10
Dec
07

Design Past, Present and Future

It took a 19th century near death experience to get him there, but once Ebenezer Scrooge finally caught his clue he declared that he would keep Christmas past, present and future always before him. In the interior design world I get the impression that most people are a combination of past, present, and future with an emphasis on one more than the others.

I love contemporary design, I really do. Clean, spare lines and an emphasis on materials totally enchant me in public spaces. But for some reason I can only live with a little of it at a time in our home – a danish modern coffee table in our hearth area, a sputnik lamp, which I have yet to hang in our guest bedroom (makes me wonder if I’m subconsciously resisting it even when I love it), and our newish sofa.
New Sofa

The first two of these could hardly be considered contemporary since they were made in the 60s. And the sofa has traditional, even if spare lines.

Sometimes I wonder why I can’t shake a traditional bent. Not that I’m unhappy with our home. Quite the opposite, I love it. This Saturday John and I were sitting in the kitchen drinking our morning coffee, Sam (our wood stove) quietly blazing before us.
Sam

We were talking about how we’d rather be hanging out in our house than in any hotel we could possibly think of (at least at that particular moment), which is a good thing since we pour our spare change into the house and not into big vacations. It is full of stuff that means something to us – family treasures or finds. Auction scores, those trophies from furniture safari’s with John’s mom.

But I like to think of myself as progressive–socially, spiritually, politically. Even when I work in art museums, though I love the earlier pieces, I prefer to spend the bulk of my time with art less than a century old. Why then, when we built our new house five years ago, did we look at southern, country antecedents? Am I a closet conservative?

I suppose part of the answer can be found in how I was raised, not just the regional influence (the Arkansas Ozarks), but the people who did the job. We never had a ton of money so we learned to value the things, fine or not, that we saw at our family gatherings. Plus the 70s had that whole “back to our country’s roots”, folk thing going, which my Aunt Judy turned into a subtle, but elegant homey art form that totally worked.

Then there was my friend Felley’s mom, also named Judy. I know it is a chronological impossibility, but I’m convinced that Margaret Mitchell based Melanie Wilkes on my friend’s mother, who even looks for all the world like Olivia de Havilland, I swear. In addition to her sweetness, charm and patience (I always showed up at her house after school ready for a snack and was never, to my recollection, rebuffed or disappointed), she also had an incredibly refined, but remarkably approachable sense of style.

She was never self-conscious enough to speak in such terms,  but I learned from Miss Judy to think of interior design as one of the three essential tools of hospitality–the other two being good food and genuine thoughtfulness, two things my mom could have written the book on.

For Miss Judy, every furniture purchase or placement choice seemed to be with a visitor’s comfort and timeless style in mind. Those two things became fused together in my psyche because of her, I think. One of my sweetest memories is of sitting on her fabulous, dark blue chintz Chinois floral patterned sofa with her as she talked me through my smorgasbord of adolescent problems.

Then there is my own mom. She also has great design sense, but the most valuable lessons I learned from her were to keep it fun and to never be afraid of color, especially red. And when you get stuck, call a designer (luckily she has a friend and next door neighbor who is one). And never apply your lipstick with the aid of a compact mirror when you’re in public. Oh wait, that was what my sister learned. Sorry.  

So maybe it’s because I’m so attached to these people, ideas and memories that I keep my feet rooted in a traditional style. From a design point of view the south is frequently criticized for being retardataire. I suspect my own observations may point to why that is, if it is. I guess for me the past is a vital part of the present and the future. Maybe there’s nothing I can do about that, and maybe I should stop feeling the need to apologize for it.           

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3 Responses to “Design Past, Present and Future”


  1. December 11, 2007 at 2:42 am

    I have no sense of style no matter how much I want it. I tend to lean toward Southern classic looks like you see in a Southern Living magazine or something. I love bold red colors. Then I travel with my hubby to NW Ark for a weekend at his family’s farm and the house is two story white gingerbready looking with all the country touches a house on a farm should be…and I love it until I get back home. Then I see our little home with its glass table tops with wrought iron legs and the bold reds with seude colored walls …and I love it. I always have my trusty friend Adam to decorate for me. Yay!

  2. December 11, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Troy, unless you were raised in the State Juvie Home for Boys I would celebrate your history via design and not worry about it. I mean, for God’s sake, you’re doing a great job in your home. Just relax and relish your past (and that cozy circle of chairs in the kitchen).

  3. December 11, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    I love everything about your home and style. It’s beautiful and you definitely shouldn’t apologize for anything. Not even that crazy trinket you found for $1 at Country Friends.


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