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Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Girl and her Car


Some days, I can't write about decorating ideas, but my head is still filled with observations of life, and the most infinitesimal, yet joyful thoughts that happen inside us every single day. Here is one of mine.

I was in the car dealership earlier this year, waiting to get my car checked, when I noticed that someone had left a newspaper on the chair next to me, and the magazines (all about automobiles and sports, not a feminine thing to be seen) were scrunched in an almost impossible pile of paper mess on the table. The guy before me had also left his empty, paper coffee cup there; pretending to ignore the garbage can a few feet away, as he rushed off to his haircut appointment (he actually told me he was in a hurry to get his oil changed because he had a haircut appointment, which made me smile).

After a few minutes, I was the only one there, and I tried not to look at the mess laid out in front of me. I watched the morning show on the television, and pretended to be really interested in what percentage of people showered every day, and how John Cena had proposed to his girlfriend last night during a wrestling match, but I still couldn't stop looking at the pile of papers.

Eventually, I thought that if I grabbed one of the magazines, I could accidentally straighten the pile in the process; who the heck accidentally straightens a pile? Me. So, I picked up a magazine and casually straightened the first pile at the same time (so nervous in my self-perceived, organizing insanity, that my bottom almost missed the chair when I hastily went to sit down again).

My eyes went back to the television, as I wondered what type of coffee had been in the cup, and how long it would sit there before someone tidied it up. I thought of bringing some magazines from home, for the women to read while they waited for their own cars to be fixed, and if I should offer to answer the phone as I heard it ring endlessly then go to voice mail.
I sat there, wanting to help and wanting to clean up (first impressions and all that) until I heard fast heavy footsteps behind me. While I was lost in my thoughts, the mechanic had flung open the door, and was now sitting down next to me. And he was calling me "Ma'am". He was barely a few years older than me, and I had just been "Ma'am"ed.

My thoughts turned to the extra ten pounds I had put on, the frumpy skirt I was wearing, and the fact that I hadn't slept more than a couple of hours last night, and I suddenly felt every inch a "Ma'am". Feeling as if I had just aged a decade in just a few seconds, I said a polite thank you and paid the bill.

As I sadly walked to the door, I looked back up at John Cena on the television, beaming broadly at his new fiancee; the Ma'am comment had stung a little, but I realized in that moment that they were just words, and they hadn't actually changed me into someone else. I was still me.
So, I flipped my hair back, turned myself around, straightened the mess on the table, threw the coffee cup into the bin, and smiled at the man behind the counter as I waved him a cheerful goodbye.

p.s. Thank you to John Cena and Twiggy for being so original, and inspiring me to be the same. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Claim Your Space



There are a lot of times in our life when we're told to "fake it until you make it". I always thought that sounded silly and insincere, until I actually started to try it and began to realize that we can (and do) control our thoughts, which can in turn change how we look at life. But one of the most surprising ways to fake it, is when we are feeling unsettled in our homes.

I was contacted once by someone who told me she had just moved into her new home, and didn't feel that it was comfortable or visitor-worthy. As we talked, I was shocked to learn that she had actually lived there for two years, even though, to her, it felt like she had just moved in. She emailed me photographs, which showed me a house that was so chaotic that it tore at my heart. I couldn't imagine coming home to that type of environment, and I couldn't wait for our first appointment.

It is a couple of years later, and now that we are friends, I asked her if I could write about her experience. I promised to get her full approval before I published anything, and she generously agreed. You see, whether we have just moved in to our home, or feel like we have, it is still our home. If we treat it as if it is our most precious possession, it will nurture us, and be a safe haven for us to begin and end every day, because after all, isn't that what everyone wants? A safe, comfortable place to begin and end every day?

So, with that in mind, and the blessing of my design friend, here are some thoughts on what you can do if your home is feeling a little unsettled.

Deal With The Boxes
Whether you can get rid of them completely, or just stack them all in a single room, don't have random, unpacked boxes filling odd corners all over the house. Eventually, they just become an unattractive and unnecessary part of the scenery; they blend into your decorations like an old enemy that you haven't had the courage to unfriend - not hated, but not serving any purpose, and definitely not welcome or pleasant to look at.

Buy A LampCeiling lights have their uses, but all the dimmers in the world won't ever give you the warm, cozy feeling that you are looking for. Buy a lamp or two and put them on a table, or stand them next to your favorite chair. The shadows create interest, and the pockets of light draw you into the space of their glow.

Cook A Meal
Whether you can cook or not, taking time to prepare something for yourself is a caring thing to do. It forces you to slow down a bit, see your kitchen in a different way, and lose yourself in making something delicious. Try to avoid something that requires the microwave - use a pan just to heat soup if you need to, or make the best grilled cheese sandwich ever. Sit down and eat it on a real plate if you can.

