Can you be friends with somebody who has bad taste? — by Guest Mom Rosalynde Welch

October 2, 2006



My kitchen has white metal cabinets. They’re vintage postwar Genevas, original to the house, sleek and gleaming with shiny chrome pulls, perfect for my black-and-white diner-style kitchen. Modern, unusual, and ultra stylish; what’s not to love?

Not long after we moved in, a new friend came over and said, walking into the kitchen, “Well, it’s a nice size, and you can always replace the cabinets.” I wasn’t offended, but I did wonder, just for an instant, whether we could still be friends. I mean, if she didn’t love my cabinets, we must be fundamentally incompatible, right?

That’s plain silly, of course, and we’re still good friends even though the cabinets have stayed. But I still wonder: what does a shared taste in décor — or eye for furniture or ear for music — do for a relationship? Here’s what I think: it’s easier to talk with somebody who instinctively shares your taste, but that easiness isn’t always a sign of the deeper harmony that keeps friends together.

So what do you think — of my cabinets and my question?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Girl con Queso October 2, 2006 at 9:06 am

Love the cabinets. Love the question. It’s a good one. And I’m not sure.

One of my best friends and I have different ideas about design and style. Mainly she doesn’t think or care about it at all. We’re different that way. So, I’d say it doesn’t matter.

But then, at the same time, your taste does reflect who you are. Meaning, right or wrong what you wear, how your home is designed/decorated/whatever, what car you drive, etc. does reflect your person, doesn’t it? Our choices reflect our preferences. So if you were into minimal decor, had cropped hair and drove a Prius, could you be friends with someone who had an American flag country kitchen, giant hairsprayed hair, and drove a Hummer? Not sure.

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2 Design Mom October 2, 2006 at 9:37 am

Love the cabinets. Love pretty much anything metal. And I totally agree with your thoughts.

I find that although different levels of taste don’t prevent a friendship, they often define it. I have certain friends who I would take furniture shopping. I know whose closet I would raid if I had a black-tie event to attend. Other friends I would go to for parenting advice.

Depending on what’s happening in my life any given week — say I’m sleep-training my baby — I might speak with one friend a dozen times. And in my experience, the more conversations and time spent together the deeper the friendship.

If I’m mostly engaged in designy things, I’m likely to have mostly designy friends. If I’m mostly engaged in mommy activities, I’m likely to have mostly mommy friends — a group with a wide variety of tastes.

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3 jordan October 2, 2006 at 10:27 am

Keep the cabinets. Thats just one topic you should never bring up. Religion, Politics and Cabinets.

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4 Rosalynde October 2, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Hey, comments! Thanks, all.

Girl con queso—yes, exactly. Taste does reveal something about personality—but what, exactly? And things get even more complicated when our tastes don’t reflect the stock caricatures. What about a minimalist with long hair who wishes she drove a minivan? (That’s me, for example.)

Gabby—Very intelligent analysis. “Defining friendship”—yes, I think that’s it exactly. And that’s probably how it should be. Recently I’ve been rethinking my ideas about friendship: should we sift through our acquaintances and keep as friends only those who best “fit” our outlooks and temperaments? Or should we put all the apples that fall near our tree in our baskets, and make friends from whatever we pick up? Recently I’m thinking the latter.

Jordan—LOL! Cabinets are always dangerous fodder for small talk. Can’t go wrong with window treatments, though.

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5 Erin October 2, 2006 at 2:44 pm

I find taste in books and media define my relationships more than style and design tastes. But also, if I have respect for their tastes (literary or otherwise) I like them, even if I don’t agree. So what decides if I respect their tastes? No idea. Maybe it depends on my upbringing and experiences I’ve had. Good question.

