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
While I have no desire to step on any toes, I think it should be said that one of the great forces that drives design choices is money. If I had more discretionary income to point toward gorgeous vintage arm chairs or four-figure chandeliers, I would immediately invest in amazing decor and push my home hard toward that social media-defined vision of perfection. But I don’t and so I can’t. Instead, I make the best design choices that I can, year in and year out, that move me toward a home that isn’t perfect, by a long shot, but slowly shaping up to be an interesting, authentic reflection of me and my family.
i totally agree with you . we can slowly build our happy place by our choise. not being influenced by social media
I agree! I’ve come to really appreciate and value the limitations of money. It forces me to be creative and industrious. I don’t actually think I’d like my home as much if I could have bought the exact thing I wanted when I wanted it.
I usually choose vintage because it is cheaper (ie. Craigslist) or a hand-me-downs and it ends up looking fantastic and lasts so much longer than box store furniture. It also helps make my vintage-read falling apart-bathroom work with the rest of the home.
I feel this in my soul.
Agreed. I guess I also have an “unplanned” gallery wall, because I only add to it when I get art as a gift or want to frame a postcard or other artifact. But if I had thousands of dollars, perhaps I’d go looking for more “intentional” pieces. Hard to say!
Yes, I totally concur. I try to ‘inform my sense of style’ by window shopping at places I often can’t afford, and to use that as inspiration when I thrift shop. The vast majority of my decor these days comes from places like Goodwill or consignment shops, and while it might not be a name brand or expensive – my home feels reflective of my personality, and also warm and inviting, which is the most important thing.
I’m with you! My two splurges were a Joybird sleeper sofa (if you can call that a splurge) and an Arte’ De Mexico chandelier that I haven’t had the chance to hang yet. But my home makes me happy and I can’t ask for anything better.
Those of us with multiple children, not a lot of disposable income, and no social media presence are at an advantage here! I have no idea how my rooms look through a camera lens – but I know what pleases my eye and where my kids will snuggle up to read a book. Sometimes that can feel like “less” but thanks for this reminder that my home is just perfect in its VERY imperfect state.
All of that being said, I do love learning from the camera-ready rooms out there on internet-land! 🙂
Yeah there’s so much to learn and get inspired by in “camera-ready” rooms. For sure. I LOVE a beautifully designed, picture-perfect room, but whether that’s what I want to live in long term, whether that’s the home I want to raise my children in, I’m not sure!
Arlyn – It’s so nice to see you here again! And on your fabulous blog! I think you are asking a profound question about perfection and imperfection. The homes I grew up in mostly had “living rooms” and separate “family rooms.” The living room and dining room were my mother’s zone of perfection. She was a gifted “decorator,” so the rooms were interesting and pretty, but kind of dead because no one used them, except for when my parents had visitors. The “family” room often was smaller than the living room and dining room, but it had the tv, comfy furniture, and kids’ toys when we were young. It was where we lived, along with the kitchen. The kitchens (we moved around a bit) were always large with a kitchen table and chairs. We all spent a lot of time at the kitchen table and in the family room, where perfection was not the goal. My grandparents did not have “family rooms,” and nor do I in my 1921 bungalow. When I bought my house I turned the dining room into my tv room/family room, but it felt weird to not be living in/using the prettiest and largest room in… Read more »
My former high school art teacher drilled over and over into our heads the concept of “gelebte Zeit” – German for “lived(-in) time”. It might describe what you are looking for. Interior design-wise, it can both mean to not style out every corner to perfection, to leave some room for the human beings who live in that space, and for the style that is in any given room to have some lived meaning or functionality to the owner. In my example, my own bedroom (that also needs to work as a working space and living room space) probably “requires” a few larger paintings or wall art pieces to “work” in order for it to qualify as perfectly styled. Since I have found no such large pieces that spoke to me, I took to buying postcards from art exhibits/museum shops with art that spoke to me, added a silver paper clip to each of them, and hung about a dozen of them in different groupings, sometimes solo, sometimes a mini-collage – all over my room. They are tiny, but the groupings and the surrounding wall space make them meaningful and interesting to look at, and I have a story for each… Read more »
I would love to see a photo of your rooms. I love the idea. good job!
Yes! I can get behind gelebte zeit. It reminds me, back in the day I interviewed a designer (I feel ashamed that I can’t remember who) but they always left a spot in the room “unfinished” no matter what. And it was as a reminder that rooms might be “complete” but they’re never really finished. Keep adding the things that bring us joy, regardless of how they look. If they align with the “lifestyle mafia” mentality that is so prevalent on social media. I mean, I’ve even gone as far as to think about buying a beautiful toothbrush or beautiful branded floss because it would look nice in my bathroom. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. This is my awakening that not everything has to be beautiful. Real life is kind of beautiful all its own, you know?
Thanks, Arlyn, this was interesting… reminded me, though, of a line in a sitcom I saw as a kid (might it have been Head of the Class?), where a group of teenagers was making fun of their macho/biker friend when they asked, “how much time does he spend on his hair to make it look like he spends no time on his hair?”
I wonder, if a little bit, instead of this leading to ppl spending less money and time in pursuit of the perfect thing – this will actually lead people to spend time and money making their homes look perfectly imperfect. Another way of saying this is – anything published in AD, in my opinion, can’t be used as an example of this phenomenon (unless I have misunderstood it). Instead, I would LOVE to see a pic of your grandmother’s family photo gallery wall 🙂
Hehe….I totally agree with this. I love the sentiment – houses are to be lived in – but when it’s in AD you know it’s been styled to death to look unstyled. I have 2 little boys under 4 so the current look we are going for is “marginally tidy and not too dirty or covered in lego”.
