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How Do You Display Your Religion In Your Home?

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design by meghan and jesse arlen | photo by marisa vitale | via apartment therapy

I don’t go to church and I wouldn’t describe myself as religious. The memories of my parents dragging me out of bed on Sunday morning still echo in my mind and so does the dread I felt having to sit on a pew for an hour listening to a sermon I didn’t understand. But now at 26 years old, something’s shifted. I’ve developed a surprising affinity towards Catholicism, specifically as it relates to my family history and culture. The traditions I used to roll my eyes at are suddenly endearing. The family heirlooms and my grandmother’s collection of rosaries are things I feel lucky to have. Seemingly out of nowhere, I’ve had the strangest desire to incorporate this part of my life into my home, akin to how my parents and grandparents have always done in theirs — albeit with fewer crucifixes (I am not there yet).

For me, being raised Catholic was a little like learning how to play an instrument that was missing strings. I got some of the routines down like going to Mass on Sundays, memorizing prayers, and attending funerals anytime a distant relative or family friend passed. But it never felt completely right so eventually, I stopped practicing altogether. In general, a lot of my experiences with Catholicism were rooted in morals, tradition, and family rather than strict biblical practices but as a kid, those things weren’t the most fun to care about. Then as I got older I questioned the bible and rebelled as teenagers do. As such, I wouldn’t say my relationship with religion is or ever has been easy and I consider myself lucky that my experience with the Catholic religion is not traumatic, especially since humans are fallible and can screw up even the things that are meant to be holy.

But as I said, I was lucky. My parents grew up Catholic and with the understanding that there are certain things you do in life not because you want to, but because it is the right thing to do. When it comes to family, no matter how distant or problematic they might be, you show up. Family parties were non-negotiable commitments and the same applies to funerals, baptisms, first communions, weddings etc, etc. It’s this emphasis on family and tradition that has me reminiscing about Catholicism and reevaluating what faith and religion mean to me. As is the case for most people, the older I get the more I understand the desire to believe in something. A higher power sounds extremely attractive when the world is on fire and I often wonder what it would feel like to have an unrelenting faith.

In fact, when I think of faith I think of my dad, whom I’ve asked dozens of times “Why Catholicism?” and his answer is always, simply, “It gives me peace.” Wanting to feel at peace is as universal as it gets on this earth so I get it. I get it even if I don’t understand it all and have trouble with some of the inconsistencies.

me and my buck teeth at my first holy communion 🙂

Though I don’t presently practice Catholicism, some things remain ingrained such as doing the sign of the cross when I hear bad news and repeating the Hail Mary in my head when an ambulance drives by (something my 3rd-grade teacher told us to do — it’s weird the things that stick). I also have the best parents to look up to, who practice their faith with poise and are nonjudgmental about other people’s beliefs. They’ve always told me that they don’t care what religion I chose, so long as I find spirituality somewhere. They are the reason Catholicism feels non-threatening and why it clearly remains a part of me despite my protests and disbelief in religions that preach love but can often be so cruel.

Now as I move forward with the first real design of my apartment I want to show parts of my Catholic upbringing into my home, which started with a Virgin Mary tapestry that was my Grandmother’s. When my mom asked if I wanted to have it I decided I did, even if only to display something that was dear to my grandma in my home. Then the idea of acknowledging my Catholic upbringing became an endearing and even comforting thought.

As a design lover and enthusiast, it helps that my boyfriend Rocky and I are planning our living and dining room style to be old world meets mid-century modern (or 70s-cowgirl-meets-eclectic-old-world-Italian-grandma if you want to get fancy with it) so our Catholic leanings feel natural. Rocky’s family is Italian Catholic and mine is Irish Catholic so it’s something close to both of our worlds and upbringings. Aesthetically speaking, we are both inspired by Frank Sinatra, The Godfather, Good Fellas, The Sopranos and any movie by Martin Scorses so yes, the old-world Catholic ornaments are fitting.

But all of this pondering has led me to confront the fact that religion is rarely ever displayed in the popular design world. I searched high and low for home tours seeking inspiration and even went as far as searching for homes of celebrities that are known to be religious. All to no avail. Why is this? In an industry that is all about cultivating a home that is personally fulfilling, why is religion excluded? It might be time to acknowledge this inconsistency, and question whether it does any good to shelter something that is a significant part of many people’s lives. In the meantime, the question remains, is there a way I can display this side of me in a way that feels authentic, beautiful, and doesn’t alienate anyone who walks through our door?? I still don’t know for sure, but I intend to try.

