Jameson: 2014's helpful home tips


Every year at this time, I look in my rearview mirror to check what the heck just happened. I flip through my 50 columns, and extract my favorite nuggets of advice, one lesson from each month, and serve it up in a 12-lessons-for-Christmas kind of way.

In January, while researching a column on linen, I interviewed Richard Ostell, a respected fashion and home designer, from Westchester, New York. Linen in a home is like a sigh of relief.

Architect and designer William Dobson transformed a master bedroom into a contemporary space that is peaceful, glamorous and relies on a restrained color palette of gray, taupe, white, cream and black accents. He's literally cloaked the room in linen drapery panels that cover the wall behind the bed are are a backdrop for the classic custom tufted headboard. "I brought in a little bright green to create a visual connection to the outside," said the designer. This room represents two trends -- relaxed elegance and expert use of the color gray. People touring the two showhouses report that this room is a favorite. (Staff photo by Dan Wagner)

Architect and designer William Dobson transformed a master bedroom into a contemporary space that is peaceful, glamorous and relies on a restrained color palette of gray, taupe, white, cream and black accents. He's literally cloaked the room in linen drapery panels that cover the wall behind the bed and are a backdrop for the classic custom tufted headboard. (Staff photo by Dan Wagner)

“Linen is honest, simple, humble, and durable,” he reminded me in an hour-long linen love fest. What's more, and here’s where I really fell for the classic material, linen never needs to be ironed.

“Ever?” I asked.

“It defeats the point of it,” he said. “The rumpled look is part of its beauty. It should be left as it is.”

Lesson: Linen, like life, is better relaxed.

In February, I was awakened to the genius in everyday design when I heard about an exhibit, Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things, opening at the Museum of Design in Atlanta.

Laura Flusche, the museum’s executive director, reframed great design for me: It is not some hoity-toity, fancy-pants status symbol reserved for only those who can afford it. It’s the opposite. The exhibit paid tribute to 36 ordinary objects that have become indispensable — the zipper, bubble wrap, the light bulb, the corkscrew, the rubber band, the paperclip — items so useful billions have been made.

Lesson: Great design blends so well, and is so useful we don’t even notice it. Therein lies its genius.

In March, readers raised my consciousness. They cried fowl after I wrote a column about how feathers were trending up in interior décor. Feathers are fine when the plumes are a reflected as a motif in, say, wallpaper, fabric or tableware. But when actual feathers from endangered flocks are used for decoration, that is a bird of different color.

“Most people aren’t thinking about what impact their purchasing decisions have on animal and plant life around the world when they buy home furnishings,” said Craig Hoover, chief of wildlife trade and conservation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency that protects nature. They’re thinking: That would look awesome on my coffee table.

But items made of carved ivory or tortoise shell come at a steep price to elephants and sea turtles.

Lesson: If a home accessory comes at a cost to our planet or its wildlife, just say no.

In April, I moved for the fourth time in three years. Which awakened me to the importance of patterns in daily living. Though we take our routines for granted, they are the tracks that ground our days, the rudders that guide and tether.

When all your things are in place, you can swiftly get dressed, put on mascara, feed the dog, pay a bill, check Facebook, scramble an egg, floss, set the table, and recycle the newspaper without thinking. When you move, you take every one of your earthly possessions and put them in a new place. Patterns get destroyed. But moving also gives you another chance to streamline your acts of daily living and create new, better patterns.

Lesson: Living well is less about where you live, and more about how you live.

In May, I found more color courage. On a fear scale of one to 10 — 10 being skydiving naked while speaking in public — putting big bold color in a room is a 12. The idea causes even the most intelligent, competent and confident people to dodge tango tangerine or sassy cerulean and default to benign beige and safe-harbor gray.

“Color is such an affordable pleasure, yet many people get stuck living in bland spaces because they’re afraid of making a mistake,” said color consultant Barbara Schirmeister. “It’s a shame.”

One cure for color cowards is color blocking, which Schirmeister defines as the unexpected use of color in a large confident way in a spot.

Make you nervous? Try this. Picture a completely white room. Now on top of your neutral background, add a turquoise sofa, a lemon-yellow chair, and hot pink window shades. Don’t worry about using unexpected combinations. Congratulations. You just color blocked.

Lesson: Color takes courage. Dive in.

In June, I discovered the role of irony in design. My ninth grade English teacher was the first to define the word irony for me. “Irony,” Miss Krisko said, “is the opposite of what you expect to happen.”