I also always find it interesting when bloggers post photos of there own houses day to day (i.e. messy like the rest of us) and tidying up videos… Wouldn’t it just be easier to live in a house that looked ok when it’s a little messy?
This has become my ‘design philosophy’ over the past few years (I think for a lot longer without realising it was my aim) I can’t prioritise much money at all into decorating the house – I shop at second hand stores, paint hand-me -down furniture etc, but when I can buy something I love them to be the practical things that don’t have to be packed away in a cupboard to make the room look good. Eg. Dishwashing liquid in a pretty dispenser. I like everyday objects to be beautiful and my house to look ‘beautiful’ because I enjoy living in that, not because other people may see it when they visit. I also buy things for the house on holidays as a souvenir that is beautiful and functional and when I look around my house I’m reminded of memories and trips.
Should have made my name something else – I’m another Rachel!
HAHAHA no I know you’re totally right. That AD photo was very much sweated over for that shot I’m sure. It’s almost harder to make a room look like it didn’t try than room than did try. I think, after being home for so long and after being away from all my loved ones, my soul is just craving realness, authenticity and just doing whatever I want in my home no matter what the internet or even designers would think about it.
Hey Arlyn! 👋
Great to see you back here, too, as well as your own blog!
Fun to see you’re going to share your bedroom redesign here as well.
I think the key to creating special, personal spaces is the “curation” aspect of collecting meaningful, personal things, objects, individual, special things…that speak to us as individual human beings.
I’ve never been able to place myself in perfect spaces in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t live in them. Perfect, even when beautiful, is well, sterile. Even really ‘warm’ perfect places look sterile to me.
I don’t mean I’m into overwhelmingly pack-rat places, though I do like a bit of stuff…personal, curated, special stuff.
Tidy, wellplaced, stuff.
Emily recently said that she’s keeping her stuff from LA and not selling it with the house.
That’s because it’s personal, curated, special stuff.
So, Lovely Arlyn, get your stuff on!
Collect personal, meaningful, things that you love and sprinkle them throughout your home.
Tend them, live with them and relish in the imperfection of each and every item of your stuff.
Hugz, Rusty x
Thanks Rusty! Always so supportive. 🙂
I agree! I will also say that, when you have kids, they come with lots of stuff (and also personal/sentimental mementos). You don’t need to worry about your kids growing up in a sterile, over designed space… They’ll take care of that! Take what you have and add a more personal top layer over time.
Love these realizations. If I could, I’d apply some “tough love” here and ban you from ever photographing or displaying that bedroom to anyone on any blog or social media platform. I’d even ban you from moodboards. I’d ask you to let the design evolve simply putting things and colors you like into it, and letting it be what it is, unseen by anyone who doesn’t live in your house. Don’t monetize it, don’t display it. Freedom.
Arlyn’s blog is great!
Her bedroom mood boards are great!
Even the journey of finding the right paint colour has been a fun ride.
Maybe Arlyn has mementos and curiosities in boxes or cupboards already, that she can bring out and let shine??
Maybe the bedroom make over will be Arlyn’s first foray into curated imperfection??
We’re all here for the photos!
So, I’m looking forward to seeing it HAPPEN.
🙂 Thanks Rusty!
I think the “design process”—mood-boards, sourcing, planning—is what keeps a home from having the “soul” that you’re looking for.
Not to sound haughty, but my home is bursting with that lived-in, collected, this-is-me feeling. There is no specific color palette or style direction; mid-century Danish furniture exists alongside a Macy’s couch, antique chairs picked up on the side of the road, thrift-store paintings and framed museum posters. I’ve collected everything over time, not with any specific plan of where things “go,” but rather because I was attracted to the beauty and/or functionality of the item.
My philosophy is that if it works, it works; if it doesn’t, I’ll return, donate, or gift to a friend. 99% of the time, it works—no plan or mood-board, just an innate sense of what “my” style is and a will to go with what grabs me.
I 100% agree with this. A mood board is antithetical to relaxed undesign. Collect items you love and work with them. I’ve been in my house for 10 years and the first few years things would change up a bunch, but I now have almost everything I love and things rarely change since it would mean getting rid of something.
Oh “undesign” YES. I love that.
YES. I want to up vote this a thousand times. That’s the secret. Don’t plan. And keep it personal.
I mean… yes and no? The practicalities of life mean sometimes you don’t have the time to wait for the right things to fall in your lap. I’m expecting a baby and I know her grandparents will come to visit so I need to pull together the spare room, and much as I wish I had been hoarding treasured vintage furniture or a sentimental, personal crib to put in there I just don’t (I’m a renter in a big city, I have a small space, the bed and crib I put in there need to be functional!). I am loosely mood-boarding to figure out what to buy, and it also contains the things I do already have (we are lucky enough to have travelled a lot for example and to have lots of sentimental, personal art and accessories). Some planning can be very useful for those of us who have to work with the limitations of space, budget or time (which is… almost everyone, unless you are very lucky).
Totally! I sometimes feel bad because I can’t stick to one “style” but there are things I love about all styles too! Keep what you love!
