When I was around ten, I discovered the absolute joy of home decorating magazines. While my friends were poring over Shawn Cassidy and Leif Garrett in Tiger Beat, I was busy dissecting the composition of furniture and color palettes in Country Living and Good Housekeeping. Seriously. I would go to the grocery store with my dad, and those were the magazines I asked for at the check out stand. I knew what wicker and rattan were, I understood the power of a monochromatic color scheme, and I knew a chintz from a toile.
I rearranged my room at least as often as most girls went up a cup size, and commandeered a brown wood veneer bed from the garage when I was ready to make the shift from youthful color to the trendy and sophisticated neutrals of the late seventies (a short-lived experiment, I quickly tired of earth tones and reverted to my true passions- yellow and green).
While my peers hung cut out pictures of super models, Kiss posters, and kittens frolicking on fuzzy pink and purple backgrounds, my room was adorned with antique china cups, handpainted folk art created by my grandmother, and primitive shadow boxes with ceramic figurines and a lovely brass heart pendant that my Aunt Jan gave me for Christmas (I still have that pendant). My bed was covered with a patchwork quilt my grandmother passed down, and at the foot of my bed rested the cedar chest my mother had in her own room when she was young (that chest has housed my wedding gown and veil since April of 1987 and sits in Libby’s room now.)
I blame my grandmother June for this. She had the most exquisite eye for decorating. By exquisite, I do not mean that she had champagne taste. If anything, she had coffee taste: warm, welcoming, and just the right blend of bitter and sweet. When I was little she took me around the perfect home they owned on Axtel Drive in Clovis, New Mexico and taught me about composition (this is where I learned the rule of three and the triangle that master theatre director Francis Hodge espouses). What grandmother does that? A grandmother who has observed enough to realize that her eight year old granddaughter has touched and memorized the placement of every knick knack, has realigned every sofa pillow, and caressed every textile in the house.
I always dreamt of having my house photographed for a magazine. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I still do. Not one of the fancy magazines like Architectural Digest or Town and Country. I am too lowly for that! But to that end, I walk around with an ever-critical eye, nudging a picture just a hair to the left, relocating a wooden spool bought at an antique shop in Connecticut in 1999 for the umpteenth time, or running out to the garage to spray paint something right quick ( I keep a stock of basics like flat and satin black, matte nickel, and whatever trendy colors I am currently into). I fantasize about opening the front door to discover a team of photographers who tell me they heard that I had made the most lovely house on a budget and they just have to have pictures of it for a magazine feature in Poor But Pretty!
Here is what I have learned about decorating a home:
1. Learn what colors you truly love. I love yellow and green, always have. (I also love pink, but I didn’t discover it until I had little girls, as my mother wouldn’t allow it in the house). If you base your decorating choices on the colors that get to your heart, you’ll be surrounded by joy (or peace, or energy, or whatever your home needs to provide for you). I have some of the same things in my home that have been here since I was a kid. (My turquoise kitchen cabinets, which I loved, turned out to be an expensive color splurge. Not sure I would do it again. I miss those cabinets, though!)
2. Throw in trendy but inexpensive pieces. If you spend $30 on a print that is very now, you don’t feel guilty when you tire of it (example: the black mosquito netting from Pier One I hung over our bed when we were newlyweds. I was going for an upscale romantic French boudoir feeling. WTH?)
3. Clear the clutter. Only keep what is aesthetically pleasing or has real, deep emotional meaning. You are not obligated to keep or display ugly gifts (like the silver-plated-sugar-and-creamer-set-with-the-broken-handles that a well-meaning relative bought at a garage sale for me.)
4. Play with texture. In my den I have a chenille couch, velveteen pillows sit on the window seat, a hand cross-stitched quilt hangs on the wall on a curtain rod behind an antique oak church pew salvaged from a central Texas church with satin patchwork and glass beaded pillows made by me, and colored glass pieces scattered throughout the room. Almost every time I walk into that room I stop to just inhale it with all of my senses (At the same time I seem to be inhaling the dander and hair of three dogs. How in the world did I end up with all these dogs?)
5. Dare to be unique. I am pretty sure my house doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and there are probably people who come in and wonder what in the world I am thinking. I love my salmon pink bedroom, the framed painting of the agave (it’s where tequila comes from-hello!), and the East India folk art that Travis Austin patiently helped me to embellish with crystals. I adore the pastel drawings that we have, one of each of our mothers at about age fourteen, both wearing simple white cotton shirts, turned to the left profile, shaded with blue in the back. I can tell the story of every single thing in my house. I know where it came from, who gave it to us, the origin of the fabrics, the trip where I bought it.
5. Keep it clean.
6. Fill it with love. Ultimately, that’s the greatest decorating ingredient of all.