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Posts Tagged ‘making a pretty home’

Ten elegant touches

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, domestic life, life on April 20, 2012 at 12:18 am
Iridium fountain pen nib, macro.

Image via Wikipedia

“Elegance is refusal”

— Coco Chanel

We don’t own a big house. We don’t even own a house.

We drive a dinged 2001 Subaru Forester. We’re not snobs about designer labels or owning The Latest Thing.

But I am addicted to elegance, in matters large and small, which is often far more affordable and accessible than one might imagine.

Elegance, for me, is the daily refusal of the ugly, the poorly-made, the falling-apart, the un-dusted table and the dying house plant.

Here are some ways I add it to my life, as you might to yours:

Using a beautiful writing instrument. Whether a fountain pen or felt-tip marker, choose a fun color and make a mark. I love my aluminum Lamy.

Selecting personal stationery. In an era of email blandness, a distinctive way to communicate. Which font is you? What paper color? Which envelope liner? A personalized stamp is an affordable substitute, and paper in a fab rainbow of colors and shapes can easily be found on-line, from places like Paper Source.

A signature fragrance. I love sillage, the delicious trail of scent that follows a man or woman wearing fragrance. I stopped a neighbor last week after happily sniffing hers…turned out to be a Jo Malone number. My late step-mother wore Caleche, a crisp, classic by Hermes invented in 1961, for decades. I recently found a bottle of Grey Flannel for my husband, (created in 1976, the cologne, not him!) and he’s loving it again. Every time he wears it, he remembers the New York Times interview when he wore it. (And got the job.)

A gorgeous handbag, messenger bag or briefcase. So many choices! Mine is a classic creamy beige leather French model. It needn’t be designer, just terrific quality and a style signifier; non-black, non-brown is more interesting. (Consignment shops offer some great picks.)

A stylish wristwatch. Look in flea markets for something with a little panache. Add a lovely grosgrain or colored leather strap. Enough using a cellphone to tell time!

Cloth napkins. Unless you’re still caring for multiple small children, go for it! There are few daily items as casually lovely. Ironing them only takes minutes and the color, texture and patterns they add to your table make every meal a little more charming.

Candles. Lots, everywhere. Votives. A scented candle for the bath and/or bedroom. Tapers at dinner.

Something well-made and well-used. It might be a battered leather jacket or your granny’s quilt or a painted chair someone sat in 200 years ago. We’re only passing through. A memento mori helps.

Quality china, glassware and/or cutlery. It doesn’t have to cost a lot: I’ve been using mismatched heavy silver-plate cutlery, amassed at flea markets, for years. (One of my favorite tabletop sources, on sale, is Anthropologie.) Nothing else feels as good as bone china, has the ping of crystal or the warmth of silver.

Pretty linens. Also find-able through flea markets, Ebay, Etsy and consignment shops, whether linen, silk, crochet, embroidered. A welcoming table, bathroom and bed are respites we all can enjoy.

What adds elegance and style to your life?

Making A Beautiful Home

In antiques, art, beauty, books, design, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on August 6, 2011 at 11:20 am
The famous flea market at the Kitano-tenmangu

Treasures lie within every flea market -- for the digging! Image via Wikipedia

I admit it. It’s my obsession.

My home, a one-bedroom apartment in a nondescript 1960s red-brick building in a northern New York City suburb, is the beneficiary of most of my time, energy and creativity. It’s always been like that, wherever I live.

I love to putter, paint, make things, design and build bookshelves and windowboxes, find antique frames to hold my drawings and photos.

For me, home is truly where the heart is. When it’s calm, clean and pretty, my world is complete.

I planned to leave journalism in the mid-1990s and become an interior designer, and studied at The New York School of Interior Design. I loved it and did well. Then my marriage suddenly blew up, so starting a whole new career was no longer practical.

Here are some of my inspirations and ideas:

Always include a few lovely old things. Unless you’re dedicated Modernist, it’s soothing and grounding to include some older pieces in the mix, whether textiles, glass, china or furniture, whose weathered surfaces and patina, curves and inlay and engraving add lovely details and shapes. I bought four rush-seated painted ladder-back chairs, two black, two light green — now about 150 years old — at a country auction in Nova Scotia in 1985 and shipped them home to Toronto by train. I still love them. You can find many great things at thrift and consignment shops for pennies. Once you learn the difference between blown and molded glass, silver plate and sterling, reproduction and the real thing, you’ll score some seriously affordable loot.