I don’t necessarily agree with this. I think there are many ways to approach design. For me, it has varied from room to room. When starting with a blank slate, like our living room and family room, I found it helpful to get a (loose) “design board” going – for my launching point. Once I had my basics down (sofa/rug – big tickets and big players), then the rest was able to come more organically. But I definitely started with a somewhat specific vision, or at least color – for me, I’ve realized I almost always start with the color “feeling” I want. However, since the pandemic I’ve been moving down our hallway, into bedrooms and also the laundry room. Treating these rooms as more project-based has given me joy and purpose during such an uncertain era. I spend time thinking about the design and feel, order samples as needed, and then execute – often in phases. And even with my planning, things change as I move through the project. For example, I’ve been working on the guest(less) room. I picked my color palette and overall design, and some of the pieces (all at once) – the headboard, the wall… Read more »
Different ways of designing work for different people. I love design books, magazines, and blogs. I make plans about colors and furniture arrangements, but I am a collector, forever finding something new (but usually vintage) that I have to have, which creates a domino effect as others things move or move out to accommodate that new piece. My maternal grandmother was the same. Other people plan everything and it works for them. I think it’s design diversity, and like all diversity, it’s a good thing!
Rebecca Atwood’s books “Living with Pattern” and “Living with Color” helped me think through this for our home. I really wanted to steer us towards a personal instead of trendy/current look, and my husband and I have pretty different taste, at least at first glance. Rebecca gives a lot of thought provoking questions to ask yourself to help you tell your story with your home. Working through them with my husband really helped us converge on a plan that felt “so us” instead of “so instagram.”
Agree, this book is amazing.
Agree with the point about financial limitations. I believe most people build their spaces over time, buying (or acquiring second-hand) pieces when they can and when they see something they like and can afford. Decorating an entire room all at once is reminiscent of the “living room sets” and “bedroom sets” that furniture stores advertise.
Yes! I have so e quirky bits n bobs from flea markets (we call them “Swap Meets” in Australia) from feels like 100 years ago as a jni student when I had zero money. I love these items. They’re moving, inspirational and quirky one-off pieces now, because they can’t be bought!
A few weeks ago I re-read “The Pefectly Imperfect Home” by founding Domino editor, Deborah Needleman after owning the book for years. And one of her chapters is devoted to what she calls “quirk”. I especially connected with “jollifiers” or sentimental things that spread a little joy when you see them. She mentions things like children’s art, things that make other people in your home happy to have around aka a lazyboy, hand me down furniture you can’t seem to part with even though it isn’t your taste, an odd chair, small animals and something unexpected. I finally took this advise to heart and started painters taping all of my children’s art in our hallways and I must say, it makes me very happy!
Ah, yes! Such a great book, and more applicable today than ever. Now I want to pull out my copy… thanks for the reminder!
I will say I miss the old Domino. It was quirky, colorful and felt so much more fun than every story being about a minimalist space with white walls. It feels so formal now and not nearly as attainable.
So true! I miss the old Domino terribly. It was packed with soul and quirk and amazing style . I couldn’t wait to see the features turning an amazing outfit into inspiration for a room. R. I. P.
Deborah Needleman is a goddess. She’s just someone with STYLE. The type of person who could decorate literally with a brown paper bag and you go “dang, why didn’t I think of that effortless genius?” Ha
I also created an art wall of my kid’s paintings just stuck on the wall with painters tape. I took it down because the tape kept losing tack, and I miss it so much.
Yes! I was just remembering this book. I find striving for “perfectly imperfect” or “undecorated” is not incongruous with mood boards or Pinterest at all. I think shopping an entire room in one go leads to rooms feeling matchy and overly done. But incorporating hand-me-down or vintage furniture, some kids’ toys, and general signs of life add interest and soul. Some items in a room that are not quite “right” (in scale, state of repair, wood tone, etc.) can be a good thing. I still have my plan for what I’m going for in a space—this is where mood boards and Pinterest come in—but perfection is not the goal.
I enjoy a Pinterest room and an evolved room! My budget usually doesn’t allow me to buy anything from a blogs designed room list, but it sure can give me ideas and a lot of time point me in a direction I wouldn’t have thought of. I also understand that there is a difference between a single persons home vs a working families home. Growing up, furniture was bought to match. I’d visit friends and feel like I was in a showroom devoid of personality! I am so glad th
Yay, Arlyn is back!
I think you’ve totally nailed this. My opinion: there’s going to be a major backlash against “Instagram perfect” in the next few years. I don’t think perfect will be cool or aspirational anymore… and thank god. We’re all reaching our limits with it. Sometimes I’ll see a beautifully photographed room and think “would I even want to hang out in there?”. Often the answer is no! (Although to be fair, it’s sometimes HECK YEAH!)
Just as there’s already a revolt against white rooms and gray rooms!
People need colour!
Is it just me or do all the houses on Instagram look the same these days??? So many white /linen beige couches and black or moody accent walls, fake trees, one leather chair to bring in texture and the same framed pictures of someone else’s beautiful vacation. I’m really tired of it.
Also why do designers apologize when the have a treadmill in their bedroom, or an ugly but lumbar supporting black, mesh office chair, or they (gasp!) didn’t try to disguise or camouflage the TV???
I agree that many designs tend to look the same on IG (I know the look you’re describing), but I’ve come to learn that what I’m seeing is heavily influenced by the IG algorithm. So if I follow one designer with a particular aesthetic, then it only shows me others with that aesthetic. Or if I follow one young, white, female designer, it only shows me other young, white, female designers… and all of a sudden we have ourselves a problem. Not to mention a boring feed.
My rant against the “perfect photo room” applies across styles, I think. Perfectly boho with no signs of the person’s actual life, perfectly farmhouse with no sign of the person’s actual life… it’s all the same problem. And a bummer.
