Wait, What White?

Navajo. Yep, that’s the white. Not bright white…ew. You know what I mean: the difference between a Vera Wang wedding dress and one from Forever 21. 

When recently discussing the finish on our house’s cabinetry, Johanna gently broached this delicate topic, clearly with some trepidation. From the start, I’ve known the inside of the house would have to be largely white – kitchen, walls, trim, etc. – and I’ve sent loads of sample pics to make my point. Open, crisp, clean, …ah. Here are a couple that spoke to me.

Most of the time I’ve texted off one of these masterpieces for inspiration, I receive nothing back. Occasionally I get a “look forward to discussing” brushoff. What the heck? These houses are beautiful, and I’m baffled that there isn’t some sign of relief that I’m not looking for something like this.

Then again, like Jim, Johanna is a bit of a hippie, so she’d probably feel more in her element than with my stuffy, Pottery Barn-esque preferences. I’ve actually had conversations with myself about its being okay for me to stick to my guns, that I don’t have to go all commune to make her – and him – like me, even if I have to give up any hope that my brilliance, one day, will be recognized as the model for all those who come after. Kidding aside, I know that my thinking isn’t far afield from what is being done, and I have the eight hundred million pins to prove it.

This very situation is why, despite having a degree in it, I would be an awful interior designer. People often confuse my personality style with extreme confidence – if not inflexibility from my view – but nothing could be further from the truth. Truly. If anything, I spend much of my time trying to convince myself of things rather than being sure they are right. My preference (reflex?) for working that out verbally can make me, I know, come across as a bossypants. My apologies to the myriad people who have been on the receiving end of this confusion.

For example, I also could NEVER be a teacher. Stand up in front of a group of people and tell them what they should or need to know? No way. Ditto professional conferences. Even with a quarter century of fundraising experience, I am hardly equipped to tell people to head in a specific direction – much less a “proven” one that I can claim will ensure success. Shudder. And I am not being coy. The idea truly makes me queasy. Jim is quite the opposite. He totally is comfortable sharing what he knows and is incredibly articulate about why it is valuable. Lots of people are, and I love listening to them. I just don’t understand what that level of self-assuredness feels like.

Which leads me back to the Battle of White. Is my thinking really that terrible? C’mon. It’s just white after all – the color of peace, fluffy clouds, wedding dresses, and angels. Why all the angst and fuss, if not altogether avoidance?

As we efficiently made our way through Johanna’s checklist of questions last weekend, we finally came to the very last item. The cabinets. She dove in. “You really want white cabinets? Like the ones in the pictures?” “Why, yes. Yes I do,” this bossypants replies confidently, all the while awaiting the lecture about why my design aesthetic is flawed. I actually held my breath waiting for it.

“Laminate cabinets are not ideal for a tiny house, especially not one on this side of the island where we get so much rain. Hardwood really would be better. But… if you want laminate…”

Wait…what? I don’t give a crap about how the things are made; I just care about how they look!

“I don’t want laminate, I want white. Can’t the hardwood just be painted white? Something like Navajo white,  a slightly earthy white, which would go well with the countertops and flooring we’ve decided on?” Again, caught breath. Anticipating shame.

The relief on Johanna’s face was visible. 

Clearly, she had been holding her breath as well, and she welcomed the oxygen anew with an audible sigh and a broad smile. “That would be beautiful,” she said, much to my surprise. Unsure how she quickly went from pussy-bum (as my mother called a face puckered in displeasure) to delighted, I certainly wasn’t going to stop and question it. She went on excitedly. “Sam’s custom cabinets are stunning, and he will love the opportunity to do some painted ones, because most of what he does is staining. I’m so relieved,” she added. “I really thought you wanted those prefab, laminate cabinets in the pictures.”

And there it was. The conflict about white wasn’t a conflict about white at all. Johanna was thinking that I, the always-right customer, was going to force her to add components to “her” design that were, apparently, beneath her standards. Here I was spiraling in my own self-doubt, working myself into a frenzy about how clear it was that she had no design capability at all (that’s what we self-doubters do: foist blame on others). And just like that, we learned that while our language wasn’t in sync, our minds really were. I should have taken a lesson from my handbook about how important it is to try to understand – really devote energy to – what the meaning is behind the Pidgin used by our neighbors. Even though our English vocabulary is the same, Johanna and I – and everyone else – use it and understand it in ways unique to us. Conflicts, like the War on Whites, only arise when we don’t welcome the different dialects.

“Not even for a second,” I assured her. Plastic cabinets…much less bright white ones…are really not for me.” I did, after all, get my wedding dress at Vera Wang.