Tuesday, February 10, 2015

House to Home - thoughts on decorating from France


To my professional interior design and decorating friends...please feel free to step away from the screen now. No hard feelings! Bisous! 


For you see, today, I am going to talk a little bit about my thoughts on decorating for this month's "By Invitation Only" post. Now, you may be thinking, "Wait, Heather, who do you think you are?" And you would be right. It is why I almost didn't write this but yet I kept finding myself musing on the subject over the past two weeks as it is one I adore. I am admittedly not even close to being an expert and will try to keep dictums like "Overhead lighting is not your friend (unless it is a chandelier, in which case it better be candlelight or on a dimmer" to a bare minimum despite being tempted to do so. hehe No, just a few thoughts, actually quite a few, so grab your beverage of choice and...here we go.



My Mom took me to the Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Chicago Art Institute when I was about ten or so. You could practically hear the hinges of a big door opening in my head and heart. Since then, I have seen design as an important form of creativity and self-expression (at 15, I made something of an installation out of artfully crumpled moving paper in my bedroom). Perhaps it is because I moved around so much as a child but as an adult I have always attached a big importance into making each space where I have lived into a home (this has gone so far as to include decorating the insides of tents during expeditions). In Remi, I have found a perfect partner in crime. Thankfully, we have pretty much exactly the same taste and rarely, if ever, argue. We both are good at certain things (me: floor plans and color schemes, Remi: brilliant details and thinking outside the box) and enjoy, immensely, taking care of and refining the many places that we have lived together.

And while we are both still learning, there are a few ideas that have been our through line for how to make a home...from a layman's point of view.


Think about how you want to live

This is the most important lesson that I have learned since living in France. Remi and I demand a lot from our home because, as we both live and work here, each space is important and nothing can be wasted. We both have strong personalities (a-hem) and so it is great if we each have our own places to "be." Not only do we need a considerable space that can work as a real atelier/office for Remi, I have to be able to carve out a corner for me as well. So while my initial instinct in our current house was to have our bedroom in the massive room with a mezzanine because it would be "oh so dramatic" that was ridiculous, it was meant for Remi. We are actually now in the smallest bedroom in the house which feels meant to be. As this move was all about a search for peace, we have kept that room as monacale as possible. And we have never slept so well...just sayin' to all of you "tv in the cabinet at the foot of the bed" people... ;)

Our social life has shifted too, especially since moving to the country. Yes, we cook everyday so we want a kitchen that is functional (even when it was the size of a closet). But we aren't as interested in the big dinners that we used to throw, if anything we love to have friends over for a bbq whenever possible - certainly now that we have such a beautiful courtyard, it is just where everyone naturally wants to be. So, why have a formal dining room, even if there is a room that was clearly meant to be that? Especially as it has the only working fireplace? In winter, we like to watch a movie nearly every night, so the dining room became le petit salon and we love it. And there is still the bigger living area for when we have company. I have to give Remi credit for that one and he was right. On the flip side of this idea, if you have a large family and are distraught that no one eats together anymore, then don't install a huge and ubiquitous island in the kitchen (rare in France) that is all too perfect for "perch, snack, then run." A good table can also bring people together. It just depends on what works for you.

Something else to consider: where do you live and how is that relevant to the ways that you inhabit your interior and exterior spaces? How we like to live now is the polar opposite of how we did in Paris...so goodbye (most of the) Art Deco and hello dog-friendly linen covered sofas!


Listen to your house...and to your heart

I have been really, really fortunate in that I have grown up living pretty much exclusively in old houses (and there will be more about one of them soon) - something that was quite unusual in the States at the time. Thank you, Mom! Because, certainly in France where the majority of the homes have some serious history (one of the foundation stones in our first house in Arles was from the Roman period), if you just listen to the house, it will pretty much tell you what to do. Respect its character and know that you are just one of many people who will be its caretaker. :) We were lucky to have about a month before we moved in to this house. We spent a lot of time listening and quietly observing how the light moved through each room. And what I heard was that, while the house missed the energy of the two little girls who lived here previously, it was ready to go back to its more elegant former self - it is la maison du médecin or the house of the village doctor after all! So we gleefully took away the murky browns and greens by painting nearly every room - we left the gorgeous patina in the stairwell - in neutrals from off-white to bring in the light on the ground floor (and  how grateful we are we did this winter!) to a greige that we use in every house as it brings us so much peace.

