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