I write this knowing all human experiences are different, thus making our relationships to faith and religion nuanced and complex. I also write this believing we can do hard things such as discuss this subject with compassion and understanding — knowing that we are all just trying to get through life the best we can. So, if you are willing to let me into your world, I would love to hear how you display your faith in your home, what it means to you, and what specific pieces you find comfort in. Or, if you’d simply like to share your experience with religion, I’d love to listen and learn. xx

Opener Image Credit: Design by Meghan and Jesse Arlen | Photo by Marisa Vitale | via Apartment Therapy

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Ellen

So beautifully written, Julie. Wow. I also am a catholic but have some difficulty outwardly expressing it- a constant challenge for me. I have one small crucifix on a bedroom wall, but my favorite thing is an antique wooden statue of Mary standing on the moon and holding a rosary. I got it in Santa Fe and its on my kitchen sink window sill. So we see it all the time. It brings me great peace. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and thought provoking blog.

Veronica

Ryann! Thank you for this beautiful post – I am all choked up.
To me, religion is all about relationship – relationship with a God who loves me unconditionally and would do anything to spend eternity in paradise with me – literally anything – as shown by the horrifying, gruesome, awesome (in the truest sense of the word) crucifix.
And all other relationships – with my family, neighbours, and with creation – are meant to flow from this abundant, life-giving love.
I too have been looking for ways to reflect this in my home. A couple faves:
1) In our bedroom (love that we’re calling it primary, not master, btw – thank you for educating me!) we have an icon of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine that was delicious and abundant.
2) My husband carved one of my favourite quotes about Jesus from CS Lewis (spoken about Aslan in Narnia): “Safe? Of course he isn’t safe! But he’s good.”

I love this.

Mary Catherine

Thank you for writing this—such a refreshing question and idea. I am also Catholic and love the richness that icons and crucifixes bring to a space. They add to the sense of timelessness and rootedness. I’ve found that mixing them in among other art works well, as on a gallery wall. They add a surprising moment of color and flair. On the other hand, we have an “oratory,” for prayer, where religious art is all you see. It is many guests’ favorite room. The art is the focal point. We also have an image of Mary on an easel on our countertop, by a candle and plant. So those are some ideas—hope they’re helpful. I look forward to seeing how your home comes together to express your faith background!

Thank you for writing this .. very good .

Lenore

Such a great article and so important to discuss! I am Catholic and religious art is an important aspect of my husband and my home’s interior design particularly a painting of Our Lady and the Child Jesus my great grandfather painted. It’s beautiful to have meaningful religious objects/art in your home especially From family.Thank you for bringing up this topic in the design world!

Patricia

I have a similar religious journey to yours (and my third grade teacher also told me to say a prayer whenever I hear an ambulance!). My daughters were both given crosses (not crucifixes) on the occasion of their baptisms. We hung them over their bedroom doors. It feels like a sweet little blessing when you enter/exit the room. Their baptisms were a sort of compromise to my parents as they would have worried about their eternal souls, but they haven’t completed any other sacraments. It’s very important to my husband and me to raise them with a high moral code and the belief in the golden rule and Jesus’s teachings, But not important to do so in the structure of the Catholic Church.

Jess

I think this is a great topic and appreciate seeing it here even though I am not religious. It is an important part of many people’s lives that is overlooked in design conversations. The things we love and value should be part of what makes our homes, and for some that includes religion.

j

I’m prodestant, and am a hands down, unashamed, eager follower of Jesus. I have Bible verses in a lot of places. Tastefully. Scripture is living and active and ALWAYS affects the reader. I love and embrace the truths of the bible….soo, there they are, I need daily reminders all around me.

One of my kiddos wrote out John 3:16 in her little kid print on a note card once. So I also have that displayed in my kitchen.

Should we also discuss the part-cheeky “praise God from whom all blessings flow” art I have in my bathroom? Nobody says anything, but I keep waiting for the one person who gets it. 😂.

j

*just bc I am protestant doesn’t mean I can spell it. It’s fine. Now I know!

Emma

this. is. amazing. I need that art in my bathroom now too!

Kimberly

I love this topic, something I have never considered but have been inspired to ponder. Personally, we have a simple, elegant wooden cross on our wall and an antique box filled with a palm from Palm Sunday several years ago. Crosses, in particular, come in so many forms to satisfy a wide variety of aesthetics.

Jo

Here is a beautiful example of the Catholic faith + design + home!

Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday https://www.amazon.com/dp/1505113652/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_8nOnFbVFQHKNR

Veronica

This book is on my wish list!!! Can’t wait to read it.

Karla

There’s an image on the internet of a notecard in a cardboard box that says “I don’t fit in your box. ~God” That sums up my faith/spirituality rather well. I was raised Methodist but have since found so many signs of a greater power in so many things and have an open mind that often gets me called non-Christian by other Christians. My nearly grown kids and husband say I now border on Wiccan, lol. I haven’t gone overboard with displays of faith in our home but I do have prayer candles on our mantle that I light a few times a week when I’m thinking of people/places in need. I recently used rolls of crepe paper streamers and double sided tape to make rainbows in several of our front windows; both in support of the LBGTQ community and as a reference to God’s promise with this crazy year we’re having. And in a handmade wood box on my nightstand is my husband’s nana’s rosary that I was given after she passed. I haven’t used it but I do think of it often as I do believe that whatever greater power is out there knows our heart and mind. <3

Rachel Quednau

Wow, did we go to the same Catholic elementary school? My 3rd grade teacher also taught us all to say the rosary when we hear a siren and I still do it to this day…
Anyway, love this article. Such a valuable and little-discussed topic. In my home, we’re balancing two religions. We haven’t put a ton of thought into where we stick religious items, we just kind of intersperse them around the house. As a Tibetan Buddhist, my husband also has his altar, which is set up in a specific place. During this time of separation from houses of worship and getting to be physically present with religious community, I feel a desire to create a spiritual space in my home. This article was a good reminder to do that.