"But I live in modern white box without any history!" you say? Well, then listen to your heart and...


Make your home for you and your family, not anyone else

One of the biggest issues that I have with a lot of contemporary design (especially in the States) is that it often seems to be more about impressing others than creating a welcoming home. And certainly it is why I listen to my friend Brooke Giannetti and her Husband Steve's aesthetic choices both in the creation of their home, Patina Farm and for those of their fortunate clients. And despite that Brooke's office graces the cover of Veranda magazine (a very upscale American design magazine) for the January/February issue, I am sure that they would agree with me that "it's not about the money, money, money..." And conversely, some of the grandest houses that I have been to in France have been the most comfortable...see what I mean? So, if you are a curious beginner then there are plenty of ways to learn the basics and find inspiration but then it is up to you to make it personal. It isn't "what does my home say about me?" (a phrase which gives me the chills) but "how can I enjoy my home to the utmost?" Kind of like the cooking together of thoughts #1 and 2. :)


Collect and select meaningfully

Life gave us such an enormous gift when Remi and I met and fell in love. That goes without saying. We both started over entirely from scratch to make our lives together and that was a gift too! From NYC, I brought an Icart print and far too many shoes, from the 6th arrondissement, Remi brought an Indian coffee table (where we ate all of our meals for the first three years) and his Buddha. And that was pretty much it. We honestly couldn't afford anything more than a couch and a stereo and thank goodness! Especially as we soon discovered that we both had a mutual love for shopping the brocantes and one of the very best in Paris, Les Puces de Vanves, was in our neighborhood! We went every weekend and often on both days as it was an incredible education. When we could finally afford to bring in pieces, one at a time, they all had a specific story that we still remember. Certainly, that feeling was multiplied ten-fold when we began to travel. Yes, we were very, very fortunate to have had such amazing experiences and they are still alive for us everyday in the pieces that we brought home from those adventures.

"But I don't have the means to go to the ends of the earth! " you whine. I hear ya. We don't either anymore! In which case...


Take your time

Do your best but try not to buy something "for the mean time" because then you will just be stuck with it forever. It took us two years of looking to find our monastery table and it was worth it because it is now "our table." But this doesn't mean I am a snob! Hey, I "dumpster dived" for a lot of great things while living in NYC. Ikea is great for certain basics - we have had one of their Ektorp sofas for nearly seven years now, not to mention the bookcases that hold the thousands of Remi's slides. Again, aim for quality, go slowly and be open to the many amazing resources that we have now (I found our beloved iron chandelier for 80 Euros on ebay). I know that once you get started it is so tempting to just get caught up in the excitement of making a home and just roar on through. Right? Oh dear, no. While, due to the funky nature of our move, I had to have the basic floor plans in place so that the furniture could be delivered on the spot, our house is still evolving seven months later and we have so much left to do! That Goeblin tapestry in "my room"? It just went up this weekend. Definitely, the big challenge for us was to not put up any art for at least a month but I am so glad that we did. It helped us keep it simple and each piece had to really earn their place. But we are still adding and subtracting - that is part of the fun! I have heard an Arab proverb a few times since moving to Provence that goes along the lines of: "Once a house is 'finished' it is no longer alive." I prefer to be in a living house, don't you? ;)


Embrace both the masculine and feminine

You are not an island and another pet-peeve of mine are houses where it is clear that only one part of the couple (or a very self-centered designer) has had all the say. This drives me bananas. Do I need to say it? A guy shouldn't have to hide out in a "man cave"...unless he wants to, of course! And trust me, even if you are living alone, your house will look all the better if you...