Here’s another weird thing I think about: really beautiful homes use to be just the stuff of magazines. We didn’t have access to see other people’s homes, so we were more okay with our “collected” homes. But now we see it ALL, so we want our homes to look that good. Rightfully so, I suppose…we all deserve homes that bring us joy and design can be such an instrumental part of that, but when we’re all looking at the same things, for instance that “Amber Interiors” look and recreating that…all shopping the same roundups…it’s kind of just vapid? Good looks for the sake of good looks? I know it’s FAR more complicated than that, and I’m VERY fortunate to have been able to create a living and dining room that I do truly love to live in, but I guess what I’m saying is…I’m interested in moving them into phase 2 of what they are, which is just looser, and more life.
I think this is such an interesting and important point. I wanted to add though, that a lot of times I don’t think that the Instagram perfect designs would actually be that fun to live in… the chairs often don’t look very comfy, there are too many or too few pillows… no place for a tv or kids toys, or family photos. For me, a place that makes me really happy is one that supports the way I want to live in it. So, the guitars on my wall are lovely, but they also remind me of our after dinner jam sessions, and that makes me happy. I think that there is space for both design and utility And personality, and I think that utility and personality might be what’s missing from the Gram
This is fascinating to me. In the last six months, I’ve been decorating a brand new home for myself and my children – starting over from scratch in the wake of divorce, and thinking a lot about what values I want to embed in home for us, and how I want this space to feel for them as they grow. Clean, warm, cozy, happy, and calm. In the spirit of this, I’ve ended up making design choices I never would have made for looks alone, and lots more color (who saw the giant salmon pink pendant light coming?!). And in the end, I love the way we feel in this house. What looks good in a picture can be completely soulless in person. All about the balance that works for each of us and how we want to live in the world.
That’s exactly it. One half of successful design is how a space looks, but the other half is how it FEELS to be in that space. Beyond just “comfort” like…a comfortable chair, but SOUL comfort.
I love so much about this! The blues throughout are so beautiful. And I am always a fan of built-ins loaded with books! I think it all looks very homey.
I adore this post (and the thoughtful, insightful comments!). And I want to bring another perspective… I grew up in a cluttered quirky home that brings back lots of wonderful memories. I love going back to my childhood home and snuggling up on the torn red sofa in front of the fire with a mantle stuffed with weird art. BUT, even as a kid, I never wanted that for my own home. I always daydreamed about when I’d have my own house that I could paint and style and where everything would have its place. (My parents, I see now, are borderline hoarders.) For years in my 20s I bought cheap furniture and got stuff off the side of the road… and I hated it. It never felt pulled together and it still felt cluttered and never exactly what I wanted. I know there’s a case to be made about the common thread being “me,” but even though I picked all the things and had to get creative due to finances, I DON’T have a good design eye and I love good design. A conundrum! And so that left me in too many rented houses that I never loved. Now… Read more »
I love ylur comment! This is it. This is the point. Do you and make it yours. x
My mom adores interiors and my parents have a beautiful home. Her taste might not be exactly my taste, but I love where I grew up, and there’s nary a doily or a cluttered bookshelf in sight. I work in a creative industry now, and growing up in a house that valued art/design has made an impact in my life — I feel confident your daughter will think fondly of her pretty bedroom years down the road.
I don’t think homey and cozy have to live in opposition to beautiful or designed. I’d argue Arlyn’s giant polaroid art gives her living room a ton of personality … it’s her grandma’s wall of picture frames, just adapted and made modern.
I think everyone just needs to find what works for them. Personally, I avoid lots of clutter and upholstery because my building is old and bugs tend to find their way in. Not trying to set up a spider hotel here. Luckily I like the streamlined look and ease of cleaning!
I don’t have any specific nostalgic memories of the furniture I had growing up, but I know my bed was hand-me-down and my desk was from Walmart. I got to pick the color of my room and paste magazine photos and whatever I wanted on the walls, which I do have very fond memories of. I think giving a kid freedom to customize their space is more important than providing them with some manicured, perfectly styled space.
Yes this is so wonderful! I’m so glad you have a home you love that feels like you. 🙂
My home is granny-chic and I styled it that way because it reminds me of the furniture I grew up in. Feels cozy and familiar to me.
Looking at beautifully designed rooms is how I unwind and get inspiration for my own home (but am sometimes overtaken by dissatisfaction about my surroundings). My bedroom is totally uncool (I think?). I can imagine someone from the design world coming in and being like – YUCK. And yet. It’s like a breath of fresh air going into the room. The walls are turquoise, the bedside sconces are aqua, the rug is royal blue (which covers up a horrid laminate floor), the throw pillows are bright yellow.There’s an 80s graphic poster in a cheap frame. There’s a print I found on the side of the road of a Black mother and child that zings me emotionally (I’m black/white mixed). There’s the blue solid wood shabby chic dresser I bought in 2004 in the East Village that my brother once carried up four flights of stairs on his back. There are well loved books stacked around. It sounds insane and it is insane. But it works ….for me. It is the one room in my house where I honestly HONESTLY don’t care.
