Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Taking away

Some of you might have already heard the Diana Vreeland quote that "Elegance is refusal." And in my mind, I am capable of stripping things down to their essence but in reality? Well, not really. I came to realize this while reading the "Moody Interiors" post on the blog From the Right Bank. I loved every single one of those complicated rooms. All of that tactile velvet, worn parquet and massive chandeliers. Proportions out of whack and a little messy. I wrote in response that I am so earnestly trying to force myself towards a cleaner aesthetic but that is not who I am. I am a complex person living with an equally complex man. We have picked up things from all over and love the stories they tell. So I tend to add not subtract most of the time. 

However yesterday, we were forced into doing a little simplifying. As I have mentioned, it is stipulated in our rental contract that we can not put any holes into the structure of the apartment, something that we have gotten around with our artwork by gallery hanging from the ceiling. This too, is technically a no-no and as the estate agent was arriving to do her first visit, we carefully removed everything. She has an eagle-eye. All went well but we were given the gift of rediscovering the beauty of the space. More open,  more peaceful. Remi has promised me that we will try to not put anything up on the walls for a bit in our new place. Something I find it hard to believe as it is usually the very first thing that we do. 

Spaces are not always what we think they are, nor people, nor objects. Oh, the candelabras that I brought home looked so scruffy the next day. Black with soot and forgotteness. I don't know what their history is to have arrived in such a state but I am slowly erasing the traces of the past. An act that is as beneficial to their appearance as it is to my peace of mind. 

Remi felt the same last week when he launched into taking care of our little garden after an especially stressful day. It too had been abandoned and we moved in was completely overrun by les petites bêtes--insects, slugs, potato bugs that had grown fat from free reign (the previous renter only used the garden as a storage space). We had to bomb everything so strongly that nothing bloomed. Not being horticulturists, we couldn't even figure out what some of the plants were. But in clawing away the parasites, everything could come back in fine form this year. The chest-high green thing that Remi nearly pulled is actually one of the biggest hortensia, or hydrangeas that I have seen. We still don't know what the tree is next to it and naturally are open for answers.

This morning, as I was beginning my yoga practice, I had a surprise visitor. With a calamitous rumble and a showering of ashes, a pigeon fell down the chimney, scraping wings as he went and landed with a plop next to me, just behind the fire grate. I kept my breath as calm and spoke low to him while shooshing Ben into the bedroom then reaching for a towel in the bath. By the time I returned, the pigeon had gathered up enough strength to pop onto the log pile. He then strolled into the kitchen as if looking for a mug of coffee and with a whiff was out through the open door. 

Taking off, taking away to find something different, something new. 


  1. Hello Heather:
    Well, we are absolutely the wrong people to discuss 'elegant refusal' with. For us, more is more and even more is better still. Not that this necessarily is a perfect template for interior design.

    However, we feel that you have so many wonderful things, all of which no doubt have magical stories to tell. Not only do such things add the most beautiful decorative elements, they add a richness to life itself which is inspiring.

    Perhaps you can be rigidly disciplined, minimalism will be the order of the day, your free spirits will be reined in...........and we shall be most certainly at the door with a van to collect!!!

  2. Oh this made my smile and I needed it this morning, so thank you. Yes, I had a feeling that this would be your response--at least you have learned to fully embrace your true nature. :)

    And you have already been promised the mirror if I ever tire of it-on the condition that you both arrive to pick it up in person--ah, hah! We will find a way to meet yet!

  3. I like how you are taking away things and finding beauty as a result! Stuff is good, garden bugs are good, but stripping away makes the soul lighter. And as for the dove, it's good luck, don't you think? Remind me to tell you about the baby deer I saw in Drew's yard that was teeny tiny - it was magical!

  4. Absolutely beautiful snaps. Thank you for sharing them! Your apartment looks very chíc indeed.

  5. Dear Heather,

    First of all, "Robin" is terribly, irresponsibly, and irredeemably wrong about "good luck" resulting from a bird's coming down your chimney.

    Ask any old black lady around here what it "means" when a bird comes down your chimney. The answer will be "That mean somebody gone to DIE in the house soon!"

    True fact. Just ask any old black lady.

    That said?....

    The back of this old house has a row of huge sunroom windows and a door to the garden that I generally leave open so the dogs can run in and out according to their whims. At least once per week, I have one or two birds flying frantically around the house after one of the resident red shouldered hawks (these are LARGE) has swooped down to kill and eat one of the many mourning doves that gather around the feeders.

    when the hawks do this (which is generally once per day), all the many birds go crazy, scattering wildly and flying into windows. When the back porch light is on at night, you see ghostly, holograph-like images of various birds (mostly the stupid doves) who've flown face-first into the glass. curiously enough, none has ever died from the impact.....but plenty have come into the house.

    And I haven't even had the flu since I was 24, much less died. I have spent a lot of my days trying to corner some damn, predictably bird-brained bird in this house, while the terriers go beserk. I generally end up corralling the dogs in the window-less pantry for an hour, letting the bird settle down, and then employing the butterfly net I finally bought expressly for this VERY regular occurence.

