The other day I got an interesting email from a reader. It is edited, but not for meaning, only to shorten it a little.
I loved the images you sent from your recent tours in a theoretical sense. They are beautiful and uplifting. However, I must say that, while deluxe and educative, they are not as relevant to [me] as many of your posts.
Well, I’m happy that some of the posts are relevant. I wish that I could be everything to everyone, but of course, that’s not possible. While some people couldn’t care less about my trip, others are foaming at the mouth dying to hear all about it.
How might a typical follower request more applicable examples and advice without being rude, obtuse, or intrusive?
Just ask and maybe I can do a blog post that will benefit others as well. :]
As I am trying to find a balance between respecting where you are in your work and my needs I am struggling to improve my charming (personal interpretation) yet modest home. While I don’t expect your expertise to be free of charge; can you imagine any palatable avenue of support?
Yes, hire a designer. Yes, it’s going to cost money.
Later after my brief response, I received this reply, again with my answers between the lines.
I know that, living in NY, you are attuned to smaller residences. You also have implied a dollar consciousness. That you have impeccable taste is a well-established fact.
The majority of images I have found posted on websites are of much larger, bigger budget homes.
I examine them closely, attempting to tease out some detail or general impression that might help me make decisions for my home.
Would love to learn more about how you do this.
Sure, I would love someone to tell me what to do sometimes too. :] But this is what this blog is about. I am telling y’all everything that I know and a lot that I do not know. ;] (that’s where research comes in) If what I’m writing about doesn’t help with your precise needs, then I would recommend hiring a pro to work with. I recommend it under any circumstances!
But… magazine photos can be quite deceptive. Believe me when I tell you that there’s a photographer out in a corn field half a mile away with a 6′ telephoto lens, just so that he can make the room look large without distortion!
Fine, I’m exaggerating, but photos ARE often deceptive.
But even IF the room is on the large side, it really shouldn’t make a lot of difference, in terms of furnishing the space. Color, yes. Furniture, not very much.
Because buildings and their furnishings are meant to relate to the human form.
And humans on average are roughly about five and a half feet tall. Give or take a foot or so. They don’t become larger if the room is larger unless they are going into that room to eat 20 times a day. ;]
Sure, there are rooms that are super tall, like two or three stories high.
But down, closer to the ground, one will find the furnishings to be about the same size as they would be in a room with an 8 or 9 foot ceiling.
The furnishings are for the people; not for the room! (unless they are glued or nailed to the wall)
Of course, we are not going to take a 12 x 15 foot living room with an 8 foot ceiling and put in a heavy coffered ceiling, pilasters every three feet and heavy dentil mouldings. There’s a lot of logic in this business.
What I am specifically interested in these days is a 1930s kitchen I’m planning on remodeling. Mine is 11′ x 13′ with three doors and three windows. Even gutting the space, it’s tricky fitting modern appliances and adequate storage in a way that is functional, balanced, relates to the rest of the house, and looks purposeful rather than accidental or poorly conceived.
WAIT! The house is from the 1930s? Hold on just a second sister. ;] If this is a prewar home, you have already accomplished 90% of the battle. That is, unless some unfortunate miscreant did some hideous remuddling.
The intentional part is most difficult in planning things like counters that need to change depth on one wall; where to end the backsplash that isn’t awkward or abrupt…
I am also stuck, stuck, stuck trying to figure out the overall feeling this house will take on for the next 10 to 20 years. I’ve reached the age at which many of us have collected, been given, or inherited an amazing variety of objects that are meaningful, appealing, possibly even valuable – and vastly unrelated.
Ahhh… well, this is why there are interior designers. I would suggest working with one; especially for a kitchen remodel. That one is imperative. But if it’s the original kitchen; it might not need to be totally redone. It depends how one looks at it.
I love eclectic, but it can easily end up looking as though one furnished the entire house in a single day with a conglomeration of items from mom’s basement, several yard sales, an upscale consignment store, and a one-time splurge at the local luxury furniture boutique. Don’t get me started on the artwork that goes where????