I love this, and I wonder how much of this ache for comfort and a design that feels personal, even nourishing, comes from quarantine. If we’re not essential workers, we’ve been inside our homes for months, among our furniture and things, and it would seem to me that being among things that look perfect or Instagram-ready is less valuable than a space that feels like a respite, where you can feel comfortable and just be you. And if you’re home all the time, then it means there is a lot more clutter, which, in certain spaces, can make them feel mucked up whereas in another space, the clutter just becomes part of the charm. The designed spaces aren’t built for the messiness of life, especially the messiness of life in quarantine. Also, in the wake of the BLM protests I think there’s also been a questioning of every idea we’ve inherited, including, even, those about interior design. It’s too early in the morning for me to fully work out this thought, but I do wonder if there’s this drive among many of us to question where “good” design comes from, how it’s marketed to us, etc….after all that, it suddenly… Read more »
OH YES EDAN! When I first started brainstorming this piece, I had so much thought on the very thing you mentioned at the end of your comment. “Good” design…quotation marks very much meant there. Who is the arbiter of design? Design is inherently an upper class luxury. No, it’s not specific to white America. Design is had all across the globe, but “good” design as we view it today, on Instagram, on blogs, is well…”good” and “white.” If a room feels too…African, for instance, perhaps it’s too “niche” and it gets no love on a blog or magazine. But why? Shouldn’t we be appreciated a room for the time and thought that went into it? So much to unpack there…
Exactly! It’s so important to be interrogating our preferences and how we got them. It can also take you down a rabbit hole where you question everything that gives you pleasure, and that can be exhausting! But important work at the same time. I really loved this post and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. So thanks!
I have always loved the ideology of buy what you like and it’ll come together (usually that means things move rooms several times before finding their “home) much easier in pre-COVID days to say. just go to yard sales/estate sales/thrift shops. I think 100% of all of my quirky or things with personality came that way. I think the magic of it is, you are presented with things you would never know to type into etsy or ebay.
WELCOME HOME ARLYN!!!!! i’m so happy you’re back!!!!!!!
Love this! Thank you so much for sharing this – I feel like something I’ve learned from this blog is that adding “soul” or “comfort” to a room often comes from items that can’t be bought from a store (no I can’t just swipe up on Instagram and get it delivered to my front door) – these could be vintage items from a second-hand store or items inherited from friends/family, kids’ artwork, some random treasure you found on trash night, etc., etc. And collecting these items takes TIME. So no, my room(s) might not be Insta-ready tomorrow, but I really appreciate that this blog and conversations like this help me to see that I could get there eventually, if I want to 🙂 And that it helps provide guidance (and some swipe ups) for those items that I am ready to purchase now.
I think there’s definitely a middle ground to working on a room. For instance, my bedroom is in shambles. I think about redoing stuff in it (we’re finally getting the push by getting a new bed late this fall). So while it’s idealistic to say it’ll evolve over time, the reality is that we’ve draped a top sheet over curtains over blinds because what we have up is definitely not black-out at this point, and frankly, I could live this way for who knows HOW long unless I get a fire under my rear to update it!!! I will not tell you how long it has been this way for already… So what I’m saying is that having a general plan and getting a base together is probably important. This might not happen all at once, but it’s nice to put some thought into what you want a room to be. How it should feel maybe, versus how it should look. However, the lived in part will happen naturally over time, and I don’t necessarily want a room to be “done”. I’ve always moved around little pieces from all over my house as things feel stagnant or seasons change. It’s… Read more »
What puts me off so many photo-ready rooms is how it’s form over function. A couch covered in trendy pillows does not invite easy sitting. A coffee table with the just-so pile of books, the obligatory wood chain links, etc, does not invite one to set down a magazine. Bookshelves stuffed to the gills and busy gallery walls feel overwhelming. So many rooms end up being like lovely art projects, but no way in heck would I want to have to try to actually live in them. That ad photo gives me anxiety. I guess one person’s “comfort” is another person’s “chaos.”
Agreed! Every time I see a styled coffee table on Insta or on a blog, I think: Where do they put their feet? And isn’t it annoying to have to keep moving that long wooden chain to actually look at one of those books?
A similar thought occurs whenever I see books shelves with the bindings turned to face the wall. (shudder!). Like what is the point of having books on your shelves at all when you can’t even read the titles to find one?
Thing is, sometimes I like looking at lovely “art project” homes. The problem was that, for too long, that kind of home was the ONLY kind on view on instagram and pinterest — just these perfectly bland/beige/white/black/wood “neutral” spaces (with the obligatory fiddle leaf fig plant). It’s actually exciting that we are finally seeing personality in more and more homes.
I am ready for the day that the chains are finally declared passé. I had never heard of books turned so the bindings face the wall. Now I’m laughing about what we apparently will do for the sake of “style.”
The jumble of colors and words on book spines stresses me out, so I turn my books around – they’re organized by category and any book I love I can easily identify by its size and page color. Also, I think the colors of old book pages are beautiful.
I think it’s silly that folks act like what does or doesn’t work for them is some sort of universal truth. In decor and in life.
Well TBH it would stress me out to have to remember which book is which based on size and page color. And design is all about personal preference. So you do you. Meanwhile I think flipping books backward because it looks good on instagram (as loads of designers have proposed) is superficial nonsense that doesn’t reflect how most people live. Most of us want to SEE our book titles. No reason for you to take offense if that “most” doesn’t include you.
Sorry if “I think it’s silly” sounded offended. My intent was to challenge the POV that someone thinks they know better.
I’m curious where you got your data that your opinion is the same as that of “most” people, as opposed to, say, my opinion. Or the opinion of professionals.
I collected my data from common sense.
That’s interesting. By having the books turned around you make it impossible for a guest to browse the titles. Maybe that’s a bonus.
Agreed. I know I sound like a grump, but maybe everyone is just working with bad designers? I say this as someone else in the industry. I certainly care a lot about how things look but the photos are not the end goal. And I care about how things look from the point of view of the people inhabiting the space, not the person looking at it on instagram.