Ellen

Ryann, my religious journey is similar to yours, born Catholic and drifted away from the practice of it. What brought me back was EWTN, Catholic Answers, (radio show and podcast) and John Riccardo’s Christ is the Answer podcast.
Now that I’m immersed back in the Catholic faith I would also like to incorporate more of it into my interior design.

I love this topic and have wondered a lot about this. We’re catholic as well (wellll, i am and am raising our kids catholic, but my husband is now more into new-age-y/Buddhism/Hinduism/exploring? but catholic by culture). Anyway. I have noticed that no professional design work displays any kind of religious work unless it’s a Buddha or something, but I always notice home tours of normal people that have religious stuff displayed and then i instantly like it a little more because to me it just says that person intentionally thought to display their faith, which means they have some kind of spirituality, which I find appealing. I remember when you guys did a kitchen/dining/laundry room reveal for someone named Alison (https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/vintage-kitchen-remodel) and I noticed at the time her Last Supper picture and crucifix above doorways from her kitchen and breakfast nook. I already loved the tour design-wise, but this just added an extra layer that made me love it more. Anyway, we have a paint-by-numbers Last Supper in our dining room, a Mother Mary statue in our front yard, a rosary hanging here and there. I think it’s nice to have those things in your home because it’s just a… Read more »

Veronica

I had noticed and loved that too! It was indeed such a beautiful home. 🙂

Rachel

I think it’s a little disingenuous to say religion isn’t a part of design – almost every “here’s how we’re decorating for the holidays!” is part of Christian culture even if the poster isn’t religious or practicing.

Many “real home” tours like those on Apartment Therapy include religious elements.

I’m Jewish, so a beautifully decorated mezuzah is always the first piece of decor you see when you come to my front door. Anecdotally, many Jewish homes I’ve been to use art and ritual objects as decor: kiddish cups, candleholders, menorahs, Seder plates, displaying a couple’s Ketubah as a framed art piece, as well as religious symbolism like pomegranates.

Emma

I was totally thinking about this from a Protestant Christian perspective where we don’t really do many religious things in our homes, except for that monolith that is Christmas. Thanks for bringing me out of my own experience. 🙂

Hadley

In reading through the comments, I was curious if someone would post about Jewish home design!

We too have mezuzahs on the door to our apartment as well as to our bedroom and our daughter’s room. Our daughter’s mezuzah was hung at her height so she can give it a quick smooch on her way in and out. We also have our ketubah — our Jewish marriage contract — displayed in our bedroom. I love that we have something so intimate hanging in our most intimate space. We also have Judaica that while not prominently displayed very much lives within our spaces — beautiful silver candlesticks and Kiddush cups that are used every Friday, a gorgeous ceramic Sedar plate, and many (too many!) menorahs.

My mom also recently bought us a wonderful print with a beloved phrase from the Pirkei Avot — “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” We plan to hang it in our daughter’s room.

Kara

This!! Same with Easter.

Lisa

Another Jew here, and I agree with all of this. Many holiday round-ups and seasonal decor posts have nods, if not outright acknowledgements, to Christianity. But more to the point, I agree that there are so many gorgeous pieces of Judaica out there and many Jews display them either prominently all of the time, seasonally, or for every day or every week use. We have tasteful Jewish wall art up; beautiful mezuzot on our doors; shofars as decor in the fall and pretty hanukkiahs, candles, and other decor in the winter; modern Shabbat items that we bust out weekly; little things like hamsas (which are big on everything from wallpaper to bedspreads right now) and on and on. One difference between Judaism and Christianity is that after the second Temple was destroyed, Judaism adapted to become a religion that could be primarily practiced in the home (or anywhere). Many ritual objects center around the kitchen table instead of a synagogue. I will say that my Catholic aunt has a really neat collection of colorful beaded crucifixes around her door that fits in perfectly with her colorful and modern decor, so not all faith objects have to be staid.

Yes! I was wondering if anyone had commented about non-Christian home decor, and was glad to see another Jewish person discussing Judaica in home decor. We have a vintage mezuzah from Jerusalem on our entry door, a vintage brass hamsa in the kitchen, an art piece with ‘Love thy Neighbour’ in Hebrew adorning the wall next to our front door, our paper cut ketubah hangs in the hall, and our dining room proudly displays our vintage brass Shabbat candlesticks.