Re-purpose! Antique textiles can be re-used as pillow covers, bed and table linens, a folding screen. I use battered old wooden tool-boxes to hold my bedside needs, the TV remote and use a square wooden seaman’s chest to hold all the ugly cables, plugs and extension cords that keep our house functioning. A lovely hand-blown or cut crystal decanter can hold dish soap, juice, vinaigrette.

Invest in polish, rags, tools, Goo-gone, steel wool, paint. Many of the nicest things in my home sure didn’t arrive pristine, but needed sanding, painting or cleaning. (Goo-gone, a liquid available at hardware stores, will get rid of the leftover adhesive from an old sale sticker, for example.) I recently spray-painted some basic red clay pots a gorgeous glossy navy blue to match my ceramic pots of the same color.

Develop some reliable, affordable sources. I have a fantastic fabric store that does all my pillows and curtains, in Rhode Island, for much less than I’d pay locally, and she does great work. (I discovered her on a vacation there.) Quinny, my auto-body guy, sand-blasts and cleans all my old metal (paint-encrusted radiator covers, a Moroccan lantern.)

Read books for inspiration. I have a terrific collection of auction catalogs, and hardcover books on design, antiques, art and decorative arts, from Asia, Mexico and Europe. I dip into them occasionally for sheer visual pleasure — and fresh ideas. I love The Well-Worn Interior, with some exquisite photos of homes in Ireland, France, England and even New York City.

Watch the pro’s and talented amateurs. One of my favorite websites is Apartment Therapy, which every day features the home of a real person with amazing style. Not rich people, just those with a great eye willing to share. Its founder and creator, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, also wrote this terrific and helpful book. Here are 10 fab tips for fixing up your kitchen from the recent AT contest.

Go abroad, even just visually. Even if your budget hasn’t room for a trip to Bangkok or Paris, there are so many great websites and books and magazines full of ideas. My favorite design magazine is The World of Interiors, a British publication, followed by the various editions of Cote Sud, which focus on on regions of France. The French and English are masters of elegant but laid-back beauty, full of ideas you won’t find in an American magazine. I also like Canadian House & Home. I love this British website for amazing textiles and wallpaper.

Small items can have a huge impact. A perfect, tiny frame; some fresh flowers in a vase; a fragment of lace on a pillow cover; a silver or glass or brass candlestick. Splurge on super chic or costly designer fabric for one or two small throw pillows. Give your eye somewhere lovely to land. Check out antiques fairs, art supply stores, flea markets, garden supply centers, Etsy. I recently scored a perfect, round, gold metal Victorian picture frame about 5 inches in diameter for $20 at an outdoor antiques show. A creamy white frame, on sale from Pottery Barn, now holds a sepia photo of my great grandfather, with sepia cursive writing wrapping paper as the mat on which it lies.

Perfection is boring! My hand-woven white summer rug, (found in a Quebec antique store), needs some repair. It’s old and that’s OK. While you want your home clean, sweet-smelling and tidy, matchy-matchy perfection is a surefire style killer. Think quirky, charming, curvy. If everything in your room is a pale neutral, add a pop of scarlet or yellow or black. Especially black. If every shape in a space is a square or rectangle, consciously add a few softening pieces — a mirror, a demilune table, a throw rug — that are circular, oval or curved.

Use your scissors, camera, printer. Photos can look strikingly different — better! — in black and white or sepia. Look for old magazines, ads, postcards, signage. Anything can work as art if you use it, frame it, and hang or display it well.

Color! A hit of terrific color (scarlet, lime green, turquoise, white, black) in a throw pillow or accessory can punch up a sofa, chair or bookshelf.

Flea markets and antique shows are your new best friend. Take cash in small denominations and a check book and an open mind. I need nothing, but am always up for adventure. My last flea market tour, (the Sunday market at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall), netted me a gorgeous pink glass compote I gave away ($10), a tiny silver-plate engraved cup ($10, now on my desk holding pencils and pens) and a huge swath of mustard-colored charmeuse silk ($10.) Score! The silk now perfectly covers my folding screen (the one I made).

Multiples and scale matter. Items in threes are more interesting than a pair. If you’re going to have one…of anything…make it huge or tiny. Put related items together. Mix it up while using similar color, tone, pattern. Our bedroom wall has two sepia-tone female nude photos, each framed in gold, hung together.

Here’s a link to {frolic}, one of my favorite lifestyle blogs, with five fab books on home decoration — two of which are on my bookshelf.

And here’s an apartment that embodies much of these ideas, from Apartment Therapy’s great website.

What have you done to make your home lovely?

Where do you get inspiration?

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