Just did a post about art placement and there are numerous posts about art. In fact, art is in virtually every post. Regarding editing what you have:
I hereby grant thee permission to give away, consign or sell anything which is no longer working for your new timeless interiors and design aesthetic.
Back to the kitchen. What about countertops? Marble for a more refined look (goes with the pretty white woodwork throughout and finer antique pieces); soapstone (in line with the cat’s well-worn, beloved, 100-year-old oak and wicker rocker, easy lifestyle, and the dings in that pretty white woodwork); or a decidedly contemporary manufactured material?
Yes, these are not easy decisions. Here is a post about kitchen counters.
Whatever direction it takes, I’m definitely done with my stuffy… I’m ready for handsome, substantial, relaxed, interesting, unpretentious, highly personal, pulled together, livable, inviting. And I want it to be smart; as in intellectually/stylishly/structurally smart, with a dash of humor.
Lastly, I want to thank you for your brilliant and delightful blog. I especially value the search tool, which I employ frequently to read and reread pieces related to design dilemma du jour.
Well, thank you D. And yes, the search box is an excellent tool that I use it nearly every day too!
But, the main gist of these emails is that there is a reader who is struggling to find her true identity. She has accumulated a lot of things that hold some power over her.
I know that it can be difficult to let go, but they are just things. Have to tell you that when I moved nearly five years ago. I left a lot of my things behind. Don’t miss them one iota.
However, the freedom I felt when landing here relatively unencumbered was a thing of joy.
One other option that helps me is when there is a question or a decision to be made, I google it.
Should I use soapstone or marble for kitchen counters?
Very often, there will be information out there that can help with the decision.
However, there’s one over-riding design dilemma that actually plagues all of us.
We don’t want to make a giant whopping mistake which could translate into thousands or tens of thousands of dollars down the drain.
Nobody except maybe a small portion of the top 1% wants to be redecorating every few years.
And this is one reason why I very much recommend getting professional help. Professional interior design help.
But you need to find someone who’s work that you love and who gets YOU. Someone you feel immensely comfortable with and you trust to do what’s in your best interests. And I feel that the best designers are ones who listen to their clients and keep an open mind about what the outcome might be.
After all, they are designing for the client, not themselves.
However, let’s say after all of the warnings, pleadings… that you still wish to go it alone.
OR, you can’t find anyone who “gets you.”
OR, all of the designers in your area are doing something else.
I get it. I really do.
But, here’s the problem.
I had a mini epiphany about timeless interiors which perhaps I’ve stated but not quite in the same way.
And it’s fitting since the High Point Furniture Market is going on right now– This is where scores of thousands of designers descend upon thousands of showrooms. (yes, THOUSANDS!) to see the latest and greatest; the must haves; the latest trends.
You already know this.
It’s in regard to the American Home Furnishings Industry. Oh, not all of it. But too much of it.
It makes me crazy because people are gushing over things that I think are HORRENDOUS!
(and BTW, some are my friends who I love dearly despite this!!!)
The design is bad and so is the execution, color, proportion– wrong. And not only do folks not seem to notice, they claim that they LOVE IT!
And, maybe they DO love it. But I believe that is often because they haven’t been exposed to that which is truly timeless and classic.
Pigs will fly with ankle weights in a sea of buckwheat honey before this will ever happen…
What if we could lock up all of the manufacturers and immerse them in the authentic timeless designs I saw in England.
What if they threw everything out and confessed that they’ve been doing it all wrong for decades?
That would be the happiest day of my life!
75% of the furniture would be redesigned and they would hire the likes of Ben Pentreath, Nancy Keyes, William McLure and Maura Endres, okay and me. (she said, trying not to sound like a self-aggrandizing cow). And of course, many others and please forgive me, if you were left off the list.
Because I know that there are many of you who already get this and feel the same way.
It’s not only that the furniture is big, bulky, disproportionate, weirdly detailed and on and on…
So much is largely lacking in one word that sums up what’s missing.
There is nothing charming about a hippopotamus crawling around on his belly.
What are the components of charm? Here’s my list.
- Size. Charm is almost always petite and often intricate in design.