We are Sephardi, so our serving pieces in our china cabinet reflect the types of meals and drinks (Arabic coffee cups, for example) we serve regularly. On holidays there are always pomegranate-themed items for Rosh Hashanah, hanukiahs (menorahs) in every room for Hanukkah, and an heirloom seder plate for Pesach. I definitely want people to enter our home and know it’s a Jewish one, even though we are not extremely religious – it’s a nod to our heritage and traditions.

Ryann, thank you for this! I’ve noticed the same thing in a lot of interior design, and I’ve always chalked it up to being the styling used for publication to the masses. In my mind, after the photos are taken, the residents come through and add not only family photos, but other personal items including religious items. I was raised without defined religion, but became Baptist as a teenager. For those unfamiliar, many Baptist churches do not have the beautiful art and adornment that is so prevalent in the Catholic church. As an artist, I’ve worked to encourage more inclusion of art in the churches we’ve been part of. In my own home, you will find a few crosses sprinkled here and there, my own artwork that has religious undertones (although usually they aren’t blatantly religious or derivative), and we do have some scripture verses or references in some artwork. We have one wall that is immediately outside our bedroom door where we have hung a lovely cross that a dear friend gifted me as well as a bible verse. I love that these are the first things we see every morning when we leave our bedroom. I honestly love… Read more »

I really enjoyed this, even though I’m not religious at all. As far as displaying religion in the home, to me it feels like any passion, from a favorite animal to fandom to sports team. I wouldn’t want a big “Atlanta Braves” flag in my house, but a signed baseball could make its way into decor. I wouldn’t expect a Hogwarts lego castle to show up in a design magazine, but a wooden crate subtly marked as “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” is very cool (alla Grillo Designs!). If I were religious I wouldn’t want a giant crucifix on my wall, but a Virgin Mary tapestry in a gallery wall is great.

Design is about subtly. Can you do a platypus-themed room and make it fun? Sure. But it probably wouldn’t appeal to many.

subtlety*

Julia

I think you make some interesting points, Cici, but I’d argue that design is more about intentional, personal, creative expression. When we surround ourselves with things that bring us joy and peace, it shouldn’t matter if it appeals to many or not. Design can be expressed in a multitude of ways, with subtly being just one of them.

Julia

I spelled subtlety wrong too. 🙂

R Remington

The post I didn’t know I needed! This one gave me so many feelings. I grew up in an atheist/agnostic home–obviously no religious decor at all–and am now a Protestant Christian. I live in the deep South, so there’s a whole layer of cultural religious decor that’s very common. Think crucifix gallery walls and scriptural peel-and-stick wall decals. My core issue with religious decor, and the reason I’ve not yet decorated with any, is I think tied to the evangelical movement. The, “I have this religion and you should too!” pushiness. Religious decor, especially when there’s a lot of it, feels like a sales pitch…and that makes me uncomfortable. And I worry that people outside my faith, especially my own family, would be less comfortable in my home. All of this…and yet, sometimes I would love to have visual expressions of my faith (outside of books, which I already have so many). I would love to have cherished items that my children might inherit, like you do. I feel a weightiness and sacredness to decorating with items that express faith. I’m eager to listen and learn about how others do this and maybe find a path that feels right for… Read more »

Veronica

Ooo, I love what you said about the decor feeling like a sales pitch. You hit the nail on the head there, wow. Definitely want to avoid that!

Tarynkay

I was raised Methodist by wonderful parents who always seemed a little embarrassed to talk about God. We went to church every Sunday, but our faith was not a big part of our day to day lives, even though I would say my parents definitely lived according to Christian values. They did actively involve us in helping others. My husband had a similar upbringing, only they were Congregationalists. I remember going to church with him and wondering what the point was, they did not even mention Jesus the entire sermon. Anyhow, my husband and I, having absorbed these values but not at all the why behind the values, got married at 22 and moved out to Los Angeles. We both went to grad school and became thoroughly disillusioned with secular academia. I had a professor who would say, “well, the Bible says this…” and I would think, wait, I don’t remember the Bible saying that. So I would go home and look it up and find that my professor was entirely wrong. But then I would keep reading. And I just kept reading. I started bringing a Bible with me to read on the subway, which is coincidentally an excellent… Read more »

Angelina

So interesting. I think American Protestantism has had its roots in the separatists who didn’t celebrate Christmas, wear fancy clothing or display replications of the cross or Christ in contrast to the catholic/Anglican tradition. We would tend that direction in our home but we have books upon books that are everywhere that show our faith and we have bible verses up on our walls:) love this conversation.

kim

Thank you for sharing your story. It is wonderful. I so appreciate your description of churches as made up of humans with messy stories and lives; so very true that we need to work to live in community. I too would like a way to incorporate my faith more in the art and objects displayed in our home. Mostly I wish to display a lovely character; still working on that one!

Lane

Why no examples? One could devote a wall, or create a small altar at hone or in a garden. There are many possibilities to display religious art. I’ve been trying to convince my parents to put all their pictures on one wall in their bedroom. As it now, the pictures don’t draw attention, it looks ugly and even lacks respect. But to each their own.