Mix

In France, a lot of people inherit furniture from their family "to get them started." Now, this can either be crazily lovely or look terribly old-fartish. Yowza. A little modern to pick up the anitques (or some antiquity to soften all modern) just lets a house (and you) breathe easier. As another talented friend, Virginia Blue, wrote (and I am paraphrasing, sorry V!), "each will bring out the best in the other." Honestly? If we could afford to go further in this direction right now, we would, certainly as I have been wack inspired by this apartment. But we can't, so that is fine too. We have very specific items and mini-projects that we will hopefully be able to tackle over time (see the end of #3!).


Unity


...will actually help keep you sane. So don't forget to think of the big picture too.


And finally...


Downsizing can be your friend

Eh, oui. Just as we started from zero, twice in our lives together Remi and I have been forced to downsize (mercifully not to zero but still). Which, while emotionally challenging it can be...yes, I will use the cliché phrase...freeing. We were forced to only keep what we really, really love. And so that is what we have. And that, along with plenty of happiness and good times, is what truly makes a House into a Home.


A few links to past and present homes from recent years:

As mentioned today's post was all about design and was chosen by Brooke's mentor, the wonderful Penelope Bianchi. There are quite a few other professionals in the design field that are a part of this group, so if you want to hear what the big kids have to say ;) click here.



As always, thank you so much for being here...


53 comments:

Karena Albert said...

Heather everything you have written here resonates with me so much. Finding and acquiring only those items that you love and find comfort in. Downsizing was such a gift to me. Letting go of those...not so beloved and just so so pieces! Thank you Heather!

xoxo
Karena
Featuring The HighBoy

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Your words are so true Heather, every last one of them…. but, I do have trouble de cluttering so I dread it if we ever have to downsize !!!! Nearly everything that we have we have found on our travels , in a village flea market or have been given by friends…. it's very hard to give them up.
… and, thanks for the beautiful glimpses of your home and for your inspiration. XXXX

La Contessa said...

YOU SAID IT BRILLIANTLY!!!!!!!!!!!
YOU ARE LIVING with it!
I LOVED THIS POST.................now off to see your old HAUNTS!
XOXO

Jennifer Connolly said...

Oh I wish I'd put your first sentence in my post!! I was so intimidated to write mine.
Yours is fabulous and so thoughtful. I love your idea of listening to the house. We have been in the process of downsizing which I love...but my husband is a pack rat and I have to literally pry things (junk) out of his hands!!
xo Jennifer

Jackie and Joel Smith said...

So true! As we decorate our Stone House on the Hill, we are tempted to buy things the house is missing like shelves - any shelves, all shelves - there is nothing in the house. But I know we must wait to find the right shelves. And as for making it your own, right on target! On day one of painting, a British lady came to visit, stepped inside to see the yellow walls and red fireplace, and exclaimed, "But we don't DO color here!!!" You might not. . .but we do. :-)!!

Kristin said...

I enjoyed your thoughts on making a home, Heather. The whole design subject is a very intimidating thing to me, but when I remember to think like you do--and honor a personal style rather than the status quo--then I can relax. And yet, the moment I know guests are coming, I freak out! It is such a personal thing letting someone into your home, when your home is not a display case, but a place of rest, a shelter from the outside world, a room of one's own.

simpleimages2 said...

The wonderful impressions acquired from childhood grows with years. Creativity makes everything fresh. New opportunities open with moving and finding new house. It’s joy to make a house your home.
I like the idea of home cooked dining, alone or with friends.

Mrs. Abstract and I downsized and partially de-cluttered. (We didn't achieve the complete declutter.). We learned "each space is important and nothing can be wasted”. It’s hard to completely let go especially favorite collections.

I borrow foreign films from the library and we watch them at home.

"Yes, we were very, very fortunate to have had such amazing experiences and they are still alive for us everyday in the pieces that we brought home from those adventures."

D A Wolf said...

There is so much wisdom in everything you say here, Heather, and from one who has also lived in old homes (and loved it), allowing the environment to have its say in how you treat / fill it is so important.

I have also always noted that French homes don't feel "matchy" as so many in the US do. There is a genuine element of layering (the result of objets passed down through families and collected over time), and the mix adds so much to the comfort and storytelling that is the experience for a family and for others.

