Every time I'm invited to someone's house I'm always surprised at how similar the interior decor is wherever I've been. Is it because it's the same Chinese importer? The same Lebanese furniture stores? Or all the carpenters are trained the same way? I thought about this while I was at my colleague's house celebrating his daughter's first communion, perched on yet another uncomfortable sofa in the sweltering heat.
Invariably, a middle-class family home in an urban area has the following design elements:
* heavy wooden furniture upholstered in fuzzy synthetic fabric in unappetizing colors (usually a variation on brown; if the family is very well-off, then the furniture is leather and sticks to the back of your thighs because you're sweating so much
* plastic lace doilies
* enlarged framed photos of unsmiling, stiff family members
* TV in a prominent position, usually in a matching cabinet and covered with a lace-trimmed cloth, suspiciously familiar to what's used to cover altars at church
* plastic flowers in garish colors
* Christmas decorations
* droopy curtains in a floral print
* peeling fluorescent wall paint
* wall calendar that does not correspond to current year
It's not as if you can't buy lovely items here. But they're often expensive or difficult to maintain, or too chi-chi for every day use (especially with small fry underfoot).
The key thing is to find a good carpenter. I loved my carpenter in Bamako. Why? Because he was able to reproduce pretty much whatever I wanted from the Ikea catalog. (The French version with metric measurements and the prices whited out.)