My dad moved into a haunted house. There’s not a single ghost in that Contemporary Colonial, but the spirit of the family that lived in it before him sure stuck around. They were lovely people, probably. Their decor was god-awful. And my dad went and snatched it all up for a fair price—the black velvet hand towels in the bathroom, the wackadoodle paisley couch, even the bowl of fake plastic fruit on the dinner table. It mingles with his own furniture, which is less plentiful but loads nicer, and the decor he brought along in the move, which is so him it hurts.
This may be obvious. My dad is a father of divorce, wifeless for 20 years. A home in the hands of a divorced dad can be subjected to an onslaught of dadness. You know what I mean. “Divorced dad decor” just manifested in your brain as a bulbous leather chair, a mini fridge, and an engine-block coffee table (a real thing I stumbled across in a blog for divorced dads). It’s decor in the tradition of Ben Affleck’s phoenix back tattoo, equal parts obnoxious and super depressing, a man cave that exploded so spectacularly it sent shrapnel into every room. We really do not give divorced dads a lot of credit.
Stacey Herman is pulling for them, though. Her recently established N. Y. C.–based interior-design studio, Stripe Street, caters to those who think to seek help. In the past decade, heterosexual divorced dads have come a long way, scooping up custody rights and parenting responsibilities that just weren’t commonplace when my parents split. They spend half the week with their kids. They’re fielding emails from the same room where their children are doing homework. “They want family homes. It’s just they happen to not be married anymore,” Herman says. So she formulates an Instagrammable decor around these dads’ personalities, and their kids’. “What’s so important is to save that bond and to build on it, to create a home where your kids feel like there are two homes,” she says. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m going to Dad’s pad.’ ”
Stripe Street advises against miscellaneous forks and Dad on a sofa bed. It’ll support a wine fridge in the same den used for movie nights. It has a niche clientele, to be sure; a newly divorced dad doesn’t often have tons of money to dedicate to HGTV-ification, or tons of emotional energy. He leaves the nuclear home for a bachelor pad he doesn’t necessarily want that’s part-time empty of his children. You must get used to that haunted feeling.
In time, though, that house becomes an extension of his genuine personality. My dad has decorated his home with the things he loves—guitars, model train sets, car-show trophies (though no engine blocks). It’s those undiluted Dad flourishes that I associate with home. He rides motorcycles, so the coffee mugs have motorcycles on them. He plays the blues, so there’s a plastic guitar bearing Elvis’s face in the basement. He believed in America once, which I guess explains the “Tribute in Light” poster that reminds us to never forget 9/11 every time we climb the stairs. And across the landing there’s a photo of baby me on his shoulders, printed on computer paper, faded from years of indirect sunshine, because he loves being my dad.
He’s long past “divorced dad.” He’s a man who lives alone, contentedly enough. He might be beyond matching plates and centerpieces at this point. But for the newly divorced dad, think about an assist when it comes to decor. Making a home for your kids in your home is hard enough. It doesn’t have to be something you do on your own.
Tips from interior designer Stacey Herman of Stripe Street
LOSE: The coatrack
LOSE: The leather couch
LOSE: The dartboard
LOSE: The box spring with mattress
LOSE: The mismatched forks, spoons, and plates
GET: A set of organically-shaped porcelain dinnerware from West Elm ($112, westelm.com), Tritan highball glasses from Williams-Sonoma ($90 for six, williams-sonoma.com), and stainless-steel flatware, because when our dining tables are functional and look good, we feel good.
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