The Interior Designer

Jack and Kellie had their living room arranged and decorated just the way they liked it. From the choice of colors to the layout of the furniture, the space was comfortable and inviting. The pale, mint-colored walls held pictures of the couple and their favorite places. Modern, minimalist furniture sat arranged just so. An area rug covered a large portion of the hardwood flooring.

Then Kellie ran into an old friend at a public event and invited him to visit.

Jack wasn’t sure what to make of Gregory when he first laid eyes on him as he stood on the front porch. Kellie had told him that Gregory was an interior designer in the hospitality industry, a pro at designing spaces in which people could feel comfortable and relax. But Gregory didn’t dress the way Jack figured that artsy types usually did. In fact, Gregory looked downright ordinary.

Maybe they’d be friends, he thought. Right up until Gregory sat on one of their sofas and, while Kellie got some drinks and snacks from the kitchen, swept every inch of the living room with his eyes. He’s scrutinizing the place, Jack realized. He’s deciding if he likes it. His back stiffened, and his face grew warm.

Strangely, the only thing Gregory said about their place was that he liked it. I’ll bet, thought Jack.

A few weeks later, a package arrived on the doorstep with a note. “It’s from Gregory!” exclaimed Kellie.

“I found these and thought of you both,” read the note. It pointed out a specific place in the living room that they would best go. “I hope you like these and how they’ll look on your wall.”

They opened the package and found two 8 × 10 framed art pieces. The wooden frames had some flair to them, not like the simple black frames that Jack and Kellie favored. “These are beautiful!” Kellie breathed with a big grin.

On the wall? Jack was thinking. In the garbage, more like.

“Oh, come on,” Kellie said when she saw the look on his face. She nudged him. “Let’s at least see how they look. He is a professional.”

They took down the pictures Gregory had specified and replaced them with the new ones. Kellie stepped back. “I like how they look there. Can we leave them up for a while? You know, see if we want them to stay there.”

“Sure.” Jack wanted to say no, but the way Kellie was smiling told him that he’d better let it be.

Not long after that, Gregory came by for another visit. “I see you put up the pictures I sent. You can’t imagine how much that pleases me. Don’t they look great?” Jack had to admit that they didn’t look too bad.

As they sat together and talked, Gregory said, “You know, I was thinking. The furniture arrangement in here is appealing and functional, but with one exception. That chair is kinda in the way when you’re heading toward the kitchen. You have to go around it every time. I’d suggest shifting everything this way a little. If you move everything proportionally, then you still have the same look but a little more functionality.”

It made sense. So they just did it right then with Gregory’s help.

They saw Gregory every couple months after that, it seemed. The next time, Gregory suggested a different layout for their furniture. Jack’s back stiffened. “I’ll—we’ll think about it,” was all he would commit to. And even that was more than he wanted to promise.

Kellie soon won him over, explaining the benefits of the new arrangement. So he gave in. And after a couple of days, he had to grudgingly admit that it was better and he was at least getting used to it.

But the next thing Gregory advised them to do was going too far. “Your sofa and chairs are mismatched. I think you should replace them. I’ll send you some ideas.”

Jack blinked. He didn’t think anything was wrong with how well the seating matched. He looked at it. Or was there?

Gregory texted them some links, and they browsed the items. In spite of himself, Jack agreed with Kellie that a particular complete set would look very nice and be more comfortable than what they had. Jack winced at the price. But they had the money saved aside, so they made the purchase.

When Gregory came over the next time, he admired the new furnishings. As they talked, he said, “Unfortunately, the walls don’t go well with the sofa and chairs anymore. I think you need a warmer color. How about I send you some swatches to consider? Then you can go over to the paint store and pick your favorite.” And as good as his word, Gregory sent them the next morning.

Choosing a swatch turned out to be the easy part, of course. Then Jack and Kellie had to buy the paint and supplies, take everything off the walls, mask the edges, lay out drop-cloths on the floor and furniture, apply two coats of paint, and put everything back. “It looks so much more homey in here!” said Kellie when they had finished. Jack looked around, uncertain. But again, after a while he had to agree.

