Monday, May 19, 2008
My biggest, fattest decorating pet peeve is the in/out list. Apparently the most recent list has zeroed in on the "Home of the 80s." While the list made a few salient points, it also confused me. For example, garden art is a no-no. Who thinks up this stuff? If you'd like to read the article, click here HERE
Regarding my own home, it is relatively new and therefore should enjoy a grace period of at least 5 years before it becomes dated. Or maybe color schemes don't last as long as they once did. While acid green wasn't an 80s color, it is popular now. I love it with brown, and I adore it with pink. Green must have been historically "hot" a few hundred years ago if the library at Mellerstain House is any example:
I wonder if list creators know (or care) about the timeless decor at Cowdor Castle in Scotland (and it has a tree growing in the cellar, in the middle of a gift shop):
I'm working on a peach and brown bedroom for my house, but if this article is to be trusted, then my room is out before it's even put together. If salmon, or any shade of salmon, is "out" then I will like it even more.
My favorite house in the Lowlands of Scotland is Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott. These windows overlook the River Tweed:
His paneled library would be considered timeless by anyone, I should think. Two lovely stories of books, and a brown-and-cream tweed carpet (wall to wall!).
In person (or perhaps it was the light that day), Abbotsford's dining room isn't quite this pinky-peach but no matter, I'm sure the "out-listers" would scornfully refer to it as salmon. But if you look at the china on the table, the color scheme becomes perfectly clear.
The aforementioned article ended with a caveat, warning that colors from the 80s--specially teals and mauves--will never, ever return. But they DO return--they just come back with a different name is all. Maybe I dreamed it, but didn't _Southern Accents_ just SAY that mauve is on its way back? Only they called it Blush.
If your dining room walls celebrate the colors of your wedding china, then you have just created a timeless room IMHO. If garden art causes the list-makers to snicker, then I pity them. One of my friends has a darling 16 year old daughter, and he posted hand-painted signs along his driveway. The first one says: Beware of bull. The second one says: Bull especially hates 16 year old boys.
During the move, our gazing ball was accidentally smashed, and I have been haphazardly looking for a replacement; but now I will look in earnest. I have always loved being the rule-breaking rogue, and I will flaunt that ball when I get one. In fact, I am making up my own list, and it only has one rule: whatever you love is "in" until you and you alone fall out of love with it.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Today I got mad at my house. Lightbulbs popped, grout disappeared from tile, and a gutter swung down. When a toilet tried to spill over, I thought: I'll get you, my pretty. Just as soon as the economy improves, I will get rid of you.
Is it possible for a house to be flat wrong for you? A Realtor told me that when people are househunting, they want to know why the home is for sale, and if anyone had died there. Maya Angelou once bought a house where "bread would not rise and chicken was bloody at the bone." Her marriage disintegrated. She left the house and the man and found more agreeable quarters.
I have witnessed houses and people clashing. "This house is a lemon!" they'll cry. Then again, maybe the general contractor didn't watch his subs. My mother has endured many household disasters, and she's never moved. "Change your attitude, not your address" is her motto, along with, "Find a good handiman."
And I do know she is right; but I also think Maya's right. I once lived in a house that fell to pieces around me. While I was living there, trying to put the house back together, someone I love betrayed me.
While I packed the china, my best friend came over with a pitcher of peach fuzzies and told me that I should stay, that it wasn't the house.
"You're right," I told her. "It's me." Because I'd built and designed that house, drawing out many versions on graph paper before taking my drawings to a draftsman.
Several fuzzies later, I said, "If only I'd hired an architect. A really cute one."
When things go wrong, it's human nature to assign blame, and a house is a convenient scapegoat. Plus, we are wired this way. The body's natural response to stress is "fight or flight." When I was younger and freshly betrayed, I flew the coop, hoping to obliterate sadness and start over. Now, I think I lacked courage. I mean, what was the rush? Why didn't I take a stand? Leaving was easy--way too easy.
And yet, on some level it must have worked. Why else would I be threatening my present home? Watching and waiting for it to screw up.
I am not helpless; I know how to grout tile and how to unstop minor toilet clogs; and I can hire someone to fix the gutter. The truth is, this house was my honey's dream, not mine. I'd already dreamed quite a few house dreams. I liked a relaxed, no-category style. But I couldn't get it right. I'd blown my chance to prove to my honey, and to myself, that I did, too, know what I was doing. It was like a game show host had said, "Time's up!" Ding, ding ding.
My honey wanted glitz. My honey's idea of beauty was Tony Soprano's house. But I didn't want to be a design dictator, so I did my best to deliver the goods. And if certain rooms made me cringe, so be it. It was my own damn fault. Well, that's what I told myself. But secretly, I had no intention of staying. I didn't even unpack the good crystal. Even before we'd gotten settled, I had programmed myself for unhappiness.
There's quite enough sorrow in life, so why go looking for it? And how silly to blame a house! I have come to believe that a home is a repository of history, moments of joy as well as sorrow. I love my childhood home because of its history. All of those ups and downs form a pattern, like something you'd see in a crazy quilt: each jagged piece tells a story, our story. And houses, like people, have their beautiful moments. They also wear out. My mother always says, "What man breaks, man can fix."