Beautiful examples and photographs, as always.

xo

Bill Facker said...

That's it ... I'm moving! You're not supposed to boggle my "man mind" like this, Heather! Cmon' Fido, we're outta here!

:-)

Aloha,
Bill

www.kauai-to-paris.com

Loree said...

That was an amazing read Heather, with very true and useful advice. I have such a hard time with interior decorating. Mostly because I am still not sure what my style is. I seem to like to many different ones. For inspiration I love Pottery Barn, Lonny Magazine, Houzz, Country Living, BHG and Pinterest. I adore colour but at the same time, I am drawn to whites and neutrals. It's very complicated.

vicki archer said...

That was a subject to love... Yes? ;) xv

George Snyder said...

Beautiful advice and exquisite images. You create pictures I can feel and touch. Wonderful, xxxx

RebeccaNYC said...

So many of your thoughts about decorating resonate with mine...from a childhood fascination with miniature spaces to starting a home from nothing several times as an adult, to setting up a tent we lived in for 2 weeks one summer to be both functional and beautiful, to creating a home that is a HOME first and foremost. Thank you so much for sharing your home so generously with us!

I Dream Of said...

Heather, so much to say on this lovely take on our topic, but so little time to comment. So it will have to wait until someday when we can sit in your fabulous courtyard and talk about it over a bottle of rosé. Until then I will just say am so glad that you did decide to write this post and that you can help me decorate our house anytime. And... when can we go to the Puces des Vanves together, please?! XOXO

Gretel said...

Love your thoughts and absolutely agree! :)

penelopebianchi said...

OH you sweetheart! You just need some help to find your way!!!

penelopebianchi said...

Good grief! How much I have learned from "my idea" of a post Marsha asked me to pick a subject! these responses have touched my heart.....all of them!
Now; so far it is 100% not "trendy" am I right? I am up late....trying to read them all!!!

We need to hear from my darling friend Joni from Cote de Texas...she has great taste and she LOVES "trendy"!! Where are you, Joni??? I want to hear!!!!

silkannthreades said...

Heather, this is lovely. I so much enjoyed reading about the hows and whys of your home decorating. Listening to a house is important. Sadly, I am often deaf :( and it will take several years for me to hear what a particular room is trying to say. After more than a decade in this house there are still places which are not happy with my listening skills. However, it is home, and full of treasures that we love. Today I felt brave enough to decorate my table with some old blue and white dishes that belonged to my great, great grandmother. I hope she is smiling. I am. And fingers crossed the earth doesn't rumble tonight!

Heather Robinson said...

And even realizing that some of the pieces that you were holding onto had bad memories linked to them but keeping them anyway because they were attractive??? Been there done that...and now...to the garbage or donation they go! ;)

Heather Robinson said...

And the same to you, Jackie, I loved seeing your beautiful Home. And yes, the pieces given by friends...how could I have forgotten? They do tug at our heart strings. I hope that you are able to stay right where you are. Downsizing is, like I said, a really challenging thing to go through, especially when each piece is meaningful.

Heather Robinson said...

Oh you already know all of those houses!! But you still haven't seen our first (and my favorite in Alres). I am having trouble finding photos of it because I have long wanted to do a post on it!

Heather Robinson said...

That is SO hard. When my Dad passed away we had to get rid of so many papers and things. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. So I wish you luck in your process. It will be worth it in the end!!

Heather Robinson said...

Hooorayyy!!!! That made me smile, Jackie. :)
#betrue

Heather Robinson said...

Your response surprised me Kristin - for that is exactly what makes it so wonderful is that it is NOT a display case but a real Home. It is true to you and your family, you have taken your time with it and just like your garden it is evolving it seems. I believe that you are a truly fantastic and generous host...and that matters far more than if your house is "impressive or étonnant" by someone else's standards. Plus I really don't think that there is such a thing as a "status quo" anymore, especially in France. I can tell you this much, if ever I am so fortunate as to cross your threshold and be spoiled by your fine company and a delicious meal, I certainly won't be peeking into corners to see if everything is "up to snuff"! :)

But I do understand...I think that maybe it is just that I have become choosier over the years about who is invited in...but that may not always be an option for you and Jean-Marc!

