“This house is clean” – Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) from Poltergeist.
What started off as a post about minimalist living, keeping it simple and de-stressing your life has sparked a conversation on decorating and meaningful evaluation of personal style in your home. In essence, once the slate is clean, what do you fill it with that best reflects you and that you feel good about. Let me start off with three short stories that hit home for me on this.
When I was around ten and eleven years old, I used to stay at my grandparents house in Pittsburgh for a week. They had been in that home in Edgewood for over 30 years at that point and they were in their mid 60’s. The house reflected their character, from the small shotgun style kitchen with a little breakfast table to the downstairs bar setup that look like any other neighborhood bar with beer signs, stools, large mirror and even a glass peanut dispenser…except this was in my grandparents basement. Their home was tidy, neat and the walls were adorned with artwork and framed photos. Anything on the walls I pointed and asked about, my grandparents had a story behind it. To me, this was a home of character.
Amanda came over to my apartment for the first time because I had to drop something off at home before we went out to Troegs to meet with some work buddies. At this point I kept using the phrase “keeping it Spartan” to describe my lack of adornment and frankly lack of furniture. When she came into my place, I had nothing on the walls, no couch, no TV, no coffee table. It was devoid of anything that showed my personality. All I had was two living room chairs from the 40’s that have bland covers on them, my small dining room table and chairs that my parent’s gave me, and corner style slab desk that looked like it came from a college administration office with my tiny mac mini. My bedroom was just my queen bed and bookshelf with game books on it (the only thing that show off personality). Amanda half jokingly remarked that it looked like something out of “Dexter” and that it looked like I didn’t really live there. To me, this was apartment was faceless.
Recently, my parents have redecorated their house. Between my mom’s health issues that force her to be less mobile than she would like to and my dad’s successful, albeit time consuming, job in home improvement sales they have been spending more time on deciding what needs to go and what is going to stay or be purchased. Much of their old furniture has been sold off or given away, making way for a new comfortable living set and furniture. The house has been painted in warm tones that evoke a sense of autumn calm. There are getting rid of “things” and kitsch and showing more framed photos. Their going to install new carpeting and slowly they’re turning their basement area back into party center it used be instead of overflow storage. To me, this is the house in rebirth.
These were all of my experiences and I understand the mentality behind each of them. I think we all go through these experiences at some point in our lives. One story reflects a minimalist lifestyle possibly gone too far and devoid of personality, another shows a major shift of change to valuing what’s really important while the last is almost the perfect setup where you have a home that exudes personality and character but everything is meaningful and has its place.
When adopting minimalism into your lifestyle, you are faced with a great; what stays, what goes, what is meaningful, what style do you want to evoke and how will that change over time as you change over time? This can be daunting as it forces you to not only truly evaluate the things in your life and what their personal worth is, but also how do you still showcase either your style or you as a person in your home through interior decoration? Here’s how I break down my process.
First, get rid of all of the “ghosts” in your house. What I refer to as ghosts I mean the actual stuff that just eats up space in your closets, your attics, your garage…the places that you use as storage. Go through it all and determine what is important. For me, my old portfolio filled with live model sketches and still life watercolors from college hold no importance in my life to still hold on to them. I snapped a few pictures on my phone for posterity and threw them on an external hard drive. To me, this is junk that every time you look at it you’re like “This shit is just wasting space”.
Second, I come up with a plan for decorating…and this is where I adopt my interior designer persona. I try to figure out what’s important to me and what would make me feel good when I come home and look around my house. Ideally, if you live with another person (roommate, significant other, etc) you should do this together. This is where I find mood boards to be pretty helpful. Some agencies and studios use mood boards to help establish a visual language for a brand, I find it helpful for decorating. A mood board can literally consist of anything tacked onto a physical board (Yes, I know Pinterest is helpful in this regards, but I find the physical mood board is more concrete and useful for help visualize in a space better than a screen). I break the mood board down into several categories to showcase.
Attitude – What kind of attitude or feeling do you want to evoke? Is it more showcasing your personality and the things that are important to you or is more simply a look and feel. Ikea is a great example of a look a feel with definitely less of a personal story being told versus walking into Guillermo Del Toro’s house that has movie props, horror posters, gothic furniture and his little girls toys strewn about.
Color and Patterns – Color and patterns evoke an attitude and feeling as well. The space you are designing for is going to give you constraints for color and patterns unless you like jarring clash. For instance, my Amanda loves zebra print…and I loathe it. I like dark solid colors…and she thinks I am undertaker. So when we’re figuring out the color scheme and feel of the house, we both agreed we want something that cool in temperature, open in space and evoked feelings of “welcoming” and kind of “breezy”. This helped establish our wall paint choices which in turn helped us figure out what color, furniture and furniture accessories we want to get.
Decorating Style – This is where it gets fun and hectic. The accessories that make your home you. This is where you look inwards and think about what makes you happy. Do you want to showcase more photos or would you like illustrations? Big fancy, framed artwork that you simply like on aesthetic alone or something you bought on vacation that has a story? Would you be happy with the direction once you are on it? There is so much to analyze and think about. For me, I have it broken down into zones. My office will showcase more illustrations and framed artwork from artist like Tom Whalen, Olly Moss, Tracie Ching and Gerald Brom while also including tour poster and photos from shows I’ve been too. The character of all of the pieces I want to hang reflects the attitude I want this room to showcase. Now upstairs in the living and dining room area would I put Gerald Brom’s Krampus print? No, these rooms will be more welcoming (and terrifying) for our guests. That doesn’t mean they will be devoid of artwork or anything that doesn’t show our shared tastes. We’ll look at sites like Society6 and RedBubble, maybe even Etsy, for art we like together and keep a theme going.
Wrestling aesthetic versus use is something that I struggle often. I often side with use versus pure aesthetic since adopting minimalism in my lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean my useful items can’t be aesthetically pleasing and importantly good quality. For instance, I got rid of a ton of outdated books on art history, occultism and comparative religion and even fantasy authors that I like. In their place, I got the collected works of those said fantasy authors in a higher quality book design, and pared down the books that I enjoy to one or two choices of finer quality. I’d rather have a smaller bookshelf of books that are more meaningful to me than an expanded one. Also, a side note on books…less books, less heavy to carry when you move.
So how does this relate back to life? Doesn’t sound like I am just discussing my interior decorating preferences. In a way, I am. Adopting a minimalist lifestyle while still having a home and office that isn’t stark of personality is a struggle. I am constantly wrestling with ideas, so I always go back to the thinking of keeping it simple and what makes me happy. If that means I straddle the line of minimalism versus ostentation, then so be it. For me, I eventually want that home of my grandparents where everything was meaningful and had a story, where the aesthetic didn’t clash with the attitude and where I had found wonder as a kid looking at the photos and art that my dad grew up around.
Maybe this is the curse of being a designer. We always want to tweak and make things better, try new things. Curse, maybe….growth? Absolutely.
But no more zebra print…