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Finding our values, our spirit in the rooms around us

By Light Bailey German
Special to the American-Statesman
We have see inside celebrities' homes like talk show hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon.

Sheltering in place. We are all doing it.

We have all become even more familiar with our homes, every nook and cranny, every undusted spot, every mis-hung picture.

But now we have the time to straighten the picture, to dust in the corners. This has become a time to focus on ourselves, our homes and our decorating choices as they reflect who we are. It is also a time to look at how others’ choices tell us interesting things about them.

CoCo Chanel once said that “an interior is the natural projection of the soul.” An interesting idea and one that I have been thinking about lately.

Because of our need to communicate virtually with others, we are, for the first time able to get glimpses of others’ homes, and the choices they make that can tell us interesting things about them.

I am particularly interested in the interiors of the homes of public figures. These interiors show us, the viewers, where they live, how they live, and what these personal interiors can tell us about who they are. They include reporters, interviewees, politicians, historians, physicians, educators, entertainers and commentators.

Let me tell you about what I have noticed. I only saw a few minutes of a Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi interview, but I did notice that she stood in her kitchen to talk, where one might expect an Italian American woman to feel most at home. The heart of most Italian homes is the kitchen, and she seemed comfortable there. I am sorry that I didn’t see more of the kitchen.

Light Bailey German is the director of writing and reading skills development at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Another well-known female politician, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, showed up on "Morning Joy" in her sunroom, filled with light and white wicker furniture, where you can imagine her gathering with her family and friends and swinging in her wicker swing hanging by chains from the ceiling.

Michael Beschloss, celebrated presidential historian, spoke from his tastefully decorated, muted study that had amazing red Chinese silk chairs, drawing my eyes to the end of the long room.

The most fantastic rooms were those of Watergate prosecutor, Jill Winebanks. One room was a rich pink, filled with highly polished furniture and ancient metal statues. Another room was painted bright red. Both rooms were beautiful, feminine and matched her perfectly.

Another perfect match was Julie Andrews, sitting in her white wicker sun porch, that was full of light and positive energy. She talked about her and her daughter’s mission to write 30 children’s books and to share these books, reading to the children.

It is not only the interviewed folks who are interesting. But equally worth seeing are the chosen rooms of the reporters. Friday night PBS reporters, David Brooks and Mark Shields, not only are different in their world views, but also in the rooms from which they talk. At first in a narrow, neat, wooden-shuttered room, David Brooks talked in a careful, measured way. More recently, he has spoken from a tastefully decorated living room. On the other hand, Mark Shields speaks from a cozy room in a long lived-in homey house. The walls are covered with pictures of rivers and canyons. He is surrounded by family mementos.

For the most part, the MSNBC reporters favor neat white couches and brightly colored pillows. Almost all of them have many bookshelves, filled with books, artifacts, family photos and fresh flowers.

Maya Wiley, MSNBC commentator and New School professor, has a very interesting and self-revealing shelf behind her, covered with African artifacts, a black clay statue, woven baskets, a shiny black ceramic pot and a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. All of the objects compliment her bright red sheath and beautifully braided silver dreadlocks.

Two of the other commentators have contrasting studies that show us what they value. Michael Steele, the former RNC Chairman, has a formal, elegant study. The wall behind him is covered with diplomas, awards, photos of him with famous people. We know these are his treasures. As a contrast, Jonathan Capehart, an MSNBC associate, is positioned at his desk with a bookshelf behind him, framing his head, and an elegant blue bottle. The graduated shelves have vases of fresh flowers, gerbera daisies, and hydrangeas. Other beautiful objects are positioned on the unusual bookshelf.

Steve Schmidt, straight forward NBC News Analyst, sits in his den with brown and green brick walls. His only decoration is a huge brown wooden totem with green eyes. This seems like a no-nonsense work space.

These are only a few examples of the interiors I have glimpsed. Each glimpse is a way to see who these interesting humans are. Each glimpse is a treasure, a way to know something about the people we listen to each day.

Light Bailey German is the director of writing and reading skills development at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.