Jessica

I also have conflicting feelings around displaying religious items, as someone who is part of the local Soto Zen community. In monasteries in Japan they have altars at the kitchens and bathrooms, and I wanted to bring this to my home to help me remember to be present in these places where it’s easy to be distracted. But most folks are atheist in my little slice of the universe and I don’t like the idea of my conservative Christian in-laws seeing them and making up stories in their heads about who I am. So I got the tiniest possible statues and images, and if my in-laws visit I’ll probably hide them. I’m still struggling with where to put my sitting cushions in our tiny apartment… I am glad that EHD has stopped referring to decor as “zen” – it’s a centuries-old spiritual practice, not a look. And if you get the chance to visit Japan you’ll see that temples look nothing like what you see in Western decor magazines. There might be some Japanese-looking austerity in places but there’s more gilded and/or extremely ornate stuff. A non-Buddhist putting a Buddha in their shelfie because they like the way it looks… Read more »

Susan

I don’t think it’s disrespectful, with all due respect. The Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader, says that all religions are taking the same journey to God, although they are walking on different paths. I define myself as a progressive Christian, meaning that, like the Dalai Lama, I think there are many paths to God, and they are all good. I grew up as a Protestant and still am a Protestant, but most Protestant churches follow the Luther tradition of rejecting the religious art of Catholicism when they rejected Catholicism. I find Protestantism lacking in a feminine perspective, so I use Catholic religious art to bring feminine spirituality and role models into my life, just as I used Catholic female Saints as teachers. I have female Santos, Mary, Mary and child, and Guadalupe in my home and on display. I love St. Teresa’s prayer and use it often. I love that Mary is so revered, because I see her as the continuation of the archaic “Great Mother” into Christian tradition. When I see “Notre Dame, Priez Pour Nous,” (Our Lady Pray for Us”) at the top of a Catholic church I feel included in that prayer to Mary. And so I… Read more »

Sarah

Also Catholic, and I’ve got Mary popping her head out to see what’s going on pretty much everywhere: I’ve got several icons from Ukraine in my kitchen and a painting I saved from my grandmother’s basement of the Sacred Heart of Mary in my bedroom. She’s such a serene figure to me.

The other thing I’ve got is some saved pieces from my grandparents’ church when they renovated. I have the top of a pointy church pew, a hanging, wildly-seventies candle holder, and part of a confession grate (also 70s).

Additionally, you’re likely to find rosaries purchased on different trips any time you open a drawer. I stock up whenever I visit a major cathedral and gift them for baptisms, first Communions, and Confirmation.

Liza

Great topic. I agree that religion/spirituality is very personal and private. Much like the author I have a religious family heirloom, a porcelain head of Mary with praying hands. It is very delicate and pretty and my mother had it in her bedroom when I was growing up and now it is in my bedroom. When she died, my sisters took the jewelry, I took Mary.

Karina

Such a great topic! I’ve recently rediscovered my faith (Catholicism) but am sensitive and understanding to my husband’s (and most of our friends’) staunch agnosticism/atheism. We have a nook in our hallway where we display our collection of family history artifacts and photographs which is where we have also placed some important religious objects such as an icon of the Holy Mother from the town in Romania where my grandfather was born, a rosary and the statue of my grandmother’s favorite saint that sat on her bedside table. We both feel like this acknowledges and honors my faith and family history in a way that won’t alienate any visitors.
I also have a more private spot in my walk in closet where I personally go for some solitude and prayer that houses a few of my own religious objects and bible there to help inspire deeper reflection when I need some alone time.

Emma

This is such a fantastic topic, so thanks for writing about it! If home design truly is a reflection of the people living there, then of course religious objects will show up for many of us. But you’re right that I never see that reflected in styled shots.

I have a set of scriptures that belonged to my late grandmother that I display on my living room shelves between some bookends. They’re just black spines, so they’re not attention-grabbing, but I like looking at them. I also have an artist’s sketch of a church building that’s important to us. But other than that, I guess I express my religious identity “covertly” through art and style that reflects warmth, welcome, and love.

My husband works from home for our church, so our office is a whole other story! There are church books strewn about, so there’s no hiding anything in there. 😉

Again, thanks for starting this conversation Ryann and EHD! I’m loving reading through the comments.

Suzanne

This was a wonderful post, Ryann. It reminded me that I lost my grandmother’s rosary in college. I used to use it in the car, and it must have been on my lap and fallen out of the car. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was so sad. I don’t practice Catholicism anymore either. My daughter says I’m more Buddhist. But I do miss the rituals and prayers of Catholicism. I suppose that’s why I have such a strong meditation practice. I don’t think I display my faith in my decor, but I enjoyed seeing how you’re choosing to integrate yours.

