Partial Nesting

Our idea of a nest took shape a few months after we got married when we read an article in Time magazine called the “Young and the Nested.” It described millions of couples our age who were settling down—leaving their slacker Generation X attitudes behind in order to decorate homes, have dinner parties, and do similar big people stuff. “Weary of kicking up their heels, they have turned to settling in with the same zeal they once gave barhopping,” the author wrote.

“Nesting means you get to trade a crazy public space for a place where you can define who you are,” a couple from St. Louis, Mo., told the writer.

Ann Clurman, a partner at Yankelovich’s MONITOR generational study, offered some perspective on what motivated Gen Xers to nest: “They are the first generation to be scheduled from their earliest play dates; to view school, even grade school, as a ruthless competition; to enter the work force unsure of where they’re going but clear enough that the destination is the top. And now they’re rebelling in their own way–not in the streets but back to hearth and home.”

We saw ourselves in the cultural trend that article captured. Not that we ever had a wild streak to settle down from, but that our desire for hearth and home was part of a larger movement. We had context for our longing to channel the restless energy of our single years into an effort to make a home for ourselves in the world. The term “nesters’ stuck with us as something more descriptive than any generational label.

While the “Young and the Nested” article had much to say about the quest for hearth and home among young couples, a primary focus of the story was the growth and youthful re-orientation of the nesting industry. It described how 20-somethings were embracing hardware and kitchenware stores that had previously targeted older customers. Places like Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Williams Sonoma, and Crate and Barrel gave our generation visions of a nest that looked a lot more like the ones our grandparents and great-grandparents knew than the odd nesting stuff we knew from the 70s and 80s. Buying into that vision of a more traditional craftsman period, we spent a lot of time in upscale showrooms buying candles and sconces, mirrors and kitchenware, lamps and rugs, desks and occasional tables.

Around that time, we found a description of real nest building that reminded us a lot of our approach back then. Consider how the male and female common tailorbirds split up their work: “Nest building for the Common Tailorbird is a job undertaken by the female. The male can be seen escorting the female on her material collection rounds.” The description continued in something of a Martha Stewart tone:

The ‘cover’ of the nest is formed by the female who meticulously pierces an equal number of holes on each leaf edge with her finely pointed bill as a needle. Spider silk or fine grass serves as thread. Stitching back and forth through the holes, the bird joins each leaf seam together. Fine strands of grass are used to weave the cup nest inside the folded leaf. Once that is completed, feathers and other materials are used to line the inside of the nest to keep the nestlings warm.

The big glaring difference between the common tailorbird and us is that our nest building wasn’t quite so focused on “nestlings.” We were pursuing hearth and home, but the vision we were chasing was more centered around the stuff of the nest than on its original purpose. A bird watcher would find it strange to see two birds create an exquisite nest and then never lay eggs in it. But that’s what we were doing. We were making a beautiful nest, but we weren’t having any nestlings.