Words and photos by Jennifer Wetzel
In a grand old apartment in Midtown lives a fascinating woman. On the surface, this woman looks to be cuckoo, eccentric, nostalgic. But beneath, she is a spirited lady who has lived through a variety of experiences, all of which have led her to express herself through this singular interior lifestyle. When I met Marilyn in the foyer of her building, she was so inviting, so friendly, and also so self-aware of her peculiarity. She continued to apologize throughout my hours-long visit.
“Oh Jenn, I’m crazy, I know. But I just love it all so much.”
As we entered her three-bedroom apartment, the curation of it all was overwhelming. And by “it all,” I am talking about the French lace wedding dresses, gilded mirrors and photograph frames, the crystals hanging from chandeliers, antique dolls, each acquired from a different place and time, and fake flowers flowing from every vase, wreath and Christmas tree. Also stunning was the dedication to such a monochromatic design scheme. White, off-white, gold and silver dominated every surface, every wall, every piece of furniture, with the exception of the “pink sitting room.” The entire apartment was breathtakingly maximalist.
Those who have visited Marilyn at home have experienced not only the endless visual sensation, but also the restrictive spatial sensation. For photographing interior spaces, I have always depended on a tripod, to set up my composition, to execute a clear and lit photograph with long exposure. The tight parameters of physical space gave me pause, and instead I asked Marilyn for a pre-shoot tour of the rooms.
Along this tour, I learned so much about the details in her life that brought her to that day. Though it wasn’t her life experiences that created this over-stylized approach to decorating, I believe it has been within her her whole life. She began her narrative with early adulthood. Her first and only marriage was brief, but she looks fondly on the experience and what it gave her… her daughter. The day after my visit, she was leaving Kansas City for an extended visit with her daughter in California, and so looking forward to it. After her marriage ended, she chose to remain a single woman, free to make her own whimsical choices. Life, on her terms. Her terms being that she could relish in her kookiness, hunt for and sell antiques, travel and enjoy life.
I did my best to capture the true capacity of Marilyn’s decoration, but a photograph only offers a two-dimensional experience. The layers and stories and history behind every object were lovingly offered when I would pause at one, or point one out in the vast scene of choices. Each doll, trinket, candleholder, and curio cabinet was categorically described, from origin to how it found its current resting spot in this Midtown apartment.
I hope my readers and viewers will have the same appreciation that I did that day for this space and this woman, who I respect so much for being her truest self. For finding her individual voice and style and diving in head-first. I left feeling happy and open to all the different paths and personalities of individuals out there, being themselves.
Yes, Marilyn, you may be crazy, but you are wonderful for being so. Thank you!