The era of the perfect home has passed. This is fortunate for two reasons: One, because perfection is of course unattainable, and the other, because it is boring. A room decorated to within an inch of its life—where everything has provenance or is absolutely just so—feels self-important and static.
Style ought to be loose and easygoing, capacious and expansive, uplifting and amusing. If a room fails to put you at ease and welcome you, well, then, what is the point?
Over the years, I've found that the most stylish homes are ones that are comfortable and inviting, in large part because they are imbued with the sensibility and spirit of their owners—and the life that goes on there. Herewith 10 incidental, yet essential, things all those homes share. Embracing imperfection does not mean anything goes. It means beauty tempered by reality. If real life involves some mess, idiosyncracy, memory and experience, then so too should decorating.
1. A Little Animal
Molliﬁers, well, mollify. This is the stuff that you allow into your home because as awful as it may be, it makes someone else happy. There is a softening of attitude that comes from letting some of these things into your life. They show that you put love before style. A famous example of decorating molliﬁcation is Jackie Kennedy's acceptance of President Kennedy's funny old rocking chair in the Yellow Oval Room. She vowed to her decorator they'd get it out of there somehow. But it was her beloved husband's beloved thing. So in a drawing room ﬁlled with Louis XVI furniture, this bit of Americana remained and was where Kennedy sat when receiving heads of state. And in the end, it completely chic-ed up the room by being so quirky and unexpected.
4. An Odd Chair
5. Shiny objects
Like magpies, we are attracted to bright, shiny objects, and for good reason: our homes need them. As our eyes ﬂit around the room, they alight on and are delighted by those bright spots. Especially if your style veers toward the earthy, a bit of sparkle brings a focused sharpness to the look of natural materials and organic shapes. These objects can be in silver, gold, brass, glass or mirror, and in the form of anything from boxes to bowls to candlesticks to picture frames—or even completely useless items whose only purpose is to sit around looking attractive. Set them upon consoles, inside shelves, atop books. Mingle them, make tableaux of them, put them on pedestals. Just don't overlook them.
6. Ethnic Textiles
7. Not Too Much Brown Furniture
Walk into the home section of any department store and you couldn't be blamed for thinking furniture is supposed to be made only out of brown wood. It isn't! Too many brown pieces in a room is the surest way to suck the life out of it. Ever seen a room and wondered why it looked like a bland hotel lobby? Brown! Bossy decorator Sister Parish would allow no more than three brown pieces in any one room. Look at a picture of a room you love, and you will likely ﬁnd the furniture to be a mix of tones and materials, like painted or stained wood, lacquer, Lucite, metal, glass or fabric.
8. Decorative Mirrors
9. Log Baskets
10. Some Patina
A home needs some of the softness of old wood, the dullness of aged metal, the subtle colors of an original paint job, or fabric faded by the sun. Without a little of this, a house feels cold and untouched by human life. Fancy old Sibyl Colefax, co-founder of the posh English decorating house Colefax & Fowler, used to "bash about" her fabrics, washing new chintzes in tea to dull the colors and dragging sofa covers outside to be rained on and faded by the sun. A little decrepitude is just the thing for some fabrics and rugs and furniture. Life is messy and gloriously imperfect, and a few signs of wear and tear indicate a well-loved, well-used home. And a home that looks well-loved and well-lived in usually is.
—Ms. Needleman is the editor in chief of WSJ. Magazine and the author of the forthcoming "The Perfectly Imperfect Home" (Clarkson Potter), from which this article was excerpted.