Monday, May 24, 2010

The Walls That Bind Us

I have a lot of things on my walls. A 1930′s ostrich feather dress for someone with a 22 inch waist, collage of old black and white photos, chalkboard, souvenirs from countries I have visited, large paintings, a favorite book, a decorative wooden grate, a puppet, mirrors of all shapes and sizes, plants…..If I can stick a nail in it, or figure out a way to hang it, I will.

It’s not deliberate. I aspire to be a minimalist. Each time I redecorate, I take it all down, and promise myself I will keep the walls clean and open; more simplistic and calming. I have thoughts of soft creamy walls, slate gra
y sofas and a single, gigantic red poppy on the wall. Then, gradually, reality takes over and I add back more of my “stuff”, always seeing gaps that just have to be filled. As the room fills up, I feel comforted. I like seeing what I have, and being reminded of who gave it to me.

To some, it is clutter. My sister could not live in my house. She decorates in a way that I aspire to be. She is a creative soul; always changing her home with paint or new ideas, but she doesn’t need to have everything out for her to see. She wants the serenity of an uncluttered space, with a few, very meaningful things out for her to love. That is what makes her happy, and her home reflects that part of her. When things get crowded it feels claustrophobic and messy. She likes her walls to be quiet.

For myself, I always seem to exist in a gray area, slightly hovering between neatness and eclectic chaos (I find eclectic always sounds so much kinder than messy). I have accepted that, while I yearn for more sparse surroundings, it wouldn’t be possible for me to live that way. It does not suit who I am.

It’s important for our peace of mind to live within our own category. If where you are begins to feel uncomfortable, change it. We should live in a home that nurtures and replenishes who we are, not who we think we should be.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's a numbers game!

When in doubt choose three.

Decorating isn't a science, and it certainly isn't something that should stress you out, but sometimes it's helpful to have a few guidelines.

Using numbers as a guide is one of the simplest, but most effective ways to decorate. For some reason, odd numbers always create more interest than even (which in theory doesn't make sense; we naturally assume that even numbers would be an easy way to make a balanced room). But, balance and symmetry are different than matching.

If you have a room that needs help, and you don't know why, look at the numbers. Always start with three; visualize creating a triangle of repetition, the three points of the triangle should be scattered throughout the space. The idea is to keep the concept of three, vague, but present. The simple way to begin is by repeating three of something specific (eg. three lamps - in different shapes and styles). Another way is to be less literal, and use items that are different, but cohesive in some way. For example, a floor lamp, a hutch and some artwork, while all different, may carry the same visual weight.

In the photographs below are various ways that numbers have been used to decorate rooms.

In this first photograph,the purple theme is scattered around the room between the sofa, the chair and the lamp base.
A secondary color, pink, is also repeated. The rest of the room is fairly neutral, but care has still been taken to balance some small, darker elements around the room.

This next photograph shows an example of a room that, unfortunately, looks a little bland. It has a pair of purple sofas, with identical matching pillows.

It is just begging for help in that back, right hand corner. Yes, they have three tables, but they are almost identical, and have been placed at equal distances from each other (which exaggerates their sameness).

With just a little tweaking the room will look great.

This third picture has a single purple sofa as a focal point.
It is very deliberate; the room is composed as if it were a piece of art. The white and silver are the accessories.
It works because of it's simple, but highly stylized planning (I am not sure if anyone really lives here, but it is beautiful to look at).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Simply outside

Have to confess when I wrote the previous article it was, selfishly, about my own garden experiences. I didn't address the difficulties of creating an outdoor room in a small space, or an area that was not yet established. So, in response to several emails, I thought I would talk about the challenges that many people have with their outdoor spaces. And, of course, offer solutions.

When you don't know where to start, start with what you have. Is there an obvious corner that would fit a chair or a bench? A private area behind a shed or garage? A large tree that is shaded in the afternoon? This will be your spot. Then look around the house and garage to see if you have something you can already use. A chair or stool that could be used outside. Make a bench from a piece of wood and some large bricks, or simply lay down a waterproof picnic blanket.

For an even easier beginning, buy a plastic Adirondack (or garden) chair in a dark green, red, brown or black. It will blend into the landscape more than a white one. The idea is to have a starting point, and a seat is a good way to begin.

Once you have somewhere to sit, look around. Can you hang a plant from a tree, or the side of your house? If you can, go to the garden center and buy a hook and a wire hanging basket; line the inside with plastic (to keep in the moisture) and the outside with moss or coconut fiber (they often come prelined) and fill it with large, drooping plants. Make it excessive, no wimpy plants! The baskets will last forever, so the small investment is worth it. Don't buy the white, plastic hanging baskets that come pre-made. They are usually pot bound, very generic, and, sorry, not the prettiest thing to look at. Think organic.

If you can't hang a plant, do you have a stool or table that you can put one on? If not, put one on the ground and try to elevate it a little to make it feel more important. Maybe you could turn another, larger pot upside down and place a plant on it? Again, buy your plants at the garden center, but don't leave it in a white plastic pot. Either buy a new pot at the garden center, or search your house for a large container that you can put a plant in (saucepan, colander, box, basket, galvanized bucket - anything you can hammer a hole into). If you absolutely don't want to re-pot your plants try to buy something in a less jarring color, like black or dark green plastic (remove all of the labels and tags). Group three or five together if they are small.

If you have a concrete or wooden patio area, with no grass, add as much texture and organic material as you can. Put an old rug on the floor (check garage sales and trash day in your neighborhood). Wooden boxes on concrete look gorgeous. Buy a large old, wooden crate at a flea market or garage sale; place something in the bottom for drainage (and to take up space) fill with soil and plant with flowers, herbs or vegetables. You can even elevate it on rocks or terracotta "feet" if you want. Empty it out and bring it in each Winter, it will last you several seasons.

Something in the bottom for drainage:
Crumpled soda cans, packing peanuts, layers of magazines/newspapers, crushed plastic pots, dead plants from last season, mulch, rocks, pebbles etc.

Easy plant choices:
Geraniums - high sun, reliable all season, drought resistant.
Super (wave) Petunias - will cascade, good colors and fairly drought resistant.
Thyme, oregano, basil etc - great for containers, drought resistant.
Mint - must be contained, sun or shade, rapid growth, nice scent (deer resistant usually)
Begonias and fuchsia's - reliable, colorful and good for shade.
Tomato, sweet potato vine, sweet pea, morning glory, nasturtium - climb/cascade.

Creating an outdoor spot doesn't have to be hard. Be extravagant in your plant choices; don't plant something that will take months to reach it's full size - it will be frustrating, and it will just look like you are trying too hard but didn't quite get there. Go for volume and interest. Also, remember with containers, they will need to be watered more than plants directly in the garden.

Texture, shapes, opposites and height can make an outdoor room more interesting. Fortunately, nature has done most of the work for us, all we have to do is accessorize. Tie a paper lantern to a tree. Use old cups and saucers for your plants. Hang a shelf, inexpensive mirror, door or old window on a wall. Write favorite words on a rock and "plant" it in a pot.

Or, just do nothing.
It doesn't matter how imperfect you may think your outdoor space is, there is always room to enjoy it!