And you know what? She's right.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Most of us have our favorite comfort foods--why not have the design counterpart for our homes? Again, I am inspired by places in the UK (where, I just heard, a Diet Coke is 5 pounds--so when I go, I suppose I will lap water from the Thames).
Here's my shortlist:
1. Afghans and throws
2. A thick down mattress cover and down pillows
3. Aubusson pillows on the sofa
4. English rooms always seem to have dogs and cats sleeping in a patch of sunlight
5. A bowl filled with rocks from places you've been
6. Candles, preferably orange-scented Trapp.
7. Photographs in a glass bowl rather than albums--rotate them, or pick out the photo du jour.
8. A kitchen cabinet filled with tea and coffee supplies: mismatched mugs on a wicker tray; whole coffee beans in an airtight jar; teabags tied with ribbon.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
A dear British lady once told me to throw out design rules and to think of a room as a garden. For me, it was a major lightbulb moment. I had always wondered how the English had mastered the art of cozy vignettes, and the gardening analogy made perfect sense. What better place to learn about scale and colors?
While arranging furniture on your "lawn," you might wish to create a "hedge" to divide the area. A sofa, piano, or a large table can divide a large space, or create layers in a smaller one. You can keep adding hedge rows, making cozy places to write letters, read, play cards, or serve afternoon tea (a lovely ritual, even for one).
Walls and windows are the background "vista," with art and draperies drawing the eye upward. Rugs lay out the geometry of your space, rather like the border of a flower bed. Folding screens can further divide a space.
Finally, study beautiful flowers. Pay attention to texture, scale, and repetition of colors. Better yet, make friends with a gardener! A good way to begin is to fly over to RMS and study the way Tootsie creates magic.
Hope the sun is shining wherever you are today.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
When design obsessed people get together, house lust is a popular topic. I always listened with interest but never contributed to the conversation--I'd never fallen for a house. Sure, I’d liked a few. I’d had several platonic relationships, and one had bordered on hatred; but I'd never known brick-and-mortar lust.
Then, in the middle of a drought-plagued summer, I fell smack in love with a house. It sat on a thickly wooded hill, and to reach it you had to drive up a long, curved gravel road. From the street—or “lane”—the house was hidden, except for a pointy edge of the roof jutting up from the trees.
The owners had moved out of state and, for reasons I never learned, they’d left clothes in their closets, jam in the refrigerator, and Arabian horses in the pasture.
I didn’t care about that. I just knew I’d found my dream house. Inside, sunlight spilled through three arched French doors onto gleaming wood floors. The kitchen had a fireplace and all kinds of storage. Under the staircase was a huge china closet. But what I loved best was the little garden in the side yard—rows of lavender, bordered with red knockout roses.
My sweetheart hated everything about the house. But I was in love. Like most smitten fools I defended the object of my affection. I pointed out its virtues—privacy yet sweeping views; tall ceilings, plantation shutters, and walk-in closets. My honey waved one hand at the dated décor and said, “It needs a lot of work.”
“Nothing a little paint can’t fix,” I said cheerily.
“But it’s too far from town,” Honey said. “And the roads are narrow and twisty. Plus, it’s isolated. Spooky. And why did the owners leave food in the refrigerator? What happened? Was someone, like, after them?”
I had to put my quest on hold while I went off to Scotland. I printed pictures of the house and carried them with me. I’d go into a pub and drag out my beloved, imaging my family sitting around the dining room table, saying grace and then carving a turkey.
At night I mentally re-designed every inch of that house. I saw myself pulling down the wallpaper border in the oddly colored bedroom, a sort of gray-purple. Then I would start arranging our furniture. I always fell asleep before I got to the kitchen.
It took all summer to wear down my honey. By mid-September we made an offer. After much volleying back and forth, it was accepted.
But every single day, my honey called to point out the houses's flaws. The conversation always began with, “And _another_ thing about that house…."
Realtors will tell you that buyer’s regret is a common malady, but I didn’t have a chance to feel ambivalent because the whole deal fell through.
I sobbed until my eyes were piggy slits. But that house was gone, baby, gone. My sweetheart was curiously reticent, but patted my arm and tried to comfort me. “The right house will come along—wait and see!”
Well, it didn’t come along. And I was looking, hard. At some point I stopped crying and began to whine. My friends said it just wasn’t meant to be. Well, why not? I wondered. Why wasn’t that house meant to be?
My self-pitying snit was accompanied by a long list of “if onlys.” I will just tell you, “if only” has to be one of the worst phrases in the English language. But I can’t stop saying it. If only I hadn’t__________”
When we finally agreed on a house, I wasn’t in love but I knew we’d be compatible. I planted roses and lavender. But that star-crossed house stayed in my mind. It was my unrequited house, the one that got away. Even now, I think about that garden and wonder if the lavender and roses are blooming. I can almost hear the gravel crunch under my shoes as I walk up the road.
In my mind I am still decorating that house, still peeling off the wallpaper and rearranging furniture on the sun porch. Sometimes I pick paint colors--warm neutrals—and other times I select hot blooded colors. In my mind’s eye, I drive down that lane (where a neighbor’s sign, Honey For Sale, flutters in the wind). I wonder how the driveway I almost had might look with trees.
A couple from Wyoming bought that house. They love it. They’ll never sell. But if they do, and if I’m able, I will do the boogie-woogie all the way there.