- Charm has age. Genuinely aged or at least a really good fake.
- Charm is unique and almost always a little quirky.
- Charm often has an element of whimsy, but at the very least, it never takes itself too seriously.
- But charm is also classic.
- It’s forever. Something that is charming today will be charming 30 years from now.
- Charm can be grand, but the charm is in the details, not the scale.
- It’s not something that gets manufactured down an assembly line along with a million other replicas.
Finally, charm is art.
And that is the sticky wicket.
Charm is either dirt cheap, or hellishly expensive.
You know the old saying:
I can get it for you good and fast or good and cheap, but not good, fast and cheap.
Furniture manufacturers can’t make as much money from something small, old and unique.
Plus they are catering to the American penchant for BIG!
But what if…
It’s all just a fantasy, but for fun, let’s immerse ourselves in the truly classic.
English Classic, since I’m now quite besotted if I wasn’t already!
Now, you might not like it.
It’s a little like Marmite. It helps if your mother put a little in your milk when you were a baby. Then, you’ll grow up loving it. Otherwise, it’s a tough sell.
So, where is the easiest place to immerse ourselves in timeless interiors?
If you click on that, you’ll see my son talking to my mom who will be 95 in a few days! Oh, and while you’re there, please follow me! (and all of the other folks I’m going to link to, if you like)
It’s kind of funny, but we all find each other.
And none of these homes/rooms are mcmansions. In fact most of these homes are quite small with small modest rooms.
One of my new favorites on insta is a young English antiques dealer with the handle “@Tradchap”.
His real name is Jack Laver Brister
This appears to be his business and website,
But for some reason, he’s not promoting it as such. However, some of his recent insta images are on the website, so it must be his business.
The following are some shots from his antique (aka: charming) Georgian home he is renovating is Frome. (note: actually, this might not be the home that he’s renovating. not sure)
It’s frightfully English you know…
Love the colors!
I love the bright accents that pop up out of nowhere.
The bathroom with the Sandberg wallpaper (more often seen in the blue and green colorway) is my favorite. Love the cabinet.
Here are some other places we can become immersed in timeless interiors
This image is from an article about how to style your home when you’re renting. Some great ideas here.
Above and below are gorgeous mantels from an English company, Jamb that manufactures them and sells antique mantels, too.
They are also featured on this post.
Pink is a wildly popular color these days in the UK and a classic one too!
From the Dorset home of writer, Jason Goodwin.
English decorating is a little messy. I know that this does not appeal to some of you, but I love it. I’d feel exceedingly comfy here in this cozy, lived in and loved room.
Above and below are two views of the same room I took on my trip to England. It is the home of principal architect, Robert Adam of the Winchester firm, Adam Architecture.
And yes, he bears the name of the famous neo-classical architect Robert Adam, but I do not believe that they are related.
Love this beautiful art wall. It’s a very personal home and that is typically English too.
It’s the personal touch that I find devoid of so many of our interiors in the US. Of course, personal touches aren’t big money makers. Sorry, if that sounds cynical, but it’s how I perceive things.
And you know how Americans are always saying that the English are so reserved?
That’s a bunch of crap. It’s US in the US who are uptight, neurotic, afraid to change, afraid to eat just about everything and afraid of anything that isn’t beige. (Yes, sweeping generalizations)
But are there American designers and architects embracing these kinds of timeless interiors and styling.
Oh yes, many. Too many to name.
And there are good furniture manufacturers too.
BTW, just a reminder that the 4th edition of Laurel’s Rolodex is coming out November 1st.
And on the 13th, the price is going up for the Rolodex as well as the paint/palette bundle.
One of my favorite American classical architects is Gil Schafer
He JUST had a book come out. You can read about it here.
What about retail sources?
Well, this is one of the longest posts I’ve ever produced at over 2,700 words. So, time to wrap this one up.
Timeless interiors are achievable.
But not all designers, vendors and manufacturers understand what that is or even have the desire to do it. But if it is what you want, then it’s going to require a lot of research and study– even if you hire someone, I think it’s a great idea to become knowledgeable. That is how you will know the difference.