Gregory wasn’t done with them yet. “This looks fantastic!” He spread his thumb and index finger along his jawline in thought. “This hardwood floor doesn’t really work anymore though. And that area rug covers up most of it anyway, so you can’t really enjoy it. I recommend replacing it with tile flooring with wood-grain pattern. You won’t know the difference, and tile has its advantages. I have a specific color and pattern in mind that I think you’ll love.”

So Jack and Kellie bought the tiles, removed the hardwood planks, and replaced them with the tiles. The process took them about a week of working on it nearly every day after work. Jack couldn’t be more grateful when it was done.

And then Gregory showed up at the door the following week. Kellie headed toward the door. “Hold on!” Jack hissed. She stopped and turned around with her eyebrows raised. Jack spread his hands. “I’m not sure I want to let him in. Let’s pretend we’re not home.”

“What?” Kellie asked. “Why? Gregory is a great friend.”

Jack stepped closer to her, leaning forward with some intensity. “Yeah, but every time he shows his face, I end up with a lot of work and expense to go to with his recommendations! Look how different this place is from what we had before he started coming over here!”

Kellie looked around and then straight into Jack’s eyes. “Yes, but don’t you think it’s been for the better?”

Now it was Jack’s turn to look around. His shoulders slumped. “Yes.”

Still looking at him levelly, Kellie said, “Will you open the door?”

Jack nodded and did so.

True to his pattern, Gregory congratulated them on the work they had done. Jack tensed, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And drop it did. “The lighting in here could use some improvement,” Gregory observed. “You see how you have shadows hanging partway down the walls? With some adjustments, it would look twice as cheery in here.”

Jack swallowed hard. He tried to come across as merely curious but managed to sound hoarse instead. “What do you suggest?”

It took removal of the old light fixtures, cutting new holes in the ceiling, reconfiguring the wiring, patching and painting the holes, buying the new lighting, and installing it. But wow, Jack thought when it was all wired up and they turned on the lights. The place really shone.

On Gregory’s next visit, he just beamed like the room itself now did. “Your place is such a wonderful place to be. Now, I have one more thing.”

Jack fell back onto the sofa.

“Not to worry,” Gregory said with a smile. “I have this one all taken care of. All this time, your living room hasn’t really had a focus. But I’ve brought you something that can change that.” He went out to his truck and brought back a large and flat object wrapped in brown paper. “Go ahead, open it.”

With a wide grin, Kellie started to pull at the paper and motioned to Jack, who joined her.

It was a beautiful piece of artwork with a tasteful wooden frame. Kellie gasped when she saw the signature in the bottom corner. “Tell me you didn’t buy this for us. It must have cost more than everything we’ve paid for the last few months put together.”

“I did buy it,” Gregory said. “Call it a housewarming gift. You’ve done so much to follow what I’ve suggested, and you see for yourselves the results. I’m ecstatic to give this to you.” He helped them clear the space on the wall and hang the new picture. They stood back and admired it together. Jack looked at Gregory, who seemed completely absorbed in enjoying his surroundings and had a sincerely joyful smile.

Jack worked up the courage to speak. “I’m sorry, Gregory. To be honest, I’ve gotten annoyed with you because of all the money we’ve had to spend and the work we’ve had to put in. But I can see now that you were just trying to help us and make things better.”

“It’s all right,” Gregory replied. “I know it may seem like I do this for my own aggrandizement or to feel like I’m important or something. But it’s not that at all. I truly saw some ways that you could make some real positive changes and encouraged you to do it because I knew it would bring you a greater amount of happiness. I really love being here.”

Jack and Kellie looked at each other, their smiles reflecting each other’s. Kellie said, “And you’re welcome any time you wish to come.” Jack found himself in complete agreement.

Photo by Terry Magallanes on

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