First, because I must, a word about the word. Among the things that fascinate/repel Westerners when they think about the Middle East is the idea of an exotic, opulent harem full of beautiful women, secreted away from the world for the sole purpose of unbridled male pleasure.
The word itself is a Turkish derivative of the Arabic root “haram,” meaning sacred, and therefore forbidden. The idea is that a woman and her household domain are sacred, and not to be intruded upon by outsiders. The concept predates Islam, and secluding the royal wives and concubines has been common practice in the Near East from time immemorial. Children and teenagers (both boys and girls) lived in the harem too, and it thus served as the place of education for the well-born until they were ready to take up adult roles in the world outside.
In no way does our lifestyle resemble that of Topkapi Palace (thank heavens!). However, I do like the idea of home and family life being sacred and inviolate. So you may take it as a compliment that I here present my own personal harem: our family’s special space, where even most visitors to our house do not intrude.
I’ll start with Axa’s bedroom. When she was three years old and we were buying furniture and decorations for her room, I resolved that I was not going to surround my daughter with a fluffy pink stereotype. We visited a lot of stores, and mostly what I found was either pink and decorated with flowers and hearts or covered in race cars and airplanes. Can I tell you again how much I detest gender stereotyping?
I also dislike “kiddie” furniture. I wanted something that looked like nice grownup furniture, but was the right size for my petite little girl. My problem was that all the beds we found were intended to have box springs under a mattress, which would have made them way too high for Axa to climb up on her own bed by herself. We finally found the perfect bed at Bombay (my favorite furniture store), which was going out of business in La Jolla at the time.
The bed was solid, beautiful, and low enough to not feel like she was in a giant’s bedroom. Axa christened it “the cinnamon bed” because of its color. Now we just had to find a matching chest of drawers that didn’t dwarf her. We found this charming one at Pier 1 (my other favorite furniture store). Doesn’t it look like Alice in Wonderland?
With all this dark wood, I decided that what we needed was a jungle theme. We got the giraffe and the ibises at Pier 1 too, as well as this little stand for Axa’s beloved Oregon Scientific talking globe.
Just to the left of the globe is her book display, a toddler-friendly bookcase that she couldn’t bear to part with when I suggested we pass it down to Raj. Fortunately, her career ambition is now zoology, so it turns out that the jungle animals theme is still the perfect fit for her, even at the mature age of seven.
What Raj mostly wanted in a room was space to spread out his building projects. So he has furniture around the edges of his room, and a nice large play space in the middle. He still sleeps in his crib that we originally bungee-corded on the side of our bed to make our own custom co-sleeper. It’s now converted into a toddler bed, but I guess we really will need to get him a real bed one of these days. Raj is not one to embrace change, so I’ll probably end up leaving both beds in his room for a few months so he can make a gradual, non-traumatic transition.
We used to have a six-foot version of this bookshelf in our living room.
I don’t believe Ikea carries it anymore, which is a shame, since it is both sturdy and attractive (which I cannot say for all of Ikea’s merchandise). It has no back, so we originally used it as a sort of room divider between the living room and the kitchen in our little apartment. But it makes a delightful toy shelf, especially with the assorted matching boxes and baskets.
And here’s our room.
Yes, you can tell I’m very fond of sleigh beds. We all have them at our house. If I had designed the master bedroom in this house, I would have put a huge window in this wall, all the way across, since the ceiling shoots up another eight feet above where this picture cuts off, and it feels a little like a cavern. In fact, someday I would love to have a bedroom where the whole roof is a skylight so I can sleep under the stars at night. Does that exist except in melodramatic teenage daydreams like The Secret of Moonacre? Or do I just need to go camping more often?
Here’s my “mommy wall.”
This is where I go when the kids are in bed and my husband is working evenings. Because some days just can’t be remedied without a good book and a long hot bath.
And finally, lest you think I’m whitewashing the harem, here’s what my children’s rooms look like in real life.
In case you missed the rest of the home tour, you can find the previous episodes here:
photo credit: Topkapi Palace