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Decorate Like a Russian Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Culture, Traditions

From my philosophy course I remember that бытие определяет сознание (being determines consciousness). Understanding Russian/Soviet/post-Soviet/New Russian consciousness just from reading about the environment or even travelling to Russia for a few weeks is just like trying to understand what маракуйя (passion fruit) tastes like from reading about it or looking at pictures.

That’s what in-country language immersion programs are about. But if you can’t travel to Russia, then how about bringing Russia (or at least part of it) to you.  With this in mind, let’s get busy re-decorating your living room, Russian style.

Note: This is a post mostly about Soviet-era decor. However, many Russians I know still live with and in that style. Sure, the furniture is no longer the horrible Soviet гробы (lit: coffins), but rather expensive Italian гарнитуры (here: furniture sets). But the polished wood, glass and mirrored surfaces, elaborate window dressings are still here. But guess what? So are the potted plants and beautiful tea sets, and family pictures and many other things that make Russian homes such a wonderful mix of coziness and kitsch. 


First thing first, you must wallpaper your walls. I am not sure why краска (paint) alone doesn’t cut it. But a nice обои (wallpaper) is a must-have if you are decorating Russian-style and no, wall border won’t do. Ok, let’s define nice now. Go for either vertical stripes or small flowers or a combination of both. Or you can go with фото обои (photo murals)


While your wallpaper is drying, go buy the largest ковёр (carpet) you can find for your money. Every single apartment I’ve ever been to in Russia had at least one room with ковёр на стене (a carpet hung on a wall). The style of carpet is important, so listen carefully. It MUST be персидский ковёр (Persian carpet). No money for a real deal? No worries, a fake one will do just fine.

Back home, повесьте ковёр на стену (hang the carpet on the wall) and while you’re at it, take down the ceiling fan. Replace it with a real люстра (chandelier), a pride and joy of many Russian households even if it is стеклянная (made of glass) and not хрустальная (made of crystal) one. If any of your American friends question your choice, explain that it adds drama.

With all this косметический ремонт (redecorating) out of the way, it’s time to bring in the furniture. Hold on, not your old stuff. Instead, first thing that will go in is стенка (wall unit). Here’s something to look for when selecting a proper стенка. To begin with, it must be long enough to go along one entire стена (wall) in your room. Avoid открытые полки (open shelves) and instead opt for lots of doors, including large glass doors. Whether you choose тёмное (dark) or светлое (light) дерево (wood) is not nearly as important as it being полированное (polished, glassy surface).

Now you can bring back whatever couch you have and cover it with another fake Persian rug or any kind of плед (throw blanket). Have room enough for кресло (arm chair)? Make sure it matches the couch. No eclectic or flea market style is allowed.

And now it’s time to decorate windows. Window dressings are not optional in a Russian-style home. And жалюзи (blinds) alone do not count as полноценный (adequate) window coverings. You will need at least шторы (flat window panels). But why not go with гардины (draperies) complete with ламбрекен (window scarf) and a set of тюлевые шторы (lace curtains) behind them.

Hey, you’re almost done! It’s time to accessorise. Start with the wall unit. Remember, I told you to get the one with lots of стеклянные дверцы (glass doors)? That’s where you will need to put lots and lots of сувениры (souvenirs) and безделушки (tchotchkes), no matter how cheesy. Oh, family photos will go here to. No need to frame them either. Just prop them against a porcelain ballerina or a set of матрёшки (nesting dolls).

But I almost forgot one very important thing. Your чайный сервиз (tea service) and хрустальные фужеры (tall crystal glasses) will take a place of honor behind the glass doors of your стенка. Don’t tell me you haven’t got чайный сервиз! Ok, so you might be a bit broke after all this redecorating. But at least get the fanciest фарфоровый (made of porcelain) заварочный чайник (teapot) you can find.

Finally, you’ll need plenty of домашние растения (house plants), a few кружевные салфетки (doilies), ваза для цветов (a flower vase) or вазочка для конфет (a small candy bowl) and you are done!

Now invite your friends over на чаепитие (to tea), but don’t forget to set out enough домашние тапочки (house slippers) for them to change into.

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