A Designer's Dilemma: Decades of Gawmy

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Anita Hamalainen

Hold up, what does gawmy mean?

It's a wonderful old-timey word from mid-coast Maine, most simply defined as "awkward or clumsy". Born and raised by the King of Gawmy, I have a more nuanced definition. The adjective gawmy is a practical solution to a home-related problem with little or no regard for aesthetics.

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My dad, the King of Gawmy, has many fine qualities. He's hardworking and kind, with a ribald sense of humor. One major area of weakness, however, is his inability to consider the visual ramifications when solving problems around the house, usually armed with duct tape, stiffened wire, and/or yellow nylon rope.

Before continuing, I should dismount from my hoity toity high horse with a huge disclaimer: I come from a long line of Maine farmers and loudly applaud Yankee ingenuity. Historically, the 24/7 schedule of a farmer left little time for fussy design considerations like "What color should I paint my barn?", "Is my area rug too chartreuse?", and "Should my house numbers have a serif?" (Incidentally, the answers to those three questions are: 1) red; 2) there is no such thing as too much chartreuse; and 3) any font is fine except Comic Sans.)

But while I truly appreciate Yankee creativity, it has led to solutions that send shivers down my spine. There are cringe-worthy examples of gawmy all over New England. For example, a Vermont Window, aka a witch window, results from an addition to a home which leaves insufficient wall space in the neighboring room for a double hung window. The thought must have been: "Well, I'm not going to order a custom window, so I guess I'll just keep turning the old window till it fits in this wall."

Like a blemish on the end of someone's nose, you can't look away.

(photo courtesy of onlyinyourstate.com)

Another example of gawmy is the sun porch glommed on to my 1905 Victorian home in White River Junction. Not original to the house, someone precariously cantilevered this second story room over the side porch, completely messing up the home's otherwise elegant proportions. But unfortunately, our sun porch is not even a practical solution; in summer it's a sun-blazed sauna and in winter it's a great place to store our ice reserves.

Not only is the the sun porch crushing the dignity of our house, it's literally crushing the side porch roof. Please send help.

But the gawmy tour de force is the walkway my dad recently added to his new prefabricated home. His new house is surrounded (temporarily, I hope) by dirt, so to minimize the dust tracked into the house, my dad laid a long astroturf runway leading to the side door, and to prevent the astroturf from blowing away, he lined the edges with a hodge podge assortment of plywood sections, loose 2x4s, bricks and large stones. While his unsightly walkway solved the dust problem, my tender design sensibilities and retinas will never be the same.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And astroturf.

All patronizing aside, gawmy is a clash between priorities and privilege. I'm very lucky to be able to spend my day fretting over esoteric concerns, such as brushed nickel versus satin and whether I can pull off pronouncing vase as vahz. My New England forebears had concerns and worries that I thankfully don't, and when I visit the King of Gaumy, I avert my eyes and bite my tongue.

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