Kat Randall

I. Was. Just. Thinking about this!! I would like something that represents our Christian faith that isn’t sooooo “faith hope and love” on a wood sign if you know what i mean. Can we rally and do a round up PLEASe

Mormon: Vintage revivals has posted cool Mormon temple architecture prints

Christian: Dana Tanamachi has, literally, the prettiest bible that exists, not sure if any of those have been turned into prints

Catholic: the huge oversized roseries is something i believe i have seen in design.

But i do think it’s sad/weird examples are so hard to come by!

Danielle

I grew up in a mostly culturally Jewish home rather than a religious one but our faith was always displayed through ritual objects that also functioned as decorative objects: beautiful silver candlesticks for shabbat, a range of modern and traditional menorahs on a shelf, and a mezuzah on the door. Most of these were purchased from individual artisans rather than large companies, which really tied my love of craft and design to my Jewish identity. When I moved into my first apartment my mom sent me a mezuzah for my door but this post made me wish I had more of these ritual objects in my home. I am especially enamored with the beautiful Ketubahs (marriage contracts) that are often displayed in Jewish homes.

Kirsty

Yes! I don’t have a religious background, but my husband’s father is a minister and he has also become very drawn to elements of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Iconography is a huge part of this and he has invested in a number of beautiful hand painted icons. They are stunning. However, he considers them very personal and sacred, so we have moved them out of the public parts of our home into a private space (currently in our bedroom). Even still, there are little elements dotted around the place: a white ceramic church that you can put a tea light inside, and two kinda earthy decorative plates that I inherited from my granny showing Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus (they are a lot cooler than they sound!). I love that our house reflects more than just our taste but also our beliefs – it brings a depth and specialness to it.

Would love to hear some non Christian perspectives on this too!

Phoebe

I love this! It’s such a hard topic but you wrote this beautifully. I have religious paintings and decor all around but typically I try to choose ones that are less serious, if that make sense? Like a picture of Christ walking barefoot on the beach. So, just less in your face stoic and godly. Haha it makes it feel more natural to me because I’m definitely not a serious person with strict or harsh ideas. The serious photos just wouldn’t go with my style, personality or decor.

Rebecca

This is a great essay, and you make a lot of excellent points regarding the lack of religious objects and displays in popular design showcases. Broadly speaking, I think *part* of this is the lack of representation of interiors of people of color, where religious expression often has such a strong cultural component and is often represented prominently in one’s home. Things seem to be changing, which makes me hopeful!

I am Catholic/Sephardic Jewish of Mexican descent, and in many homes of family members (and myself), there is usually an altar and religious items throughout our homes. I think that if more design magazines, blogs, and websites choose to feature homes as they are lived in (versus heavily styled), you’d see more of these personal touches.

Rebecca

I’ll be honest, I never thought this is a topic I would ever see on any blog, how refreshing! I grew up in a Mexican Catholic home, often embarrassed by the sheer amount of religious icons hanging on our walls. A crucifix in every room, a painting of the last supper in our kitchen, and in the living room, a full shelf nook devoted to the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, including crosses made from palms from the year’s Palm Sunday mass. Also, I’m not sure if anyone else’s family did this, but there was like a traveling Virgin Mary sculpture (at least 2-3 feet tall) that was passed around by families week to week and people would come over to pray the rosary for the week she was visiting and when she left to the next family, we’d have like a dinner party and have too many people crammed into our house to do the final prayers. I’ve gone through a whole process in growing up, embracing my family’s culture over being embarrassed over it, similar to my journey with religion. As detailed above, it felt like religion was everywhere and forced on me, which I totally rebelled against… Read more »

Jenn

I immediately thought about the concept of ‘safe spaces’ (which I realize is sometimes controversial) when you wondered what “doesn’t alienate anyone who walks through our door??” That’s a BIG question. As a non-Christian, and a bisexual person, I will admit that I find Christian iconography, quotes, ect. to be big red flags when I walk into someone’s home. I immediately think, “Okay. Assume you aren’t safe to be totally open here.” I have to wait until I get the right signals before I can talk about my holidays, my politics, my education (my Master’s thesis was on religion in children’s literature), and my writing work (which includes a lot of LGBT+ content). So, what do we talk about? It immediately throws up a barrier. Maybe coming into my home does that for people, too, but it really is not the same. People might not like rainbow banners for Pride Month, or the iconography of my own faith, but I do think it matters when you’re in the majority versus the minority. My sexuality and/or faith might make someone uncomfortable, but I doubt it makes them feel as scared and unsafe as I sometimes do in Christian homes. Does that… Read more »

K

Absolutely agree with this! Very eloquently said.

isabelle

Agreed. Considering my own history with religion, I am very wary of people who are openly religious. That said, there’s a big difference between hanging a small cross or a tasteful print and plastering your entire home with bleeding Jesus on the cross and scripture wall decals. Your home is your space to do with what you will, but as you said it’s worth thinking about how that feels for the people you welcome into your space, and whether you are willing to make compromises so that they feel safe and truly welcome.

