A day of inspired design, the email had read.
But, of course, it was more.
On an otherwise cloudy morning, fueled by coffee and acai bowls, our group boards the trolley. We weave through downtown with a docent pointing out historical architecture, cultural standbys. We snap photos. We spot Trump’s distinct building, swap political perspectives. We marvel at the Aqua Tower, The Rookery, Buckingham Fountain.
I realize I feel small.
In the Chicago Cultural Building, I ask our docent about the opulent tile work overhead.
Quotes from famous literature and philosophers, all organized by region, he says pointing to the opulent ceiling.
Anything from Aristotle? I ask.
Ah, a fan! he says with a smile. Me too. “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
That’s beautiful, I say, following the group down the marble corridor.
We move through the day quickly, buzzing, chatting with excitement. Lunch — oysters and rosé — is as decadent as the architecture we’ve toured, the conversations rich from the morning’s inspiration. By the time we land back at the hotel with flushed cheeks and windblown hair, our minds, bellies and camera rolls are filled to the brim.
In a quiet conference room, we are given our assignment:
One hour to create a mood board of our bathroom remodel, gleaning inspiration from the sights and sounds of Chicago.
I get to work as I scroll through my photos, eyes breezing past baroque tiling, gilded frames, extravagant finishing. The Buckingham Fountain. The Rookery. Aqua Tower.
Opulence. Adornment. Luxury.
It was all so magnificent.
It was all so magnificently not me.
Earlier in the morning, as we ate breakfast in the Delta showroom, advice was offered on style and how we might come to discover our own.
Ask questions. Experiment. Consider boundaries.
And lastly: Know yourself.
The group begins adhering and arranging their boards. We work alongside one another as we take turns wielding the hot glue gun, passing scissors back and forth, swapping washi tape.
I look around at the boards of my peers and notice ornate tile work, brass bathroom fixtures. I see gilded elements, chandeliers – the same extravagance visible in the morning’s architecture.
I glance at the materials I’d brought from home: the minimalist patterns, the subway tile, the tearsheet of Delta’s matte black faucet. How can I blend my own understated style with the morning’s lavish inspiration?
I realize, for the second time today, I feel small.
But then, I think of the Chicago Cultural Center, of our docent, of Aristotle.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
I scroll through my camera roll a second time.
I survey the symmetry, the lines, the angles. Bright adornments against a darkened concrete city outside. Contrast. I witness the very boldness it takes to stand firm, dripping with original decadence in a sea of skyscrapers, of cold metal, of stark glass.
Here I am in my splendor, announced each landmark without apology. Come and see.
In a single instant, I begin to understand a simple truth.
The difficulty is not in finding your style.
The difficulty is in being bold enough to display it.
As I put together the finishing touches of my board, as I add a final strand of greenery, I realize the common thread that morning wasn’t glamour, glitz, decadence. It wasn’t details or intricacies.
It was individuality.
The knowing of one’s self, the knowing of one’s style, and the boldness to allow it.
Later that night, over soup and salmon, a new friend asks me when I’d be heading home to the family.
First thing tomorrow, I say. I miss them.
Same, she says, and we find ourselves in a conversation about work and home, priorities and time, motherhood and identity.
It took me a long time to see me as me, you know? I say.
Totally. But we were there all along, she says. Just covered under a few layers of mashed banana.
We laugh, and dessert arrives.
Sometimes, finding your style is finding yourself.
Here I am in my splendor. Come and see.
Other times, it’s realizing it was never really lost at all.
This essay was written for Delta Faucet. Here’s to inspired living for all, and stay tuned for part two, where I’ll be bringing my inspiration board to life in my own space!