What’s up EHD world?! It’s Arlyn (ex-Editorial Director, forever friend of the blog) and I’m happy to report that I’m baaaack. No, not in a full-time capacity, but when Jess and Emily reached out to ask if I wanted to contribute the occasional post, how could I say no? So here I am, and here I’ll stay; a few times a month you’ll see my byline pop up and I hope you read and engage because I’ve missed you. Today, I’m sharing my take on what I can only imagine will be a bit of an “unpopular opinion” though I mean it more as a thought-starter for us all. Let’s get to it.
I feel an interesting wave catching on in the design world and it’s one I want to ride into the sunset. It’s not a tsunami of a trend yet necessarily; maybe it never will be, but that might make it even better, actually. Let me explain…
Earlier this month, my editor friend Taryn Williford over at Apartment Therapy launched a new series called Comfort Decorating. “Comfort Decorating is like comfort food: It’s familiar, sensory, nostalgic, and maybe a little bit impractical—but it will always hit the spot.” Such goes the introduction to the package of 20 stories from real people divulging about the “comfort” items—an old crocheted tablecloth, nostalgic fridge magnets—that, albeit “ugly”, at least by traditional Pinterest standards, nourish their owner’s souls.
Try not to feel all emo while reading that.
Soon after, I stumbled upon Domino’s newer podcast, Design Time, in which they “explore spaces with meaning,” followed shortly by my discovery of designer Megan Hopp’s initiative she’s sharing over on her Instagram: #goodenough—exactly what it sounds like…#goodenough design tips for #goodenough rooms. I’M INTO IT.
I write all of this, of course, from a literally picture-perfect living room (well…in its best form, certainly not in its current state with packages leaning against the hearth and deep butt-shaped indentations in the sofa that’s gone unfluffed for too long). While I’m really quite happy with the spaces you all have seen around this neck of the woods, I can step back and say out loud, honestly, that I think the rooms are…too perfect, too designed.
My living and dining rooms are likely not the kind of spaces my future children will conjure back up in a spiral of nostalgia one day. It’s hard to imagine them smiling as they think back to the Anthropologie coffee table or the somewhat generic art dotting the gallery wall in the same way I do remembering the chartreuse and silver (yes, silver) striped wall I helped my mom paint in the family room of my childhood home. There was always something changing, some kooky idea she had that she just went for, long before any photos would ever be snapped for the Internet judging panel. It makes me wonder if my sponge-painted moon and star bedroom motif from my teenage years, with all its flaws—and the large overstuffed cow in the corner I loved well past the age someone should love such a thing—would have been more pristine, tamer, if someone was “watching.”
This wasn’t “good design” by any means. It was just my mom, myself, having some fun in the spaces we lived in every day, LITERALLY not caring what anyone thought. Easy to say when NO ONE WAS LOOKING, I know.
I’m possibly going a bit too deep here—look, I’ve been locked inside for 5 months so I’m giving myself the space to do that, I make no apologies—but I’ve been wondering lately if I’ve done myself and my future family a disservice by being overly manicured with my design. I want to create a home with legacy, with quirk. I no longer aim to decorate with the hope that people seeing it “get it,” or can even recreate it. The best, most meaningful abodes can belong solely to the people that cooked them up, imperfections, “comfort design” and all.
“She didn’t plan her gallery wall…it just grew into the epic showcase, using the design secret weapon that is time.”
Please don’t take what I’m writing here today and misconstrue it as not appreciating a well-designed and decorated home, however. I LOVE A WELL-DESIGNED AND DECORATED HOME. I’ve literally made a living around it. But something happens to me, viscerally, when I see a not-perfect space that has come together over years, maybe even decades. No styled “shelfie” in sight. Just a bunch of well-loved books stacked on top of each other in haphazard piles. Maybe a worn-in skirted armchair in a toile fabric I’d NEVER pick for myself. Family photos in whatever frames they originally came in filling wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor of a hallway like they do in my grandmother’s house in Puerto Rico. She didn’t plan her gallery wall…it just grew into the epic showcase of my memories, using the design secret weapon that is time.
To me, at least right now at this moment, the goal of a finished space is far less enticing than a home that’s maybe never actually done. Never “ready for its close up.” At times, I envy those who are creating their homes for *just* themselves, outfitting rooms that will never grace the pages of Architectural Digest or the crevices of Instagram virality. After all, I think “comfort design” comes together at a pace no one would be interested in following on the ‘gram.
Here’s the big question though: How does one bridge the gap between loving highly curated spaces, “comfort decorating” and a hodge-podge mess of a room with no basis in design? It’s one thing to say I’m looking for some fluidity as I design my own spaces, and another to feel like nothing is ever concrete, always in (messy) flux. I’m afraid I don’t quite yet have the answer to this, but you’ll be the first to know when I do.
If you follow my blog, Arlyn Says, you’ll know I’m currently in the process of redecorating my sad, design-lacking bedroom. I’m in the “moodboarding to death” phase that makes me excited but incredibly frustrated at the same time because I really don’t want to land in the same “picture perfect” spot I got to with my living and dining rooms. I’m trying to reference other rooms far less while I work on this space, and just do what feels right to my eye. Fewer rules, more gut. Less inspiration, more do-whatever-I-want. But I recognize the oxymoron that is writing about a bedroom design on my own blog at the same time as I write an article on another blog about how I want to create a space no one wants to blog about. It is complicated and a bit nonsensical. I’m not entirely sure you even followed that sentence because it was that chaotic.
So perhaps this piece is just a catharsis for me; a place to explore my need for side-stepping perfection during a time where everything feels anything but. I’ll likely go back to bookmarking magazine-worthy rooms and Photoshopping version 3, 4 and 5 (6, 7, 8) of my bedroom—which I’ll be revealing right here on this blog in the coming months so STAY TUNED—knowing deep down that while it will feel good and nice and “complete-ish” when it’s ready to be photographed by the amazing Sara Ligorria-Tramp (miss you!), I’ll look forward to the years to come where the space gets a layer of LIFE mixed into it. There is, after all, room for both comfortable, non-design-y rooms and professionally presented spaces. The admiration for each does not need to be mutually exclusive, I’m finding. Let’s honor them both for what they bring to our lives, knowing that each “hits the spot” in their own ways, regardless of who’s watching.
Reveal Photo Credits: Photos by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Arlyn’s Bright & Happy Rental Living Room Makeover and Arlyn’s Moody Dining Room Reveal Is All About the Insane Power of Paint