Well, it’s taken nearly 35 years; but I think I’m finally ready to laugh about my interior design days.

The handwriting was on the wall right from the start: I wanted to take engineering, but my mom suggested interior design instead, “So that when you get married you can make a nice home for your husband and family”.

So this country-bumpkin kid moved to the Big City (Winnipeg, Manitoba – a veritable mecca of highbrow sophistication) and attempted to obtain a degree in interior design.

It didn’t go well.

Let’s just say I was at a bit of a disadvantage, since I’d never even heard of Architectural Digest (or any design magazine) and I’d never been inside any professionally designed home or office.  Far from it:

Our house on the farm started out as a 16’ x 20’ shed that my dad bought for $450 in 1957.  He and Mom gradually enlarged it into a comfortable and modern home, but they didn’t have a lot of budget for extras (like indoor plumbing, which we got around 1970).  The “interior design features” consisted of sparkles in the sprayed-on ceiling texture and a long strip of finished plywood that concealed the fluorescent lighting tubes in the living room.  (That lighting valance was the pinnacle of discerning taste.  We always referred to it in capital letters:  “The Valance”.)


Imagine, if you will, our first interior design assignment at the University of Manitoba:  “Design your dream bathroom”.

For me, a “dream bathroom” was any bathroom with a flush toilet.  A “fantasy bathroom” would be one in which the shower pressure stayed constant instead of diminishing to a trickle before blasting out with enough force to peel the skin off your body when the pressure pump kicked in.

So I picked out some nice brown tile that looked as though it wouldn’t cost too much, and drew up a bathroom with… *gasp*  an infrared heat lamp in the ceiling!  It was the most decadent thing I could imagine.  And my bathroom had a separate shower stall in addition to a standard 30” x 60” bathtub.  What luxury!  The brown tile seemed like a practical choice, so I used it on the floor, ceiling, and all the walls.  My coloured drawing elevations looked like giant chocolate bars (or some other brown substance).

The interior design department had a sadistic tradition of displaying all the finished projects on the studio walls so we could learn from each other’s work.  In addition, particularly good and/or bad projects were held up by the professor for discussion at the front of the class.

My bathroom didn’t make the ‘particularly bad’ list (though I did make the shit list on a couple of other occasions, to be confessed in future posts).

But the ‘particularly good’ bathroom that was held up as an example?  Mind = blown!

It had acres of creamy tile accented with green and purple, and a giant sunken tub surrounded by pillars.  There was probably a toilet in there, too, but I don’t remember it.  I was too stunned by the grandeur of the tub.  I couldn’t conceive of such an extravagance of money and space.

I think I got a ‘C’ on that project, which I’m pretty sure was given out of pity.  But there was much worse to come…

…Stay tuned for Fail! Part Deux (or is that ‘Duh’?)

44 thoughts on “Fail!

  1. Pingback: My Taste Is All In My Mouth | Diane Henders

  2. Pingback: Fail! Part Deux… Or Is That ‘Duh’? | Diane Henders

  3. I’m with you, Diane. The essence of civilisation is unlimited hot water on demand, with no change in pressure when some thoughtless person starts the washing machine or dishwasher while you’re trying to have a shower.
    The ultimate in decadence, though, is not an infrared heat lamp in the ceiling. It’s in-floor heating. That’s sinfully luxurious.
    All tiles are hideous so it probably doesn’t matter what colour they are 🙂


    • Sorry @suetrowth, I’ve gotta throw out a “No Way” to your hatred of all tile. Maybe I’d agree if you said mass produced tile, but if you saw what is happening in the world of handmade tile or hand painted tile- true art! Minneapolis artisans have started an organization for the promotion of handmade tile and produce a glorious catalogue free to anyone interested. Each company has areas of expertise; some are all about color and shape, some are all about bas relief carving, some make pictorial panels, some reproduce antique motifs. It is not anything I’ve ever had anything to do with, I just wish I could afford some of it for my home. If interested, go to

      There is some fabulous hand painted tile on a location in an apartment building in Scotland in a nice movie called “Dear Frankie.” I love this quiet little slice of life movie for its own story and acting, but if you keep your eyes open to the foyer and stairway of the old building Frankie, his mom and grandmother share, you get the added thrill of seeing the fjord-like setting reproduced on the border tiles of the walls of the stairs and landings. Fabulous!


      • Of course you’re right, hand made or hand painted tiles are often truly lovely. I was thinking of the endless racks of mass produced tiles I’ve had to choose from recently. Hideous is probably too strong, many are just bland and uninteresting. Didn’t mean to offend at all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’d never take offense to anything anyone says unless it is the rare individual who is intent on stirring up controversy, and only to be ignored. After all, we each are entitled to our opinions, most of which are derived from experience and not just assumptions.