I am imagining designers keeping one eye on building their portfolio at all times.
bookshelves stuffed to the gills is how a lot of people live…
I’ve actually been noticing this as well!!!! Thanks for putting words to what I’ve been feeling. I’m less motivated for perfection, I’ve done this for so long and it’s exhausting and never stays perfect as your or your family’s needs change. And so I’m less excited about following perfect interior designed spaces and prefer following along as someone slowly decorates, improves, and changes their spaces over time (like Em did with her mountain house or living room versions lol) like The Nester, The Makerista, HouseofBrinson, and Glassofbovino are great examples of people listening to their homes and their gut – then decorating for that “season” of life.
The Makerista is so great. I don’t think I know The Nester, I’ll check it out. And yes I love the idea of decorating for a season of life and then honoring it. I have some pieces in my current bedroom that are by no means really my style anymore, but I do not want to get rid of them. I want to remember the time I was in my hardcore French Country phase, or Moroccan phase, etc. Just a little. bit of my history.
Arlyn….this is such a grrrreat conversation topic!
so on board for this. just like everyone, i love a beautifully designed room, but they never give me a flutter feeling in my heart. the collected over time homes and the family homes with kid art and family pictures give me that feeling.
Missed your writing Arlyn! Such a fun, interesting post and loved reading everyone’s comments. Another thought and not at all in a bragging way – my home is very well designed and organized, yet it represents us and all the experiences and countries we have lived in over the years… BUT sometimes when I have friends over I’m actually embarrassed??? Like, their homes don’t look partially put together & sometimes I wonder if they judge me in a negative way for having such a pulled together home…? (“oh she tried too hard” or something… Taylor Swift’s Mirrorball song comes to mind…lol. Such.a.good.album.) Some people are like WOW, your home is ah-mazing, while others just look around, stare, and don’t say anything. Does anyone relate to this at all?? #realworldproblems I know 😆
I think this is an interesting point in that in the original blog post the suggestion is almost if you have a beautiful designed room it’s to impress others. My house is far from amazingly designed but I put a lot of time into making it look ‘beautiful – to me. I enjoy the time I spend on that, it’s one of my favourite hobbies, and I enjoy the result of being in a space that makes me feel happy. I sometimes wonder if friends who visit think I’m superficial for putting effort into how my home looks, and I used to also not give myself permission to care about that sort of thing too, but it genuinely makes me happy!
A friend of a friend came over a few years ago and said, literally “OMG! You gave real, grown up furniture! Like, we have bricks and planks for our bookshelf!” The tone was definitely a put-down. I’m not usually good at come-backs, but I said “Well, we are grown ups, so I guess you’d better get somgrown up furniture too!”
This is an interesting topic and one that I think is driven by the almost imaginable pressure that us consumers of design content place on creators of content. After all, as a reader of this blog and a scroller of instagram, I love seeing perfect, aspirational spaces. But–importantly–I don’t have to live in them and I don’t face the constant gnawing contrast between the beautiful surface and the messy reality of life. One thing I’ve seen on this blog in particular is the desire to draw back the curtain, to reveal that mess, that real life. And then if I put myself in your shoes, I imagine that you get stuck in yet another cycle of this because while certain kinds of mess are “acceptable,” others are not. And having to maintain both a curated perfect self and a curated “real” self. Well, let’s just say…it sounds very stressful! Because for normal people, well of course we face some version of this–anyone with social media much less a social life faces the contrast between the public self and the private self–but it’s just not nearly as stark as I imagine it is for you. My response to what you’ve written… Read more »
I half agree with this. I LOVE my curated, minimal home that is always photograph ready because that’s how my family likes to live. I also love looking at beautiful pictures of designed homes. What DOES bother me, is a completely gorgeous room that is impractical. Why does the living room never have a tv in it? While that floating double vintage sink is beautiful, it has zero counter space and zero storage. That’s just not real life. I appreciate well designed rooms with practicality and some infused soul the most.
I enjoy the discussion of creating meaningful spaces. Over the last several years, I’ve thought more about the meaning of the stuff we own. First, as a reaction to Marie Kondo’s books and the rising trend of minimalism, and then as I sorted through my Mom’s home as she was in hospice. I’ve thought more about it as wildfires raged through California destroying homes and entire towns. I’ve thought about it as I walked through museum exhibits displaying everyday objects, as well as valuable decorative items from various cultures across the centuries. Regardless of how we decide to design, or what we choose to own and display, our collections of items tell a story about who we are and what we value. As we make those choices, we can think about what “sparks joy” and what story we want to tell. Thank you for sharing your story and the feature on Apartment Therapy, which shares the stories of others’ relationships to the objects they keep.
There is a lot to be said for acquiring pieces over time, and not just buying all new things for a room design. I think that is when it feels more sterile.
My favorite pieces are hand-me-downs from family and things I’ve found/thrifted. My aunt is an “old-school” designer and when she saw my home she said “there’s not one particular style” and I think the eclectic or unexpected really catches your eye.
Also I feel like you need a piece that adds tension, like almost doesn’t belong….. Just my opinions!
This is a topic we’re currently discussing. As a designer clients often say things like “Your home must just be gorgeous, perfect—that’s how I want mine to be.” Immediately I answer—No! A staged home (whether it‘s to sell or for a photo shoot) is very different than a HOME. I have mail on my entryway table, my iPad & misc stuff on my coffee table and the throw pillows & blanket on my sectional are spread out from laying them! The pillows aren’t perfectly karate chopped nor is the throw blanket perfectly draped (which I can literally spend 30 mins doing for a photo shoot!) I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to present homes like this so we’re slowing integrating more realistic designs—perfectly imperfect—and the response has be amazing!