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6 Jenny October 2, 2006 at 4:58 pm

Fun post and a great blog (I’ve already spent too much time here already …). I find it generally pretty easy to get along with others who don’t share my taste in a lot of things, including décor. That said, when I do find someone who surrounds themself with things that I find aesthetically pleasing (read: I want) there’s a part of me that hopes we will be friends in part because I am just sure they’ll expose me to things I haven’t seen yet (read: I’m lazy and I like it when others find stuff I like for me …). I can’t help but feel that’s not the best grounds for a real relationship—when I do find myself fixating more on my friend’s living room than her conversation I know I better pay more attention to her if I want to keep the friendship.

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7 Rosalynde October 2, 2006 at 6:28 pm

Hi Erin, nice follow-up on what defines our tastes. We like to think that our aesthetic vision is like, you know, a core essence of our authentic transcendant selfhood or something. (And I’m really interested in the way things like Amazon wishlists and online registries, etc, have become big parts of defining our identities.) We think like this because artists often talk about their experiences in this way—and maybe it does work like that for some people, I don’t know. For most of us, though, I suspect that our taste is defined largely by our generation, our education level, and, above all, our social class. You see this in things like baby naming trends: so many people feel like they’ve chosen an unusual but consummately pleasing name for their baby—only to find that there are fifteen “Olivias” or “Maxes” in their kid’s preschool class. (Okay, so Gabby is a fabulous exception, and truly can claim a personal naming sensibility! (Which I absolutely love, by the way.))

Hi Jenny—I agree that it can be easy to substitute knowledge of a person’s taste for knowledge of a person—and that our lives are probably poorer for that.

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8 Juliane October 2, 2006 at 8:12 pm

To all those with style:
Please don’t judge us who don’t have the ability to express our style (i.e, we’re too tired or lazy to go out and purchase the things we’d REALLY like to have in our home – or just don’t like to shop:)) Some people, like me, can really appreciate and sometimes copy other’s style but just can’t create it themselves.

YES!, I hope you all believe you can be friends with those who don’t have “style”, ‘cuz if not, I’d sure be minus many wonderful friends.

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9 Rosalynde October 2, 2006 at 8:50 pm

Hey Juliane— Not to worry, sounds like we’d get along swimmingly! I’m planning a post on my style blind spots; believe me, despite Design Mom’s very kind intro, I’m no maven.

(Love your name, by the way, with just one “n”.)

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10 Adriana Velez October 3, 2006 at 8:29 am

Someone once said good taste is the residue of privilege. It matters less to me whether I have the same taste as a friend does — I love people who have strong and well-informed opinions about anything.

I find the sticky point is more between people who care about aesthetics and people who consider passion for the way things look shallow and frivolous. I like Jenny’s approach — being open to learning from other people.

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11 Design Mom October 3, 2006 at 8:37 am

Juliane,

I’m always surprised when people I consider to have great taste or really good design instincts or claim “design ignorance.” People in general seem to recognize and appreciate pretty things.

Maybe lack of confidence about design is largely just a function of picking a major/career outside of a design field and wanting to defer to the “professionals.”

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12 jay s October 4, 2006 at 10:42 am

for many people, these metal cabinets are “old”, and old=not functional or desirable, especially in a kitchen. I disagree with them, but hey, if they like oak cabinets fine.

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13 Juliane October 4, 2006 at 1:32 pm

Rosalynde,

You’re very kind. I’ve enjoyed your posts.

Gabby,

I KNEW there was a reason I liked you :) It’s great to be friends with a professional.

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14 The Wiz October 4, 2006 at 8:14 pm

I have no sense of interior design style. None whatsoever. I have to have my sister or my friend come tell me which art to buy and where to hang it. I know what I hate, but what I like? Different story.

I freely admit that, and I also admit I don’t know what “geneva” means, but I have to also admit I don’t like the cabinets much. I hope we can still be friends. I don’t really care if you don’t like my ultra traditional alder wood cabinets, because I do, and it’s my kitchen, not yours.

I’ll still hang in your ultra modern kitchen, because if you like it, it makes you happier, and happier people are more fun to be around.;)It’s your kitchen, baby. Do what you want.

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