A question of taste – furniture shopping

From the Taj Mahal to temples of tat

Indian bed 1
Dream like a king, make love like a maharajah, spend like an idiot

I am lost in a Bollywood film set. Everywhere I look there are beds with headboards inspired by the Taj Mahal, with peaks sweeping up to the ceiling. Is it grandiose or is it over the top? Do people really sleep on furniture like this? Maybe it makes them feel better, so they buy this stuff although they can’t really afford it, or maybe they buy it because they have plenty of money and can indulge their extravagant tastes.

The real setting for this experience is a furniture showroom. We are moving house soon, so we’re on the grand tour of furniture stores, earmarking a table here, a sofa there and looking for a bed somewhere between palatial and basic. The trouble is, when you don’t know these places and what they are likely to contain, you have to traipse around them all.

If there is one trait that women have that we men don’t, it is a willingness – perhaps even a positive desire – to traipse. Thinking about it, though, maybe women don’t actually traipse at all, because it implies reluctance, so while I’m traipsing, my wife is enacting some other, happier verb.

To me traipse is an ugly word that accurately describes the slow, resigned trudge around these emporiums. You can tell as soon as you walk in. You see one hideous dining table and you know they’re all going to be hideous. Because they were all picked by a buyer who has a particular taste, or whose customers have a particular taste, and if you are one of those customers, that’s fine, but if you’re not, you’re like a wheat-intolerant diner in a pasta restaurant, a teetotaler in a wine shop.

At the other end of the spectrum there are stores that trade not on offering value for money but on being expensive. This is perhaps the most despicable of all characteristics of a retail store: it says ‘don’t come in here unless you’re loaded,’ and has the shamefully elitist unspoken motto ‘if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.’ And do they keep only half the exorbitant profit for themselves and give the rest to charity? In the dog-eat-dog world they inhabit, lack of wealth is a weakness to be looked down on, a disease akin to leprosy.

The customers of the elitist furniture store probably include many of the patrons of the fitness club where the receptionist talks initially of membership costing less than £10 a month, before whizzing through the details of one-off initial payments and months payable in advance before arriving at the figure required to be stumped up today of £500. It’s worth considering what ‘exclusive’ means: people are excluded, and this is done on the basis of wealth. Perhaps money really is the root of all evil.

Ironically, the same city that boasts an elitist emporium will also possess temples of tat: shops in which not a single item is what it claims to be. They are full of designer names, sometimes spelled correctly and sometimes, helpfully, let down by a missing letter or two. ‘Calvin Klein’ jeans with crooked stitching, robust-looking bags whose fastenings malfunction the first time you use them. I once narrowly avoided buying a sports bag that didn’t open because there was no zip – it was stitched shut. The shop assistant laughed and found one that did what it was supposed to, although by the time I got home it was broken and saw the inside of a garbage bag in record time.

Indian bed 2
And if we’re not home when you deliver, just stick in the shed, okay?

Back in the furniture stores, oddly, certain ones can be terrible for, say, settee suites but okay for patio furniture, so you have to persevere even in the face of upholstered items you wouldn’t be seen dead sitting on (although they would probably fall apart before you did anyway). There will also quite likely be a wall full of TVs and ‘home theatre’ sound systems, and here the trick is to work out for yourself what they all do and whether you need them. Ask a sales person which is better, plasma, LED or LCD and all he is going to do is tell you the most expensive is the best. Like doctors, they don’t really deal in ‘I don’t know’.

As someone who thinks the whole thing is overrated and is quite happy to watch a film on a laptop, I am perhaps the wrong person to comment. But really, when you have been happy for years watching a clear colour picture, how much better can ‘high definition’ be? Similarly, who needs a selection of small speakers dotted around the room to give the effect of ‘surround sound’? If you do, of course, then good luck to you. Let me know if the movie is any different. And if you do sleep in a bed that was decorated by the Indian Leonardo Da Vinci, may all your dreams be glamorous ones.

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