The enchanted home said...

So well done, I love how you described your early influences...amazing how those memories stay with us. So great that you and your husband are on the same page, we are too and it sure makes things a lot easier! I also very much believe in taking your time......it pays off in spades to not make hasty decisions.
Wonderful read!

Heather Robinson said...

When we lived in Arles, I was renting cds, movies and even a few books from their small English section! It definitely was a way to not keep endlessly bringing in more things.

And yes to home-cooking! Twice a day for me...

Heather Robinson said...

"Comfort"! That is a great word for how interesting homes feel here. I almost wrote about the Quiet too - which is all of that experienced family history which puts a wonderful muffle on things.

I think that I have to go back to reread your post! Merci pour les joilies compliments!

Heather Robinson said...

Uh-oh. Does that mean that you have a "man cave" Bill? ;) You better not! Not with a garden like yours just outside your door!!

Heather Robinson said...

Penelope, Loree is a true sweetheart and a wonderful writer too.

Loree, I think that it can be hard in this day and age when there is SO much inspiration out there. Plus, you live on Malte and that crazy bright light makes a lot of demands just as it does here in Provence! When we lived in Paris (where, let's face it, it is overcast for half the year), we were drawn to certain colors - dark red, deep purple, gold - and they (except for our red couch which we have no choice about) didn't feel right from the second that we moved down here. So I can understand that pull. Plus, as I read on your comment at I think it was La Contessa's (?), antiques are expensive for you there. Here, truly, you can find so much for cheap if you look. We have found such great stuff on ebay and in the flea markets. So it is easier for us here.

Did you see DA Wolfs awesome take on this post? As you are such a lovely writer, I bet if you tackle your rooms like you would a blank page, it will help!

PS. It broke my heart just a little to read about your Nonna's things. :(

Heather Robinson said...

What? ;) Just a wee bit.

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you from the heart George.

Heather Robinson said...

I am beginning to wonder if we are long lost Sisters...

Heather Robinson said...

A) You don't need my help, missy!
B) From what I hear the prices at Vanves have skyrocketed so better you come back down here especially for a debellage because it will blow...your...mind...
xoxooo

Heather Robinson said...

Hooray! It was a liiiittle long. oops.

Heather Robinson said...

I can tell you this much, she isn't here so you will have to go find her! ;)

But it was so fun to try and write this, Penelope. I truly hope that nothing I said was offensive to all of the amazing professionals such as yourself that read here (and there are quite a few). I bow down to your greatness!
xo
H

Heather Robinson said...

I will cross mine too! Because she most certainly must be smiling and I can only imagine how beautiful they are...but forgive me, please, when I admit that your saying that you are often "deaf" made me giggle!

Heather Robinson said...

Merci, Tina...I loved your post so I am as pleased as punch that you enjoyed this very lengthy post! And yes, I am beyond grateful that not only do Remi and I agree on everything but that we both truly share a love for both the "hunt" and making our Home a priority.

Vickie Lester said...

I am listening to my house now, what's that? It's saying...it's saying...paint me! Seriously, I loved this post. And I do listen to my house, really. When I first saw the place — in a very sad state — I walked through it marveling at "the bones" and whispering to the walls, "I will restore you."

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

So wonderfully put.
"Listen to your house". Precisely why I prefer to work for clients who have lived in a house for awhile.
xo

Bill Facker said...

So right, Heather .. no man-caves on Kauai :-) maybe a thump on the head by a stray coconut!

La Contessa said...

THE DARK PLACE????Or before that?
I went back through and it was like YESTERDAY to me..............GOSH,these blogs make time stand still for me!
XO

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Dear Heather,
This BIO subject has been brilliant hasn't it ? It has been so interesting and inspirational, reading everyones ideas and all are relevant. Your present home is divine { as are your other homes } and I'm a little / lot envious !!!!! I love your style and it is always a joy to see photographs of your home and I can always find inspiration. XXXX

robin said...