shauna

I am LDS and I really love https://www.latterdayhome.com/ for getting unique religious decor

Christina

I wish I could figure out how to snap photos and post what I have….which is mostly religious art in my home with lots of kids art (the full scale from hideous to professional) with doses of humor to keep it light. I tend to, like with other style suggestions, keep ‘like things grouped together.’ So I have most crucifixes and pictures of Mary/Jesus in one area – to the right of the fireplace in that cove. Also in that cove and in but at the bottom on the collage, I hung a plaster hand coming out of the wall…keepin’ it light…and hang Rosaries off the fingers. Everyone who sees, Catholic friends/family to Athiest and everything in between, laugh out loud. And I do, too. But it is clever and handy (Pathetic pun, but true) and no Rosary is ever tangled. Across from that, my now 15 1/2-year-old drew a rendition of his 3rd-grade art project, Angry Turtle on my dining room window – HUGE/Angry. I LOVE IT and it is still there after several months and it may always be there. In my 1/2 bathroom, above the sink is a huge painting of St. Francis in Ecstacy that I… Read more »

Mandy

Could it have something to do with the supposed two topics you’re not supposed to discuss, politics and religion? It may be a (potentially wise) subconscious choice to not advertise to visitors your belief systems. I, personally, am an atheist and feel immediately on guard and uncomfortable if I walk into someone’s home that is oozing with religious symbolism. I was raised in the Deep South and was regularly screamed at that I was going to hell (even while I was still a Christian!) because I didn’t believe EXACTLY the same way as the person thumping their Bible in my face. My husband was raised in a religious cult that took years to free himself from. In other words, some of us more scarred by and scared of religious fanaticism and we can’t help but interpret the desire to ostentatiously display your beliefs as antagonistic to others that may not believe the same way or have the same experiences. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t support having some small displays of what moves you spiritually. I love the idea of an altar, or a small tasteful crucifix, or a family heirloom with significance. There is definitely something to… Read more »

isabelle

100% agreed. The only religious things in my home are texts that I have basically for curiosity’s sake. Thankfully nobody is going to come in here and mistake me for a Catholic when I have the Christian Bible next to the Quran and the Satanic Bible! ha

Kate

I absolutely understand your thoughts and aversions, Mandy. I firmly believe in God (and have some pics about Jesus an Virgin Mary and angels in my home, because this is what I am and what I believe in). But I would never push my faith to someone else, and that is the point: you might be a believer now if they hadn’t told you those stupid things at church… sorry, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but this kind of aggression on the part of some “believers” do more harm than good…. Becase everyone has his / her own belief/non-belief, and this, as a very personal thing, should be respected by everybody.

It’s somewhat regional. Here in the Deep South, its very common for homes to have crosses and Bible verses incorporated into wall hangings, throw pillows, etc. Most home decor boutiques and gift shops offer an array of options. Christianity is tightly woven into local culture and you see that reflected in design/decor.

I love this so much. Our home is filled with things that are meaningful. Language. References to places our ancestors immigrated from. That includes our religious beliefs (Lutheran). We have crosses and meaningful passages or quotes from theologians that remind us of our duty to care for those in our home (each other) and then out to those outside of our home. These are batons of legacy that we’ve picked up and are teaching to our kids.

Chelsea

Ryann, thanks for opening up about your experience. I really appreciate the way EHD has approached religion in the past couple of years, speaking openly and honestly in post like this, but in a way that is very gentle and non-judgmental. I am a Protestant Christian, I don’t have tons of religious decor in my home. But we do have a few small things hanging up with Bible verses and that kind of thing. I would love to see the way readers from different religions have incorporated their faith in their design. Maybe that could be the next Show Em Your Style!

Dee

Oh my God (pun intended)! Thank you so much for writing this piece! As an Indian Hindu, I grew up with a LOT of religious practices and a massive paraphernalia of religious artifacts and objects. When I moved to the US, I brought a whole bunch of religious stuff with me but I have always struggled with fitting it into my decor in an aesthetic way. I recently decided there since was no way to do it so I put all of my religious stuff in a walk in closet (at a huge storage cost) and have conveniently stopped paying attention to it. This is very sad as the whole point of having a religious corner is so that I can be connected to my routes and have a daily practice that is grounding and peaceful. I would love to learn how to minimize my paraphernalia and have the confidence to display my religious belongings in a way that fits my current design aesthetic and build routines that suit my busy lifestyle. Before people comment on this, I would like to clarify that I am not trying to equate design and religion but I am simply trying to be more… Read more »

Susan

Dee – It seems like you have a spiritual path in front of you. Perhaps you could pick a few pieces from your collection that would best facilitate resuming your religious practice and sharing it with your children? Don’t worry about making it perfect. Make it right for your practice and your family’s future practice. That, in and of itself, will be perfect!