That word sprang to mind as I looked through a new design book: “Think Home: Everything you need to plan and create your perfect home,” by Judith Wilson. While I expected the usual eye candy, I found instead pages of the unexpected.

For instance, the author placed a muted celery green sofa against a wall papered in acid lime. Pairing a subtle color and its electric counterpart gave the room a welcome jolt.

Lesson: Next time you decorate, try doing the opposite of what’s expected.

In July, I got permission to mix my metals. After several years of living with a restraining order on flash, courtesy of The Great Recession, interior design experienced a gold rush. It started on the fashion runways, then hit homes.

My first reaction was gold won’t go. Many homes today have knobs, faucets, hinges and fixtures in brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze. Wrong, said Los Angeles designer Nikki Chu. She showed me a picture of the bangle bracelets in every shade of metal stacked up her arm. “It’s a great look,” she said. I had to agree.

“My core concept is not to be afraid to mix metallics,” she said.

Lesson: Banish the one-metal rule. Go ahead and mix gun metal, gold, silver, copper and bronze, in shiny, matte, distressed and polished finishes.

In August, I discovered I had missed the point of gracious living. For yeeeeaaaarrrrs, I had doggedly — if futilely — chased the vision of a pristine, tranquil home, well-appointed and orderly, always ready to host guests with spotless stemware and pressed linens, and where the niceties of daily living — fresh flowers, towels sets tied in blue satin ribbons — were ever present. But when the kids came home from college for a summer stopover, they made me rethink the definition of a gracious home.

The peanut butter smears on the counter, the shoes strewn under the table, the beds made callywompus if made at all, the empty milk cartons in the fridge were all signs that told me not just that the kids were home, but that they were at home.

Lesson: A gracious home is not about attaining the perfect the luster; it’s about living with grace.

In September, a high-style designer friend explained basic interior styles and forever changed the way I see design. “Home décor runs the gamut from antique-filled traditionalism to stark modernism,” Christopher Grubb, president of Arch-Interiors in Beverly Hills, told me.

On the one end, traditional interiors reflect old Europe, and often include antiques, and lots of accessories, saturated colors and embellishment. At the other extreme, modern interiors are all about clean lines, minimalism and neutrals. But, as someone who likes both, I was most intrigued with the two hybrid styles in the middle — transitional and contemporary.

In transitional interiors you might see an oil painting in a gilded frame next to a clean-lined Mid-Century modern sofa. In a contemporary space, you will find modern lines, and color, area rugs and pillows.

Lesson: You can have the best of both traditional and modern style.

In October, I saw history through the eyes of the chair. I received an early copy of “The Furniture Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Identify, Restore and Care for Furniture,” by Christophe Pourny.

“Chairs are a perfect way to illustrate the different periods of history,” said Pourny, whose descriptions and illustrations tell the tale of how materials and manufacturing methods reflected the politics of their day. My favorite was his drawing of the uncanny resemblance of the legs of four French kings — Louis XIII to Louis XVI — and the chair legs from each king’s reign.

Lesson: My understanding of history would have been so much better if my teachers had taught world history using furniture.

In November, a visit to a girlfriend’s home and guest house, where she works, called to mind that worn-out expression: It’s the journey, not the destination.

Christy Wilson Delk, a fashion consultant who runs a home-based clothing business, had not only designed her guest house to showcase her clothing line, but had also paid special attention to the path between her home and workspace. That space between the spaces got me thinking: It’s in those in-between spaces where something magical happens. Design psychologist Toby Israel put it this way: “Once you walk out the door of your home, and that domestic scene, and open a new door, you make a psychological shift.”

Lesson: Whether it’s the transition between home and work, or house and garage, design the areas in between so they honor the act of transition.

In December, I tackled the snowball effect of clutter. Hoarding experts helped me see our relationship with stuff as falling on a continuum from manic purger to super hoarder. I got a better understanding of the deep emotional reasons many of us cling to things more than we should (But it was Mom’s!) even if the habit makes our homes look like the drop-off at the Salvation Army.

While some hoarders are in too deep and will need professional help to unpack their problem, mere packrats and super savers can still help themselves. And they should, said Gail Steketee, a professor of social work at Boston University who has co-authored two books on hoarding.

Lesson: As we continue to accumulate (this time of year especially), we must learn ways to continue to let go.

May your new year be filled with grace and beauty.

Marni Jameson

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press)
Last modified: December 26, 2014
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