I’m no domestic goddess. I have however been fortunate enough to live in a variety of spaces as an adult, from a three-bedroom Portland bungalow with a sagging front porch, to a Chicago railroad apartment, to a teeny city studio with no closets, to the kooky place I’m in now (more on that here). This diversity of living spaces, along with the march of time and coming in contact with fantastic design people throughout my life, has given me some very simple decorating concepts that have proven over time to work well, no matter my roommate situation or budget.
1. Nature in odd numbers – I can’t remember where or when I read this, it may have been in a drawing class in college for all I know. Plants, flowers, cherry blossom branches, whatever pieces of nature you bring in to your home: remember that nature at its core is chaotic and disorderly. Four hydrangea stems in a vase looks a little too perfect, a little too studied and staged. Of course, staging these blooms (or whatever else you hauled home from the flower market) is exactly what you are doing, but a way to circumnavigate this feeling of stiffness is to corral them in groups of three, five, or seven. Greenery exists in your home to bring the outdoors to you, so don’t fence it in too much.
2. Shapes – Vignettes on tables, dressers, shelves and credenzas can be styled in varying degrees of visual appeal and usefulness. No matter their purpose, I prefer to mix up the shapes of the items I’m putting together. For example, everything on the rectangular white tray in the photo above has an either circular shape (the candles and ceramic jar) or chaotic, natural shape (the rocks), and that was done on purpose to counteract the dominant shape. I also varied the height of the objects, which keeps the eye moving. The other two trays on the table are an oval shape and a true circle shape. Some people love the idea of having square shaped things on square shaped trays, and that’s totally fine. I don’t think one way is better than the other, but they both visually express different ideas. This table is in my living room and I wanted to communicate a relaxed, laid-back environment so I grouped things accordingly.
3. Books – Big heavy art books are as beautiful as they are expensive. Am I right? I tend to not buy a lot of books because I live close to a great library, but over the years I have amassed a collection of novels and non-fiction that I just feel better having close at hand. If you like the idea of over-sized coffee table art books (as I do) but are budget-conscious (as I am) why not wait for when you’re at a museum and see a special exhibition that really blows you away. Getting the book that accompanies that exhibit is your own visual memento of that special time. One day you’ll look around and have a nice collection of all those visits that were momentous enough to warrant a book.
4. Textures – Something I also like to be mindful of are the different textures of the objects in my home (both decorative and functional), and how they ‘get along’ when grouped together. In the photo above, there are items made of wood, glass, ceramic items (both glazed and not glazed) and a woven textile – a yarn God’s eye that I made at summer camp as a Girl Scout. And let’s not forget the natural greenery! As with shape and height, I like to vary the textures of the objects I group together, because I prefer my home on the less-fussy side (although of course I fuss over decorating it a great deal!). I also in general am not fond of plastic, although of course there are exceptions. Your milage may vary.
5. Storage as Decor – You may remember that cooler from this post. We all deal with varying degrees of limited storage space and when something is both visually interesting and useful for storing things away, all the better.
6. Smells – Everyone’s got their own preferences when it comes to fragrances, and I’m not about to talk about what scents work or don’t work. The one suggestion I have about any of that is when it comes to smelly things (candles in particular) on the kitchen table. It’s best to not have smelly candles lit in the eating area while you are eating, because the scents will compete with the smells of the food you are consuming and disrupt the enjoyment of the meal. Same goes for keeping the scented candles away from the food area when you are throwing a party. Pretty simple.
In general, I like the idea of working with things you already have as opposed to buying new stuff to solve your problems. Sometimes a little bit of re-arranging can bring about a hugely fresh perspective. And of course, using vintage pieces when you can is extra nice.