Wow, Sister, what a great post!!!! So many thoughts, but must meditate so must make concise. I LOVE the close up lens again - how can you have mastered it on your 2nd (?) try? Magical photos! I don't have time to read all the comments (I usually do), but I hope/assume everyone is saying, "pishaw - you can most certainly give design advice!!!!". Because every space you've lived in has had such flair, I take for granted that you are a great designer; that every place is very "you". But it never occurred to me how wonderful that your and Remi's styles mesh so well! Yay that we are both currently in "old" houses - you're right that our childhood has now designated that for me forever! I have done very little to make this house "ours", however, and still have boxes to unpack - eek! But my favorite part: "think about how you want to live". Zoinks! That's the ultimate question! As I'm starting my online money course, I think that's one of the questions there, too, plus it's just a great question in every regard. It fits with Buddhism, too - do I want to live with my suffering (teenagers driving me crazy, worrying about stuff) or do I want to try to slow down, enjoy life, tame my mind? Ok - this post might have been better in a private email (!!!), but, just want to say that I think you are an amazing photographer, a fabulous writer, and a philosopher all rolled into one!!!!! What a WONDERFUL post - congrats!!!

Heather Robinson said...

From the little I have seen of your Home, I know that it is beautiful and I bet that it is grateful too.

Heather Robinson said...

These old houses over here talk pretty loudly!!

Heather Robinson said...

Before the dark place! Our wonderful Home that had the gallery in it. I might have sent you photos in an email a long time ago but I have never talked about it here on the blog.

Heather Robinson said...

Oh, thank you so much Jackie! I am very touched by that. Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend. You are such a romantic, I wonder what you have planned for tomorrow??? :)

Heather Robinson said...

Wow Sister! Thank you so very much! I love what you did with one phrase - I think that says a lot more about you and the directions that you are headed than me writing it! :) And no, not designer - I would have to go to school for that. Just someone who loves to try and make a comfy house. And yes, Remi is as much a part of that as I am - we agree on something 100% or it is a no go. No arguing about how many plants we can have (ahem) in this household!! Love you.

Francine Gardner said...

This was wonderful reading...I love reading jottings about houses, old decorating books and the vivid descriptions you would find in a Balzac or Zola novel.
I have always lived on old houses, even in the States, where I restored a 1665 Saltbox. Through the restoration process, I learned so much about American history.

penelopebianchi said...

This is a reply to both Heather and Jennifer!
This was my subject! I was asked to pick it; and I loved it! The very last thing I meant to do was pick a subject that would be intimidating to anyone!!

"decorating" one's house means anyone.....the fewest being "professionals"!

Actually; the most interesting to me comments (I didn't know how to work it ; so I am still reading and commenting!) however; I have to say that you, Heather, and Jennifer's comments are the most illuminating! It feeds my soul to hear these things, because you are saying what I have been feeling, believing, and practicing all my life!
And La Contessa....well.....let's just say she is a living and breathing example (as we are!!) of the "scrapbook of life" which I believe our houses should be! This really wasn't supposed to be a "decorating" question....but rather a question about how you (I don't know another word) "do" your house and what you surround yourself with in your house!

I have so enjoyed this!

Heather Robinson said...

I love the phrase "the scrapbook of life" and I loved seeing both yours and Elizabeth's houses!

It just was a tiny bit worrying to write this - even though I loved doing it - as I know that there are, surprisingly, quite a few design professionals that read my blog and I certainly didn't want to offend anyone. :) So far, so good. Whew!

And it was a great topic, Penelope - I think that everyone loved it!!

Heather Robinson said...

And I have learned so much about French history from living in older homes here in France! Thank you so much for the compliment on the post...not easy to write when I know that it might be read by people whose work I admire so much like yourself.

penelopebianchi said...

I have "rescued" quite a few houses ; and I know they are grateful!!!(I have to do the before and after pictures of our last house in Pasadena! Oh what bones! And I know that house was so grateful!