Deborah Needleman's Elements of Style

I am not typically big on unsolicited guest posters.  Not at all.  But, I did receive this in my inbox yesterday, checked it out, and am solidly behind every one of the examples given by Deborah Needleman...so much so, that I decided to share them with you.  They are apparently ten of her "Odd, yet essential, elements of style" from her upcoming book, " The Perfectly Imperfect Home."  I'm liking it already.
Virginia Johnson/Random House

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
Virginia Johnson/Random House

 Add a small figurine form to your home.  I am not even going to venture a guess as to why—other than to say that people like cute things and animals are cute—it is so nice to have a small creature in figurine form in your house. A funny stuffed animal on a nicely made bed, a white porcelain monkey on your dining table, a painted Staffordshire dog in your bookshelf or a big gold piggy bank on your mantel. Don't question me here, just pick up a nice, inanimate pet along your journeys, bring it home and see how you feel.

2. Jollifiers
Virginia Johnson/Random House

Certain motifs like hearts and polka dots can jollify, but it's really quite personal.  Jollifiers are sentimental things that spread a little joy every time you cast your eye upon them. They are among the easiest decorating tools, as they require no skill, no sophisticated understanding of color, texture or composition. You basically set them out and, like talismans, they exude their subtle power. Off Duty columnist Rita Konig used to have a big poster with the word "love" on it in her apartment, and every time my eyes brushed over it I felt a tiny lift in my mood. Certain motifs like hearts and polka dots can jollify, but it's really quite personal, and could be something as simple as a favorite snapshot stuck into the edge of a mirror or a child's drawing framed and hung "seriously" among other pictures.
3. Mollifiers
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

Virginia Johnson/Random House

An odd chair can work like a piece of sculpture.  While an odd chair is useful, it is not primarily for sitting. It is desirable primarily for its amusing demeanor, making it more like a piece of sculpture in the shape of a chair. Of all furniture types, chairs probably have the most personality—they often feel a little human, standing on four legs with outstretched arms. The odd chair is the most individual of all. It is frequently diminutive, unusual-looking and solitary. (Think a little tufted Victorian thing, or a gothic-style wood chair or a child's chair pulled up to the coffee table.) The great old decorator Sister Parish called these "personality" chairs, and insisted every room should have one. In addition to adding a bit of quirk, the odd chair can hold a stack of books or an ashtray, a bunch of flowers or a lamp. And it can even be used like a chair when needed.

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
Virginia Johnson/Random House

 A handcrafted fabric can be draped over a table.  Handcrafted fabrics bring coziness to a room and worldliness to a home. Given the globalization of practically everything, it is amazing that traditional textiles are still woven by hand in styles and techniques used for centuries. Some personal favorites include Central Asian suzanis and ikats, Indonesian and West African batiks, Moroccan wedding blankets and American quilts. These things can be draped over a table, laid on a bed, made into pillows or hung over the back of a sofa. Since every room can handle one of these far-flung treasures, when love strikes, buy it. You can figure out what to do with it later.
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
Virginia Johnson/Random House

Glamorous mirrors have beautiful frames, like gilded wood.  Most rooms, like most lives, can benefit from some extra sparkle. These more glamorous mirrors have beautiful frames, like gilded wood or shiny lacquer. Convex mirrors have been used since classical times to reflect light, not to check your eye-liner, and that is still the point of the decorative mirror, convex or otherwise. Indeed, a big mirror over a fireplace or in a dining room can toss daylight around the room and multiply the light of a chandelier or the glimmer of candles set in its path. That, and it is a big beautiful object that can create the kind of drama that grounds a room. A highly functional decorative object if ever there was one.
9. Log Baskets
Virginia Johnson/Random House

A good basket cozies without cloying.  Even if you have no fireplace and no use for split wood, you still might like the rugged texture of a big woven basket in your living room or front hall. A good basket cozies without cloying. It gives you something a little rough and adds a sense of depth to both sleek-modern and refined, antique-filled interiors. Decorators love to use them to fill the empty space under a leggy console. Plus, who among us doesn't need an extra place to stash things? Magazines or toys in the living room. Sports equipment or woolens in the entry. Recycling in the kitchen. Neat stacks of towels in the bathroom. A log basket gives a powerful one-two punch of style and function.
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.

1 comment:

Emily said...

Saw this in last Saturdays WSJ "Off Duty" section. Love it!!!

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