          It was on the off chance that you hadn’t ever seen what a larger budget and specialty shops can offer that I said anything, or perhaps to give fellow artists and artisans a moment of thought. I should talk though, if I only bought high-end hand made or designer stuff for myself or my home, I’d be broke in a month or so. I’m living with cheap clothes, almost no cosmetics or grooming budget, cheap soulless builders grade stuff in my home- however it all works and everything is paid for and there’s savings and an IRA for retirement later.

          An artist like me is unlikely to become even comfortably well-off during his/her lifetime, so learning early how to live within your means is essential.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh, in-floor heating – you’re right! And those brown tiles were definitely hideous!

      To be fair to el Tea and all the talented tile artisans out there (BTW, thanks for the link!), I have seen lots of absolutely beautiful tile; but I’m too cheap to pop for it. I guess it’s one of those things I’ll just have to enjoy in other people’s homes. 😉


  4. Having been a victim, er, student of that same interior design program, it sure brought up some old memories. I too, was woefully unsuited to that career choice, and though I did manage to graduate within the requisite 4 years, my marks skimmed the surface of “C” level. Sigh… if only I knew then what I know now!


  5. Your home sounded much like mine. Five rooms and a path. Only my city cousins had indoor plumbing with flush toilets, sinks, bathtubs and such. My idea of a dream bathroom is one that cleans itself. Like a self cleaning oven. the door locks and high pressure hot steam blasts everything. Is it just females that have a thing about Jacuzzis and such or do men actually like them too? To me a tub is a waste of time. The less time spent in a bathroom the better. Like a sex manual for dummies: In; Out; Repeat if necessary


    • I love the idea of a self-cleaning bathroom! Just make everything stainless steel, and off you go. It looks good (if you like the ‘inside a spaceship’ look) and it’s easy to clean. (…And apparently my mind is in top form this morning, because when I first attempted that previous sentence, I typed ‘bowels of a spaceshit’.)

      I think your sex manual may need a bit of work before it’s ready for publication, though. 😉


  6. Oh dear I hope we are not leading up to current day events? I have very little skill in the design department and during renos have hired a designer so as not to send future visitors running for eye protection from clashing colours.


  7. Ha ha – the Valance. Reminds me of the entry in our 1960 red brick home when we first bought it. It was wallpapered in gold and black velveteen vertical stripes
    I felt like I had to walk REALLY straight and it was like a gaol cell. Who could possibly had thought it looked fab? I wish I’d taken a photo. 😆


  8. My bathroom design probably would have been an outhouse where my dad actually cut a circle rather than a square and took the time to file off the rough edges! Oh, and real TT might have been nice. After all, while the Sears catalog was good reading material, it was just a bit shiny if you get my drift.


  9. I’d fail right next to you. Although I have very good skills as a visual artist, and I have great comprehension of blue prints, I can’t begin to visualize the many options for style, color, textures and furnishing or how they can be changed to suit the client’s preferences, much less my own taste. I can’t visualize how to take an old run-down place and improve the layout.

    I just went through that recently with a house owned by me and my 6 siblings who live thousands of miles away or on other continents. One brother was in town recuperating from a near fatal crash that affected his brain for a while as well as his body. I couldn’t make decisions about how to rehab the house, how to set a realistic budget and who to hire. Then I got a letter asking if I’d be interested in selling “as is.” The realtor had a buyer in mind who likes to work in that neighborhood despite the nightmare hoops the city forces you to jump through to make code. The investor named a price that was what we’d hoped to profit if we spent the whole budget and if no surprises occurred. Sold!!!! Life is too short to try to do something you have no skill or interest in.