Such an interesting line of questioning, and I always enjoy reading everyone’s comments! I think, like most things, interior design is a spectrum of possibilities and is often a moving target because of time. I like a lot of different types of interiors and I enjoy seeing different design POV which is why I enjoy scrolling IG, but most I would not like to live with. Time is also a factor, when you can do a room all at once, I can see the need for mood boards, especially when working with clients. Mood boards develop through winnowing through masses of potential decor and create focus. For most people, like me, interiors develop over time as money and opportunity present themselves, so it’s a more organic, growth oriented. I also don’t have an audience watching, thank goodness! As some people commented earlier, including personal and quirky (as long at it’s not too self aware) things add a sense of comfort and being lived in. I am drawn more to personal, eclectic spaces, many I have seen here (MOTOs especially and Emily’s first 2 homes), than the big budget reno projects (Portland & Mountain houses) mostly because I see more personality… Read more »
I think you have to design a space that speaks to you. It’s that initial gut reaction of whether you like it or not BEFORE you see it 1,000 times on Instagram. I often think I don’t like a new style/trend, and then later I start to like it, but is that just because I keep seeing it? I think Instagram is a good tool to see how to incorporate different pieces into your existing decor/style, but I wouldn’t copy it. Also when I make boards on Pinterest, I start to notice patterns in what I pin that I gravitate towards. I think just being authentic to yourself is most important.
Another home blog I follow has a tag line that I love: “It doesn’t have to perfect to be beautiful.” Love your thoughts and keep it up!
I get what you’re saying, Arlyn! I’m beginning to decorate my new home and realize that all the plans and Pins I had were way too “staged” for my liking. I’m not sure how to achieve that lived-in look without it looking messy but I have concluded that humour is what is missing in many of the rooms I formerly pined for. I don’t want a magazine perfect room. I want a warm, comfortable and relaxing room that doesn’t take itself too seriously!
This made me think of why I love Nancy Meyers films, and looking at movie sets for design ideas in general. They take time to make the rooms feel lived in, to add character that normally would happen over time. I feel like some of the ‘gram style that is popularized today ends up being sterile and depressing, because it feels like its not personal at all, but something that is done to be perfect and achieve #plant goals or whatever else is trending right now. Fantastic post! Something that has been on my mind frequently during this time.
I’m so glad you brought up Nancy Meyers. I had like two paragraphs all about Nancy and her sets, and photos but then I started going off the rails so I pulled it but YES!
I wonder if *time* is the missing ingredient… Everyone loves Emily’s basement design, and it came together (relatively) quickly, but the pieces were pulled from years and years of collecting things she loved. And maybe a big part of what you’re paying a designer for is the time they’ve already put into looking at things that are available, which makes it easier for them to (relatively) quickly put together something that speaks to their client. Maybe? I’ve not worked with a designer before so would be interesting to hear from them and the folks who have worked with them 🙂
I totally agree. We do baby and child spaces and that’s allllll about comfort and real life for mom and kid. Design had to be for how we live, not just how it looks like we live.
When I kid (probably 12 or 13), we had plain beige curtains in our living/dining room that my mom agreed to let me ‘spruce up’ by painting stenciled flowers around the edges. I found a picture the other day that had them in the background and they looked TERRIBLE! But my mom hung them right up, told me she loved them, and they stayed there for years. This is the same woman who let me pick out bright pink carpet, lilac paint, and a Tweety Bird wallpaper border for my bedroom as a 6 year old; and then didn’t object for a second when I painted my teenage bedroom bright yellow with a brown and lime green striped ‘accent wall.’ When I moved into my own spaces, my main priority is always to make people feel comfortable. I NEVER want a coffee table that you can’t put your feet up on, or a couch you’re not allowed to snack on, or china that would be cried over if a mug broke. It’s not that I don’t want or have nice things; the opposite actually – I take a lot of pleasure and pride in making our spaces beautiful. But I… Read more »
Your mother sounds like a delight. 🙂
I have an elderly friend (‘disappearing’ due to dementia) but back a while she said to use my best, most veautiful things everyday! So, I started to. It was hard at first, but nan!, I delight in using my treasures, albeit it carefully.
This same, very coiffed lady, also squashed garden snails with her bare, beautifully manicured hands! She also insisted on taking photos of me all huffy puffy ehile gardening in summer….”for memories!”
I miss her so much….and she’s still physically here. 😭
I know exactly how it is to miss someone who is still here – I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s and it was devastating to visit her when she no longer knew who I was. I’m so sorry about your friend – she sounds wonderful.
I love clean, uncluttered designed homes. I just feel more peaceful and more ready and energetic to conquer other things when there is less clutter. For me, it’s a given that some personal items would find their way there, even in a designed home. One thing doesn’t preclude the other. So automatically, it would never be the same as someone else’s home. It should feel a bit lived in with old pieces. If a home is functional with lots of storage, the look will automatically be less cluttered. If I had more money, that would free a lot of my time for other activities. I love designing and art, but I don’t like being undecided about loving a piece long term, because I can’t afford taking lots of risks and changing things all the time. And so I imagine the rich who live in uptight, over designed homes don’t worry about their surroundings as much. They are free to do engaging in a hobby, making more money… even design, but it’s a more productive time than what I’m doing when I worry about money, and curtains, and armchairs.
This is the way I like to decorate my home too. Slowly, adding things I love as I find them, not out of need to “fill” a space for a competition. Unfortunately my favorite way to do this, by perusing antique shops and flea markets has mostly been off limits this year as I try to only shop when necessary and not browse unintentionally. I’ve been itching to get back to it!