Ellie

I am sorry to hear you haven’t been displaying some of your Hindu items. In visiting the homes of Hindu friends over the years, the items I’ve seen are so beautiful! I hope you find spaces for them soon, as it sounds like you’ve been missing them. Perhaps integrating them into bookshelf styling would feel subtle, but visible? Or set up a special area? The Vittsjo bookshelves from Ikea would be lovely for display with the glass shelves 🙂
(Please know that I aim to be encouraging and kind and I apologize if any of my comment is overstepping!)

Ellie

Such a beautiful topic, thank you for bringing it up! I think that although many people display their faith, they tend to keep it private. Personally, as Christians, we have dedicated a wall corner in our home office where we hang Byzantine icons of the Archangels and Saints, very similar to the ones shown in the first photo. We found them all here: https://athoniteusa.com/

Emilia

Hi Julie,

Also a Catholic interior designer!
My faith is important and central in my life, and without being “invasive” there are spots around the house where I display it.
I have a “little altar” in my living room with an image of Mary, a rosary, flowers…
A ceramic cross hanging at the front door, a rosary hanging in a poster of my bed… a paper cross my daughter made at six (she is now 20!) attached with a magnet to my fridge door.
This tokens remind me to be grateful, humble and really happy for all the blessings I ve received and comfort me through hard times 🌟❤️
Would love to send pictures…

Beautiful post and reflections, Ryann. Thank you.

In my own home, I create space for the Tao Te Ching and I Ching, a picture of a monk in meditation, a picture of a monk doing the “Buddha touches ground” mudra. These offer importance places of spiritual remembrance and pause amidst the everyday.

*important 🙂

Jen

Interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

D

Hi, I related so much to your experience. I was born and raised Catholic. I was born in Peru but came to the U.S. at five years old. We always had crucifix, rosaries, pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary and so did all my relatives. I don’t recall ever going into my friend’s homes however and seeing any of these displays but I don’t think I ever thought anything about it though. As an adult we have a Virgin Mary statue on a brick pedestal at the edge of our upper front lawn facing our home. We have framed pictures of Jesus in all bedrooms. The one in my room my parents bought me when I was young on one of vacations in Mexico. I have a rosary and a statue of San Martin de Porres which was handed down from relatives in Peru on my nightstand and in my living room TV credenza I have a smallish display of Señor de los Milagros which my grandmother gave to me. It’s important to me to display these items in my home which is where we should all feel the safest, hopeful and most content. Thank you for this article… Read more »

Something I think is missing from this article is the way other faiths incorporate their religious icons into their homes. It’s pretty classically Catholic to have SOMETHING faith-based on the walls. Whether or not it’s “good design” is another question. I also think it’s important acknowledge the way the design community has been guilty of appropriating a lot of religious symbols for “cultural interest”. I’m thinking about Buddha statues spread hither and yon, Visnu set up in a gallery wall, or mask and totems that have somehow become part of the “south-western” decorating aesthetic. White people need to be very careful that they are not mythicizing other people’s religious traditions as if their way of thinking is somehow more “exotic” than the Christian faith. As a Protestant who grew up around very conservative dutch reformed people, the idea of having religious iconography is actual very contrary to the ways of thinking that happened as a result of the Reformation. Things like crosses, pictures of the saints, images of Jesus, or other religious iconography was/is seen as a form of idol worship. The framed Bible verses was fairly common around the homes I grew up in, maaaaybe a cross or two… Read more »

Rebecca

ALL OF THIS!

Margaret

Great idea to discuss this! Obviously not everybody is religious, but nothing applies to everybody. And you’re right that it’s a meaningful part of many people’s lives. I’m a Christian and among our art, we had two pieces with verses from the Bible that are meaningful to us. One is a calligraphy piece by my sister, and another is a mixed media print. There are says and weeks that I pass by them without reading or thinking about them, but other times just glancing at them reminds me of the peace and joy that I find in my belief in God.

Ryann, I loved this so much (and your baby Ryann photo made my heart swell). Thank you for sharing this and writing about this. It’s SO true, though. I have items from my childhood (I grew up firmly Methodist) that are just in a box but actually mean so much to me. Not to say I need to plaster my Precious Moments bible full of a rainbow of highlighter marks (it was my thing) right at the front door, but interested in exploring how to bring in things like this without feeling contrived but also not like a junk store. Anyhow, thanks for the thought-starter today. Love you guys!

Christina

I am moving and have been designing a new space and was JUST thinking about this. I’m Catholic as well and In fact, I had a hard time finding interesting and unique religious items that weren’t mass produced Hobby Lobby signs. I would love to incorporate art of the Virgin Mary in painting or statue form but unsure where to look or search terms… would love this topic continue with inspiration ideas! Xo

I try to find art that is just good art that I really like. There are so many good artists with unique religious art. I’ve enjoyed The Color Amber recently, but there are so many others that are doing beautiful things that don’t preach as much as emote.

Christina

I am moving and designing a new space and was JUST thinking about this. I’m Catholic as well and would love ideas and inspiration on how to include without being too mass-market religious. Ideas for sites, search terms, creators of art would be appreciated! Xox

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