Enjoy Where You Are

I know this can be easier said than done, but if this is where you are, then you have to make the best of it. This goes back to the fake-it-till-you-make-it comment, but refusing to settle in and enjoy your home because you are waiting or saving for something better isn't a good strategy. Because what if you never move, or your personal circumstances change when you least expect them to? Delaying happiness is never, ever a good idea, and a great place to begin is by loving your home right this minute, and claiming your space.

p.s. As for my design friend?  I am happy to say that she never moved out of her home, but she did move all of those boxes. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Use It or Lose It


I never quite understood the use it or lose it expression until I went to do a cartwheel last year in the garden. Overcome by a memory of whom I used to be, and feeling the need to make use of the wonderful, green space that welcomes me home every day, I ran across the grass, leaped into the air (or so I imagined) and fell flat on my face. I thought I had a concussion and broken both my arms, so I lay there wondering whether to laugh or burst into tears.

As I imagined how I would look when the ambulance men found me, I pulled myself up and sat on the grass. I had dirt on my face, and both my wrists hurt. I had lost it. Years of neglecting to do a cartwheel meant that I had forgotten how to do it, and my body was definitely having the last laugh.

Homes are a little similar. If we don't use a room or a thing, it starts to feel out of place, and when we eventually do want it back, it can be uncomfortable until we get past the discovery phase again.

I see this all the time in formal Living and Dining Rooms. Many people don't use them because we have become more casual, and they feel uncomfortable and stale, when really they just need a bit of attention. They need to be used and celebrated.

Dust them off and put some fresh flowers in there. Sit in it a while. Eat your breakfast at your too-fancy dining table or have a donut on your very-posh sofa. Put your feet up on it and wiggle down into the cushions. Rearrange it a bit and look up at the ceiling. Appreciate it, and apologize. Be sorry that you didn't use it for so long. Cheer it up by opening the curtains and straightening up the pile of junk that has been lying there for six months. Think how lucky you are to have it then promise to use it more often. Let the kids do their craft projects in there. Don't pitch a fit if the dog jumps up on your custom-made sofa. Drink a glass of wine and eat a slice of pizza in your pajamas. Put a pile of magazines on the side table. Change the photographs in your picture frames. Dust off the brown, crunchy dried flowers (or better yet, throw them away). 

We are so fortunate to have these homes, and to have an extra space is a luxury. Why not live in it, use it...... and then you won't ever have to worry about losing it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

No to Art. Yes to Purple


She opened the door, threw her arms in the air, and said, "Here it is, don't make me put anything on the walls. I hate art!". 
It was a funny beginning, but as we started to talk I realized that her objections were to classic paintings; formal pieces that were carefully chosen to be a very deliberate, status statement - one's that she remembered as not being very cheerful to be around and could be unreasonably expensive to boot. 

After the appointment, I started to think about what art meant to me, and I have to say that my interpretation is so loose that I am sure I would be kicked out of most academic discussions. In my mind, there is art everywhere we look. From where I am typing right now, I am surrounded by art - the endless shapes and colors of the fallen leaves, the jagged silhouette of the trees against the blue sky, and the worn-down coloring pencils crookedly sitting in my favorite cup. They are all small pieces of art because they are beautiful to me. So, when we're decorating a home, I always think the lines were meant to be blurred, and anything we consider beautiful can (and should) be considered art. 

My theory has always been, if I love it, and I can hang it on the wall, then it is art. From an old wooden air-vent to a child's stick-figure drawing, as long as it gives us joy, we can decorate with it. It's like if you want something above a sofa, why do you have to search high and low for the perfect painting that "goes"? Why can't you take your baby daughter's hand-print, enlarge it to ridiculous proportions, and have it matted and framed in a simple, yet gorgeous black frame? 
Of course, if you find the perfect painting it's a wonderful thing, but if you don't, then why not change what your definition of art is, and put that on the wall instead. 

But, all of this belated, romantic theorizing didn't help my client when we met for that first appointment. The truth was, that she said she hated art, and she just didn't want any of it on her wall. She had invited me over because the room felt cold and unwelcoming. Still living with the white that the contractor had chosen, we talked about how she wanted the room to feel, and what she needed for it to be comfortable. Labelling herself as a minimalist, I could see that she wasn't going to let me put a single nail in the wall, but we had to cozy up the room somehow. 