    On another note? Ican't imagine living somewhere where I wasn't allowed to hang pictures. the last time I counted, there were over 400 pictures, small and large, hung in this relatively small house.

    Prior to buying and restoring this joint, I lived just down the street for seven years with my friend, the novelist Laura her grandmother's house, which she'd inherited (and loved; she lives there still). Laura was devotedly supportive regarding my own "career", and the two main rooms in that old house basically became my "gallery" for clients, etcetera.

    I constantly changed/re-arranged/re-hung pictures (as in, every week, for seven years?) and hammered new holes in the walls. I never thought about the damage. It wasn't until I moved out, taking down all the pictures, that I had to turn to her and apologize for turning her grandmother's parlor walls into, essentially, swiss cheese.

    To her continued credit, Laura's mild answer was "Well, this is why God sent us the gift of dry-wall sheeting".

    Advisedly yours as ever,

    David Terry

  6. Something David said might be your answer or at the very least, a version of it has been mine. After I gathered up all the endless numbers of objects, I whittled them down to what I wanted to look at for a while. The rest, Flynn convinced me to store rather than completely jettison, for now, at any rate.
    We got a couple of horrid, and large plastic storage boxes we're now keeping in a closet, but I'm sure with your hunting skills you could find something lovely in which to put objects for a while and redress the apartment from time to time. We do it for Christmas, why not for May, or November? xo t

  7. Mr. Terry, ours being a verrry superstitious family, you have undoubtedly scared the heck out of my Sister. And me. I'll try and remember that adaged are just that. Especially as this actually happened to us once before in our old home and we are both still around to tell the tale. That said, I truly can empathize with you over your hunting skills with the butterfly net. This experience made me grateful that, although a girlie-girl, I am not so much so as to have given into shrieking and flapping about. No, I stayed calm and so did the pidgeon (sadly not a dove, Rob, or I would have been willing to think that it was good luck--you see? We ARE superstitious).

    Trace, great idea. I change the drapes, pillows and throws par season, why not other things too? I find it so odd that we tend to get such fixed ideas about certain pieces--"Well, of course this only works above the dining table". If we bought it, it is because we really liked it and the object probably wouldn't be "insulted" if we didn't have it on display all the time.

    Villas in Provence (or VIP, as you know pronounced 'veep' here)--thank you so much for the lovely compliment--glad to have you here!

    And Robin, thank you for the photo of the baby deer. Something that needs nothing taken away from it as it is perfect in itself.

  8. I love your apartment even without the pictures hanging about but I can't imagine living somewhere I can't hang a single picture. I've tried not to fill up spaces as we slowly go through our home redecorating but you know what, something always creeps in it has too because I love looking at my stuff not a bare wall. Love your pigeon perhaps he was simply trying a yoga pose and fell backwards.

  9. Ohwwww...I get so much pleasure from your blog. I am transported to Arles, cobbled in perfection, with the privilege of living within the beautiful history around you. Can't wait to hear more of your move and living with no wall hanging ability. You will create a livable and lovable home just as your predecessors have done. Hmmmm...thank you!

  10. Oh Debra, you made me laugh! Of course he just fell over from yoga--that explains everything! And I KNOW we wouldn't be able to resist for long in our new place. Things will be up before you know it. ;)

    And thank you so much for the joli compliment cnj. It has been awhile since I have done a post on Arles itself--your respsonse reminded me that it is about time that I did so!

  11. Aren't there adhesive products to hang pictures which don't require driving nails into walls?

  12. ADVICE for Heather:
    My annual Summer show in France is held in conjunction with Tours's Festival de Musique The show is always hung in a large ante-chamber of the 14th century Grange de Meslay, which is basically a very large, STONE barn/fortress.

    It wasn't until I first arrived at the Grange, seven Summers ago, and looked at the joint that I realized that you COULDN'T drive a nail anywhere in that big room. "Permission" wasn't the issue. Driving nails would have required a jackhammer.

    the solution?..I recalled those lines used by mountain climbers. Mountain climbers use the lines to connect themselves to each other (this stuff can bear a LOT of weight).

    the stuff is basically an amalgam of tensile wire and some form of clear plastic. you cut it at necessary legnths, attach (at either end) a little cone-shaped cap...and then you can screw the various caps together.....tightening the screws/caps so that the "extra" line is taken up, protruding out of the cap...and then you cut the "slack" off with wire-cutters. I should emphasize that these can hold a LOT of weight (as in the weight of six grown men?). If the line is sagging when you suspend pictures from it (which can be done with clear, inexpensive, nylon fishing line of an appropriate size....which is always marked by weight), then you merely readjust the caps until more "slack" is taken up.

    the "problem", of course, is that you do need to attach the line at both ends. this can be done (is done, in fact, on cliffsides, where there's not a lot of margin for driving nails into stone) by drilling two of the long (six or so inches) high-stress titanium (same stuff that's in metal tennis rackets; it DOESN'T crack or break under pressure, although it can adjust to impact or weight) stakes into some place in the corners of the room. The "stakes" are slimmer than a pencil.

