Archive for the 'interiors' Category


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.

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.           


Master Bedroom Don’ts – Before Pictures

Okay, I found the “before” pictures of the master bedroom.
Bedroom Befores
  I promise I didn’t unmake the bed and turn the sofa over just to make the room look extra wrong.  We were in the process of moving the sofa out to give to a friend when I realized I needed to take the before photos. And John had just gotten back from Puerto Rico, so that’s why the suitcase is in the middle of the room.Bedroom Befores
Try not to judge the strong green (Porter Paints, Bayou Bronze) too harshly.  It is part of an incomplete design concept that would have incorporated a canopy for the bed and some other cool fabrics and lighting that probably would have made it work.  Lesson learned:  Know my limits.  Homemade canopies and vintage lighting that requires additional fabrication are out of my league at this stage of my life.  I just don’t have time for that many steps.       
The sofa, btw, was an early design decision mistake.  I bought it because it was comfortable—best nap couch ever!  I wasn’t crazy about the fabric, but thought I would just have it recovered.  Lesson learned: Don’t buy furniture new with alterations in mind unless you get to choose the fabric before it is delivered.

I find it hard to believe myself, but the shades above the bed are the same temporary ones we’ve had since we built the house FIVE YEARS AGO!   Whatever that says about my ability to see a project through, it speaks volumes about the quality of those temporary shades!  Impressive!

The bronze drapes don’t fit in the Palladian window.
Bedroom Befores
  They were also “temporarily” thrown up (again, five years ago) on a tension rod because I wasn’t sure what shades I wanted and the way the window fits into the dormer makes mounting a rod outside difficult.  The ugly globe light fixtures (2nd photo) were the cheapest thing I could find because I wanted more time to think about lighting than I had when the builder needed a decision from us.  So there you have it—a recipe for design disaster.  Be gentle.

The good news is that I bought new bedding on a very successful shopping venture to Target with Dave.  Pictures to come.  The new shades are ordered (delivery in two weeks).  I bought a great 5 x 8’ jute rug (currently under the bed, but I may move it) for $68.00 at Lowes. 

Oh, and John put the chandeliers on a sliding rheostat for me so now we have infinite lighting possibilities.  I’m a big believer in putting rheostats wherever I can have them.


Blusche and Eggplant

For some reason I love the color combination of this blusche Peony against the eggplant color (color: True Value Harware – River Mud) on our kitchen walls. If I could, I would paint a library with eggplant walls and have blusche colored drapes made from billowy silk (lined) for the tall windows. I think these two colors both look good with a little sparkly gold, so I would use antique brass details and light fixtures.  Crystal would work, too, I think.

Blusche and Eggplant 2

Blusche and Eggplant 3


My House is Never Clean

I don’t keep our house that clean. There are no beer cans or pizza boxes under the sofa or anything, but unless company is coming (and often even as they are walking through the door) the hard surfaces of our case goods typically are softened by a thin, gauzy layer of dust. And Claire sheds enough hair each week to fill a mattress. Who can keep up? A lot of folks could.  But so far, not me.

It’s not my mom’s fault. I grew up in a spotless home. When mom got too busy to clean it herself she hired the best people in town to do it for her. My mom is much beloved wherever she goes, but she is known for her exacting standards when it comes to cleaning, to the point that one woman left a note after her morning’s work that said, “I obviously can’t please you, so I won’t be back next week.” My mom read the note to me remarking with a sigh as she threw it in the trash can, “I don’t know how someone who won’t remove a cobweb big enough to strangle an elephant ever expects to make a living cleaning houses.” My mother exaggerated. Spiders spun webs from the tops of trees in Batesville to avoid her brooms. I doubt an inch of thread left an arachnid behind in our house before the offending spider was pummeled into its next plane of existence.

Mom eventually found a winner in Shirley. She was my favorite of the women who cleaned our house. Wiry, short and kind of loud, Shirley wore hot pink or baby blue velour jogging suits to clean in. She had hair like Liza Manelli’s only a little longer. It was actually a fe-mullet.

Mom left a pot of strong coffee on for Shirley to drink on the mornings she cleaned. She would always put whatever knick knack she inevitably broke as she rocketed around the house on the bar with a sweet and apologetic note, “Katy, so sorry!!”

Destructive as Shirley was, she cleaned a mean house and my mom knew that a few broken object d’arts was a small price to pay to keep her on. Accidents aside, Shirley took a lot of pride in her work. And she cleaned for every house in our neighborhood. Except for one. One day mom got a frantic phone call from Donna Ruth Arnold, the construction contractor who lived down the street from us.

“Katy, have you seen Shirley?”

“No, why?”

“Well, she just beat the hell out of Susie Cato.”

I never got Susie’s side of the story. Talk was that she was one of Shirley’s customers until Susie made a snide and disparaging remark about her work, with which Shirley evidently disagreed. So right there in Susie’s doorway Shirley let her fists do the talking.

I found Shirley to be completely friendly and supportive. Once my name was in our local paper because I participated in a mock trial at high school, sort of a theatrical civics lesson. In the story, my character was picked up for school by another guy who had drugs under his seat. Pulled over for speeding, my friend was arrested for possession. My guilt by association was questioned in the trial.

The paper made clear that the trial was fake, but this fact was still lost on Shirley. So when I came downstairs one morning on one of her cleaning days not long after the article appeared, she said,

“Well, I read in the paper you got into a little trouble.”

I realized she was referring to the mock trial. I thought she was just having some fun. “Yeah, kind of embarrassing to be on trial in front of the whole school,” I said.

“We all make mistakes. Was your momma and daddy mad?” It occurred to me that she didn’t realize the trial was staged.

“You know, Shirley, that was a fake trial.”

“I know, sometime it’s like they’re cut and dried. The important thing is that you learned from what ya done.”

“No, it was a pretend trial to show the school what a real trial is like.”

“We don’t have to talk about it. But, listen, if you ever need anything, you let me know. Don’t be afraid to call me. I know you’re a good kid. You’re momma and daddy raised you right. You gotta watch who you hang out with though.”

Finally, I just said,“Ok. Thanks.”

Where is Shirley now that I need her?