Condo Living, Part Two, Vol. 4, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer: In our condo association we are having some serious differences about how to decorate our common areas. Some want painfully traditional furniture and artwork (wing chairs, a Hepplewhite breakfront, Audobon prints) in a contemporary building. Others would like something a bit hipper (Corbusier chairs and contemporary photography). Contemporary furniture won out but some of the photography is of period architecture and botanical subjects.There have been strenuous discussions over silk vs. fresh flowers in the lobby (fresh won out, but only for the moment), whether to allow personal belongings to accumulate in the parking garage and bike room (we opted against this). Light levels in the lobby and corridors have been an issue, too. When our building first opened the common areas were over illuminated, almost to the point of feeling like you were either in an operating room or interrogation chamber. Lowering of the light levels was followed by complaints, primarily from elderly owners, that it now "seemed dangerous." So, a compromise, boosting each fixture by 25 watts seemed to please everyone. On a more individual front, sundry rag tag doormats have appeared in front of unit doors even when the condo rules prohibit them. Personal decoration of unit doors is limited to Christmas wreaths December through January 15, and our Jewish neighbors are allowed the traditional mezuzah year-round, but we have had children's drawings, flags, photos, etc. almost like a refrigerator door! We banished everything but the mezuzahs and Christmas wreaths. Dear Decorated: The thing about a big condominium, Etiquetteer has discovered, is that people don’t want to feel like they’re living in a hotel. The desire to make personal that which is impersonal – the long bland corridors and rows of identical doorways – comes from a need to humanize one’s environment. Oh the other hand, one doesn’t want to feel like one is living in a dormitory, either. You could also say it’s like wolves marking their territory, and having heard some horrifying stories about condo board meetings, that’s not always far from the truth. A condominium puts one closer to the personal taste of one’s neighbors than one would be in a subdivision. Driving past a snowman banner every day in your car is very different from having to walk past it inches away in the hallway. And it is too much to expect for everyone in a condo association to share identical tastes! So Etiquetteer cannot say too much that people buying a condo need to examine their condo documents very carefully for things like personal display. Etiquetteer remembers one socialite who was outraged that her condo association made her get rid of her new draperies because they didn’t face white to the street. And yet the condo documents specifically stated that all window coverings be white on the side facing out. Had she condescended to read the regulations first, she wouldn’t have had the problem. While always making exceptions for the American flag and a not excessive amount of religious symbols (such as a mezuzah, cross, or wreath), Etiquetteer would encourage the trustees of your condo association to enforce the rules. The compromise you mention of contemporary furniture with more traditional artwork sounds both appropriate and kind of fun, sort of like Pottery Barn, actually. Compromise in a situation like this, where everyone needs to leave the table with something, is the most important and delicate part of condo living. Best of luck in your continued day-to-day living.

Dear Etiquetteer: I think a point that can be made is that a condo building is often like a small neighborhood unto itself. And here too, or maybe especially, friendliness and good manners go a very long way. For our part we twice a year invite the entire building for a drop in cocktail party over a three-hour period. We do one in the summer when our terrace is full of plants, and one right after Thanksgiving before the holidays have really kicked into high gear. Much goodwill comes of these informal get-togethers. Sometimes getting people who might be opposite each other on one issue aligned on another issue is very good. Our building has agreed to provide a meal one Tuesday a month to a homeless shelter not far from our building. Over half of our residents sign up to cook or help deliver the meal. In this situation two neighbors who are on opposite sides about several condo issues come together to cook and deliver the food. It seems to have broken the ice and humanized the other party for both sides. At meetings they are much less argumentative and seem now to listen to the other party. My wife and I are Midwesterners and the thought of seeing a neighbor in the morning and not greeting them seems very unfriendly. But we are in Boston, and this custom of good morning or hello is not universal; in fact one woman on our floor barely would reply with a grunt. My wife continued to greet her, and now we find her to be among our friendliest neighbors. An important point here is that in owning a portion of a building with your neighbors you are to a point intertwined financially. The continued positive perception of your building as attractive in the larger community does affect property values. Your co-owners need not be your best friends but they should be people you can feel neighborly with. Dear Midwestern Guy: Really, Etiquetteer could not have said it better. Etiquetteer commends you and your wife for investing the time, energy, and patience into cultivating neighborly relations with your, shall we say, more reserved Bostonian neighbors.

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