    Ask your landlord if you could, pretty-please, drill just two very small holes. At the Grange, I did so in two of the very old ceiling beams, and I hung 25 large pictures from the line. It does require at least two people to do the job, as you keep hanging and keep needing to readjust the tensile/suspending line. tell your landlord that, if he allows this, he'll never again have to worry over tenants drilling just ONE hole....(which usually ends up being twenty holes).

    Oh, the line is basically invisible, which is a bonus. A friend of mine, who rented space for her restaurant in a "historic" brick warehouse, was in despair when she was told (AFTER she'd signed a lease) that she couldn't drive nails into the walls. That made sense, of course, since the mortar was 100 years old and would just crumble. So, I introduced her to this idea, and she used it to suspend her minimalist, "industrial" track lighting, and to hang several very large, glass-framed posters.

    BACK TO BASICS: Where do you get the stuff? I had mine expressed-shipped by an American mountaineering-supply store. Living in Arles? would do well to call some industrial architect or a lighting "design" store....perhaps an architect specializing in historic renovation (as opposed to historic preservation; that sort wouldn't be of any use to you). I expect you'll have to go to Avignon to find such folks....but there must be plenty who've dealt with Monumente Historique buildings and modern needs.

    My sister-in-law is an urban-renewal architect who does work/projects all over Paris, Bordeaux, and Tours. She might be able to tell me whom you should call.

    That's just my VERY lengthy two cents worth of advice....

    ----david terry

  13. Love the look of your new place. I also long to unburden but am a pack rat at heart! You could always sit artwork on dressers and chests and lean against the wall until you come up with a cleverer solution!! And I love Deb's comment about the pigeon - too funny!!

  14. Oh my David, I could have saved you an awfully lot of time if only I had explained things better because that is exactly what we do! Here it is called the cimaise system.
    We actually didn't use the rails here but just attached them to hooks which were suspended from the ceiling. And it is just at our current apartment that asks this, normal as it is Monument Historique--in our new apartment we can make all of the Swiss cheese we want! ;) Thank you very much for trying to help though--much appreciated!

    Anonymous, yes, there are lots of adhesive products available but none that will hold a 30 kilo gold-framed lithograph! Thank you for your comment.

    Q, we have been doing that since taking them down and it looks great! Actually, I think that I prefer it in some cases to the formality of being hung on the wall. Leave it to you to suggest this! Your post was so amazing today, again, thank you.

  15. Dear Heather,

    Oh, don't worry....I type like the wind (bin doin it since I was eight).

    As for the actual posting?....I was enjoying trying (I'm not sure that I was entirely successful)to describe that hanging-system.

    Just for the record? One of my first writing teachers (a well-known novelist and short story writer) would regularly require us to put away our soul-searching/revealing, precious little pieces of fiction so that we could spend twenty classtime minutes (strictly timed) DESCRIBING something in terms of the object couldn't name it, you couldn't state its function (as in "it makes light" or "it cooks food")....all you could do was to describe its physical attributes and HOPE someone could figure out what you were describing.

    If he laid an eggbeater on the desk, you couldn't begin with "this is a tool which..." and you certainly couldn't say it was "man made".

    all we could do was cite the physical attributes.

    This is very, very, very difficult and frustrating exercise, but I think he was right in insisting that all artists and writers need to be able to do this, just as Andrew Wyeth's painter-father made him draw cones & cubes for three years before he allowed him to begin being "artistic". Basically, you have to develop the skills to "express" the thing itself before you begin cultivating a talent for expressing your own self.

    He'd require us to describe things such as an ordinary eggbeater, a lamp, a telephone,a piece of driftwood (no, you couldn't write "It's wooden and grows on a tree before it goes in the ocean").

    It's been years since I've done that it was frustratingly fun (if that makes sense) trying to describe that hanging system yesterday.


    david Terry

  16. Dear David,

    I do not type like the wind and have realized that I have even lapsed back into looking at the keyboard for help (gasp!). True, I am now on a French keyboard, one that makes absolutely zero sense compared to an English one (you have to shift for numbers and for the period--the period!), but hey, that is no excuse I have been for years. So this will be brief, but I just want to plead to you: please do not ask me to do that exercise.

    Thanking you in advance most respectfully,

  17. Love this post! I have collected so many precious (not necessarily valuable) items over my lifetimes that sometimes I have to put things away to see what my home really looks like! Or to see a new way to arrange everything. Thanks for the new perspective on aesthetic Heather! Found you through French Essence - very pleased!

  18. Thank you Buneesa, I am delighted by your comment and hope that you will continue to stop by. Who doesn't love "French Essence"? It is one of my favorites. :)

    I loved when we were travelling so much because each time I would come back from a long trip I would immediately know what wasn't working, what had to be moved. Not so much now that I see everything all the time! And I am with you that things don't need to be valuable to be very precious indeed...

  19. Very amusing this moving.....same same....darling daughter thought as I left the big house for renters stripped of a lot of personal stuff although still furnished it looked better!

  20. Yes, it seems like we are going through similar experiences at the moment, although we won't be making the actual move for a month. These things take time here in France!

  21. useful information shared online!!


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