    I’ve mentioned this friend before- but perhaps it’s worth repeating. She’s a fellow visual artist with big goals and no money and no market for her art. She did what all broke creative people do, she worked a “real job” and saved up for the next mini-goal. An old homestead came up for sale miles from town with nary an improvement unless you think two dirt ruts from the dirt county road is a driveway. There was a dilapidated shed filled with rusted out parts from farm equipment long gone and it was uninhabitable. No well or pump, and the nearest potable spring was an hourlong round trip if the weather was okay. She and her guy put up knee-walls to support a row of gothic arched PVC pipes and enclosed it from the weather using clear plastic greenhouse tarps. They bought a small iron potbelly stove for warmth and to boil water on. They stayed for most of the longer, colder, snow laden first winter while freezing herself during a 12 hour day pulling fish out of nets, then cleaning them only to go home to an uninsulated tent. She hung in as long as she could before finding a proper house to care for while the owners went somewhere warm.
    After several false starts on various buildings, They made a snug little one room house with a sleeping loft and made improvements every year. They kept the stove for heat and added a small gas range, refrigerator, and light fixtures run off a large LP tank outdoors. the outhouse had a hunk of carved blue insulation foam for a seat- pretty deluxe when it’s winter. The next years brought an outdoor water pump, a phone line (cell phones were 20 years away still) and electricity. When the couple split up, she got the house, the outhouse and the lesser half of the acreage and he got what was left- his workspace garage and a never-to-be-finished dovetail jointed structure. Those were his preferred choices yet he still refuses to be civil with his ex. She moved on and added on to the house in every direction, and designed and got the first permit in the county for a composting toilet. I’ve experienced both and the only difference was the pit was filled in and a floor put in over where the pit used to be No more wind to freeze the nads. She placed a 4 gallon pail inslalled underneath the seat and a huge bag of wood curls set nearby that they get for free from the local sawmill. You do what you came to do, use the TP which is kept in a mouse-proof lidded pail and hide the evidence with a light sprinkle of wood shavings. No kidding, after the first time using the composting toilet I asked if she was using floral sachets to cover up bad odors. Nope, not only didn’t it stink, but it smelled lovely in there. When the bucket fills, it goes into the hot side of a compost bin where it is monitored for proper temperatures and stirred frequently. Again without odors.

    Now that she’s a grandmother she has all the modern conveniences- indoor plumbing, laundry in the basement- internet, cellular phone, etc. even a guest cottage. She had the same thoughts as Juno about how gross it is to do THAT indoors during the transition. She’s still not as spoiled as I am.

    There are a lot of sturdy people living on similarly undeveloped land! Just don’t make the mistake of calling it a cabin. Them’s fighting words to those who live year ’round in such domiciles that have been carefully designed over the decades.


    • Wow, what an odyssey! Living like that is challenging and exciting when you’re young, but I suspect it’s nice to have a few more creature comforts when the joints get sore and creaky.

      Friends of ours have had a composting toilet for years. It’s a little trickier to keep it odour-free with a family of five using it, but they still managed. It’s really ingenious ‘technology’!


  10. While I appreciate indoor plumbing, especially in winter, I still can’t imagine why someone would want to do THAT indoors. That said, I do have a strategically placed window in my indoor facility so I can still feel like I am outdoors, but without the shivering in winter and biting insects in summer.
    I once lived with an interior designer and we had a lovely abode, but since I have no sense of design I didn’t appreciate it enough. Her next boyfriend was an architect. Go figure.


    • LOL! You and your ex-girlfriend probably both ended up happier as a result of the split. And I got a chuckle from your comment about indoor bathrooms – when they first became a ‘thing’ there was a lot of push-back because people considered an indoor toilet to be unsanitary. To be honest, I still think about the toilet plume every time I flush. Blech.


  11. I have dim and unpleasant memories of outhouses from when I was very young. (I won’t say when I was small, because I never was. A story for another time, perhaps.)

    My wife and I have promised each other that we will never build a house together. We’ve talked about what it would look like, and, well, just no.

    My days in engineering school were similar to yours in design. Except from the other direction, maybe. I’d already been a welder, machinist, and metal fabricator from since I was able to do that stuff, and walking into a classroom filled with kids fresh outta high school who had never done anything for a living except flip burgers (if that much) was the stuff nightmares are made of. And mix in an engineering prof who hadn’t done much more than that himself…

    All I’ll say about that is this: I learned a lot about how NOT to teach college-level classes there.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love this story and look forward to more. I wonder what they teach in interior design these days? That huge tub in the “well done” project would take so much water (and heat, and space) – to me that would not be a dream bathroom but a nightmare, and I hope they are discouraging that kind of thinking now. I love your description of a flush toilet as your dream. Outdoor loos can do that to a person. We didn’t have an indoor flush toilet until I was about ten, I suppose. My dad ran a garage and lunch counter, and we used – wait for it – the public toilets. Those were lean years. Eventually the business closed and Dad turned the two public toilets into a large bathroom with an actual bathtub, and access from inside the house. I feel I need an exclamation mark there, but I’m on a diet this week 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aw, go on… indulge. 😉 But it’s okay; I probably use enough exclamation marks for both of us.

      I can only imagine your trek if you needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Having to bundle up and go outside and then shiver your way back inside to bed would be more than enough to jolt you wide awake.

      When I discovered the concept of the ensuite bathroom, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven: stumble out of bed, use the facilities, and crawl back into bed without ever even fully opening my eyes. What a brilliant concept!

      Liked by 2 people

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