Oh my gosh right? I’m trying to set up a new apartment and would love to finally take advantage of this excuse to buy more vintage and antique stuff!
Look up your local BUY NOTHING site!
It’s for real,
My favorite spaces have all been curated with the idea that the “theme” or “aesthetic” is THINGS I FRICKING LOVE. That way, as long as I really love it, it always fits. (Convenient!) Those spaces feel perfect because they’re perfectly me. 🙂
This whole post makes me think about the intersection of art and life. When I look at the photos in design books/blogs, I feel like I’m looking mostly at art. A carefully curated grouping of items and architecture and living elements pulled together trying to find that perfect venn diagram center captured in a photo. I don’t actually want to live in most of those spaces, they are not designed to be perfectly imperfect. But I love to see them, to watch people try to find that perfect design center or to push the boundaries of style. It’s fun!
I wonder what it would be like, though, to be a designer or home stylist and be constantly working on your own personal space as a part of your job. How do you maintain healthy boundaries between your work and home life? What do you do when you want to take a breather from analyzing your own home?
Love your point about art/life!
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately myself. As a designer, it’s hard not to feel embarrassed that my home isn’t insta perfect nor will it ever be. I’ll never get rid of the barrister bookcase that belonged to a grandfather I never knew. Or the mid-century sideboard built by my husband’s great-father or the hand turned lamps he made too. Or the dining set handmade by my husband’s uncle that sits on the vintage rug his dad gave us for our first house. Or the media center my husband built me as a birthday present one year. Most of our art was done by a friend or by myself in high school when I was a practicing artist. I have dozens of house plants and piles of books everywhere, and my son’s toys are stacked in a corner of our living room so we can watch him while he plays. The side of our refrigerator is covered in his art. Our bedroom is pretty minimal because I haven’t had time to design it, and it will come together just like the rest of our house…piece by piece over time whenever I have a little spare cash. I’ve had… Read more »
Hallelujah! Completely agree, as an interior designer I have become so disenchanted with spaces that are overly curated and styled. We have clients that want everything at once, from no accessories to a ton of stuff that someone else picked out and placed. And then we shoot the space and act like it is a ‘collection’ that has come together over time. I just don’t understand. It has made me step out of this business in search of something more authentic. Nice blog to shake things up a bit :).
Oh! I’m curious what you’re looking into for more authentic business! It’s an interesting time in the world to revisit how we spend our time
I made the switch from software engineer to consultant in part because it felt disingenuous to prioritize technology solutions when most software delivery problems are actually people problems – a widely held perspective that somehow isn’t prioritized
Yes! I have been gradually coming to the same conclusion. One thing that stands out like a sore thumb when I look at American design blogs is the way you use two matching (frequently wood/upright/uncomfortable) chairs at right angles to the sofa or facing the sofa. I have never, ever, seen anyone in the UK position chairs in such a rigid way and I have never seen anyone use hard chairs in a living room (at least as part of the main seating arrangement) here either. Look at the photo you like of the British woman’s living room – she has a big sofa and two armchairs separated from each other and angled cosily towards the sofa for chatting so they’re practical and comfortable. And ‘styled’ bookshelves with only about 20 books on at supposedly quirky angles/stacks/facing out are seriously naff, especially floor to ceiling ones – if you don’t need huge shelves, don’t put them in! Use them for genuine collections if you have those, whether it’s books or pottery or something else; people can tell when you’ve just put something there for show.
Just for perspective – I’ve lived in the US my whole life (39 years now) and don’t know anyone who has their shelves styled this way, other than folks who “inherited” lots of shelves from previous occupants – and one family whose styled shelves only contain books and meaningful family items
Not sure I can think of anyone with armchairs at right angles to the sofa, either, though since the person in that chair would still be facing the person in the sofa I’m not sure I see what the problem is
Oh maybe chairs that are perpendicular to the sofa is so that everyone can see both each other and the tv/focal point?
I adore interiors design. I would LOVE to have a perfectly curated home with every single room picture perfect. Instead I have a home FULL of color, mixed crazt patterns, pieces from our travels, areas where the kids have helped (such as a VERY colorful mural on our light blue walls) and filled with vintage pieces that I have restored after many many years searching.
I always say that i would love a perfect home but for now, with kids I want them to have a home that when they look back, they will remember the colors, personality, the memories and love that lived there.
I love this! I personally try to shoot for an 80/20 principle…80 percent carefully curated, intentional, solid design basics and then 20 percent mixture of whatever I happen to feel like at the moment. That 20 percent changes and grows through the different seasons and chapters of my life. This 80/20 ratio seems to satisfy my desire for my spaces to feel grounded, yet still flexible, personal, and creative. Thanks for a great post!
I have to admit to being confused by this post. Do people expect interior design to just stay that way? I’ve always assumed interior design for homes (not hotels or commercial spaces) were more like fashion photography. When you buy the piece of clothing, you wear your own jacket with it or your own jewelry, and it looks different against your skin, on your body than it does on the model. I used Havenly but probably to my designers dismay, I didn’t buy much of what was offered. I tried to match the color scheme and layout and overall feeling, but went and thrifted things I felt fit in the niche the designer had created. Not to mention I’d given them pictures of all the things I’d already owned to fit in the design. No designer on earth would use the immense number of sci fi paperbacks my boyfriend and I have collected in a design but I used the design direction I got to find a way to make them more A E S T H E T I C. I assumed that was the point of interior design, not the perfect rooms in AD or on blogs (which… Read more »