feeling. I, for one, am currently feeling forlorn and hopeless about:
1 My friend Jane's amazing Tom Raffield statement lights. They’re expensive and, unless I intend to ban all tall people from my house going forward, I do not have large-enough rooms or high-enough ceilings to show them off to their best advantage. But I want them anyway.
2 My ex-neighbour Vicky’s enormous kitchen table. If we do go ahead with the extension, this will be the second thing I’ll buy (after a new sofa).
3 One of my oldest friends, Nina, has a wonderful house in the Surrey Downs. I am basically jealous of her whole house, but I’d settle for some art. Etsy has almost too big a selection (and there are genuinely some real bargains), so I am going to set aside a whole afternoon to look.
4 Another very old friend Claire-Louise’s extension. It’s huge. I’ve only seen pictures, as she lives in New Zealand with her builder husband Tim (who built it). But I am jealous of it, even from 11,426 miles away.
And now I'm adding another thing to the list: Sarah’s sofa, which is basically my Sofa Of Dreams and must have cost a fortune
And now I'm adding another thing to the list: Sarah’s sofa, which is basically my Sofa Of Dreams and must have cost a fortune. Sarah is sensible; she saves up and pays for quality, whereas I am not sensible and too impatient. I go to IKEA and then wonder why my sofa looks ancient within weeks after I bought it and attracts stains. Not just that, I still have a hole in my kitchen ceiling, I still haven't done anything about the threadbare cowhide rug I moaned about a few weeks ago, I’ve decided all my pictures are boring, my windowsills need repainting (which means more shelling out of money on boring stuff) and, and... I HATE MY HOME!
I blurt out my thoughts in front of Sarah, my hands (still) caressing her sofa. Maybe I should move?
Sarah looks at me surprised and then turns to me and says quite seriously: "But why? I've always been jealous of your house.... Your side room is so unusual and I’ve always wanted a window seat built under my window. And your garden is just so lovely and cottage-y…"
I thank her for her comments and mentally shrug them off, but they are still ringing in my ears when I’m back home and putting the key in my door. I walk into the house, bracing myself for the effects of two hours of teenagers left to their own devices, my mouth open and ready to holler for help in picking up a trail of discarded sports bags, socks, ties and school blazers from the front door to the fridge. But, but… the house is still tidy from my clear-up in the morning and the kitchen doesn’t look like a food bomb has hit it. What’s more, my husband is already home and has got a fire going in the side room, there are candles lit and the whole of downstairs smells of the lilacs I got for my birthday last week. The house feels cosy and lived-in – and I love it. It’s my house; it’s my home.
And I think: maybe I could buy a new rug and it would make everything look different? Perhaps some new posters for the wall, a colourful blind, as the old one is so tatty, and maybe a new vase or two? Statement lighting always makes an impact and, if I swap the existing light bulbs for lower wattage ones in the hall, it will make everything look less airport lounge-y…
Still deep in thought, I wander into the kitchen in search of some sofa cleaner.
And then I finally tackle that eight-month-old stain.