As we settled into our second cup of coffee, she surprised me by bringing out a scrapbook of decorating ideas. She wanted me to see what she liked, rather than just what was there in front of me in her home. You could have knocked me down with a feather. The rooms she showed me were rich with color, filled with a dark, moody elegance that in no way reflected my client or the room that we were sitting in. 

I cannot tell you the excitement that started to build as she turned each of the pages. With each turn, she started to talk more and more about what we were looking at, and why she had pulled the pictures. She spoke for a good half hour while I stayed quite silent (which, for those who know me is not quite normal). 

When we had finished, I just looked at her and said, "Let's paint the walls dark purple!". The purple would be the warm background, and the shapes and color of her furniture would become the art. It was so obvious what we needed to, and she didn't hesitate. Within a week, the painter had arrived, and her room was complete. 
It was the perfect compromise. The room could remain minimal and clutter free, but it gave her a very elegant and cozy, designed space. Now, almost a year later, she still writes me emails telling me how much she loves her art.

p.s. The photograph above isn't her home, but it is the color that we used. We used Shadow (2117-30) by Benjamin Moore. 

Ideas for decorating with a very dark color.
Have large, open windows. A dark colored room needs plenty of natural light. 
Keep drapes and curtains light and breezy. Avoid heavy fabrics.
Brighten up the floor with something colorful and cheerful. Don't match the colors to your walls.
Make it modern. It can be tempting to go a bit Gothic with the rest of your colors and design, but be careful not to go too dark and moody. Add modern accessories and clean, fresh shapes and colors to bring balance to the space. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Little Overdue


Joyful and overwhelmed. I never quite knew it was possible to be both at the same time, but here I am. Behind with my blog, missing coffee breaks with my friends, and sitting at a laptop with my cell on one side and my house phone on the other side. A funny predicament for a technophobe.

So, it has been a little while since I blogged, and I wondered if I needed to explain myself to those who read it. Of course, I don't have to, but I want to. Just because. Because this blog is such a large part of who I am, and is still one of the dearest gifts I was ever given. And because Stephanie's mom was starting to ask if I was okay.

Y'see, I am okay. I have just begun doing some extra freelance, writing work, which I absolutely love, but the last month has just been more than I anticipated. More creative than I expected - which is great, and I am working with a truly, lovely bunch of people. Couldn't ask for anything better. And busier than usual (good grief, I hate to use that word) as my daughter and I navigated the preparing-to-go-to-college malarkey. It wasn't complicated, it was just a lot. And a wee bit scattered.

With my daughter off to college, the freelance work fits perfectly into the newly opened gaps. But for the first time in a very long while, I am having to learn to balance my life all over again.

Normally, I adjust pretty easily - I might wobble around for a minute, but I right myself back into position, and move forward.This time, not so much. I naively thought that there would be no adjustment, but being a mom and juggling two creative jobs became a bit of a challenge.
So, I found myself doing the only thing I knew how to do. Just going with it. I stopped trying to fit everything into my neat and organized idea of what I thought it should be. I had to believe that if I did the best I could, then it would all sort itself out. And it has. The fact that I am even writing this brings me so much happiness (and a welcome sigh of relief). Y'see, things always change. And as scary as change can be, it will happen again and again, often when you least expect it.

A friend once told me that it's better to be a cork than a rock in the river of life. She was right. Digging our heels in and protesting doesn't help anyone. It's exhausting fighting against the current. So every now and then we have to remind ourselves how to float.
We have to enjoy the delicious freedom of not knowing where we are going. We have to close our eyes, ignore the bossy voices, and allow ourselves to drift into the direction of wherever it is we need to be.

When the days feel too long, it's okay to put our pajamas on at 6:30 pm. Not that I have done that yet, but I have dreamt about it. I have lovingly, carefully, made my bed in the morning. As I smooth the sheets down, I may even have fallen on top of their coolness for a few seconds, as I imagine the sheer bliss of turning them back over and climbing into the soft, warm comfort of bedtime.
Because it's okay to dream of bedtime. It's okay to wonder what the heck we are doing. It's okay not to have a five day plan, never mind a five year plan. It's okay to eat a slice of smoked Gouda for dinner (standing at the open fridge) because you're too tired to cook.It's okay to just be who you are at this exact moment.

So, if you're still reading, you might be wondering what this all has to do with design. I guess it doesn't directly, but in many ways it could. Homes, like people, are happiest when they are allowed to develop at their own pace - slowly and organically. Transitional times can be uncomfortable and awkward. But, it's really just a way of preparing us for the next step. If there is a change in the air, or life is feeling a little bit complicated, maybe it's also time for you to let go of something for a little while. Do only what is important right this very minute .... and remember how beautiful it is to just float.

p.s. Thank you for reading - the blog will be back to normal next week :-)