When I was a child I had a special connection to certain interiors. I would imagine a world within the walls or in the far corner of the room, the odd places where nobody looked. I loved interior spaces that were small and irregular, high up, or just weird. My parents used to go to a thrift store in Long Beach, California, which I remember quite well. They had furniture arranged up on some old scaffolding (at least that’s how it seems in my foggy memory of my experiences at age 5). For some reason I always wanted to climb and explore around there, with the old things it seemed like a different world. That memory still gives me a very nostalgic feeling.
Another weird interior was the doll museum in the back of Dooley’s Hardware store in Long Beach, CA. It had old porcelain toys and dolls in glass cases and seemed like it was a secret place. I would spend hours there. At Christmas they would decorate it and it seemed so magical and perfect.
Of course I loved the doll house which my mother made for me. It was an imperfect, homemade little space full of old-fashioned Victorian furniture which I collected for years – a coal-burning stove, velvet sofas, a tiffany lamp, a little toilet with brass pipes and a lion claw’s bathtub. It was my perfect, miniature little world which was nothing like the Southern California ranch that I grew up in. I can relate to that episode of the Twilight Zone where the man falls in love with a dollhouse doll who comes to life for him at night.
David Lynch seems to understand the hidden psychological power of interiors and furniture. He understands how rooms come to life and hold secrets. I love Dorothy Vallen’s apartment in Blue Velvet.
The exterior is run-down and seedy. It’s a big building in a small town (another obsession of mine) and I read that it was built in the 1930’s by an architect who was inspired by buildings he saw in New York City. It’s in a neighborhood that seems abandoned except for underworld gangsters who make unwanted visits in the middle of the night. The interior walls are deep 1930’s mauve with rounded beige furniture and elegant plants in shiny brass planters. There, in the shadowy “noir-ish” 1930’s elegance, lives Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) a woman who holds a secret that two teenagers feel compelled to discover. The velvety furniture cast a rich loungy hush over the entire room and seem to keep her secret with her.
Dorothy Vallens never seems to leave this apartment, except at night, when she goes to a place that is equally weird and shadowy, a mysterious old theater with red velvet curtains where she sings her famous performance of “Blue Velvet”. It seems blurry like it is 3 AM or a dream and she is lit by blue light as she sings. In that scene Jeffrey and Sandy (Kyle MacLaughlin and Laura Dern) sit watching her, transfixed and transported out of their familiar daytime world of school and bright sunny small-town life. Jeffrey stares at Dorothy as Sandy watches him, jealously aware that this older woman’s sexual power is taking possession over her teenage boyfriend. The old decaying theater is a symbol of jealousy and secrets and night-time visits.
The bedroom where Laura Palmer lived is another example of Lynch’s powerful interiors. Laura Palmer is the beautiful high school prom queen who is murdered in the beginning of the Twin Peaks series. She lives in a cute little house in a small town in Washington. Her bedroom is bright and tidy, a portal between childhood and womanhood with the frilly bedspread and doll collection, (including a clown doll that makes it all the more disturbing). Because the sexually precocious Laura is dead already in the movie, and kept her experiences secret to the grave, her bedroom becomes an ironic shrine, a child’s room inhabited by a teen who would never reach womanhood, but in many ways already had.
I love old rooms of any sort. I love velvet furniture, old peeling wallpaper, old pianos, and crumbling theaters with velvet curtains. I don’t like to update the places where I live. In my den is the original wood-paneling from the 1970s. The decor is kind of Brady Bunch – bright colors and thrift store art. If I ever get more money perhaps I will replace it with 1930’s club furniture. But more likely I will have to wait until I find a perfect untouched old brick apartment with a fire escape in a forgotten town somewhere in America.