Making a lovely home: adding grace notes

Every home — even if it’s only one room — needs grace notes,  a few items that simply lift your spirits and make you happy because they’re part of your daily life.

They’re not necessities, and you can always save money by not having them.

But here are some things I love having in our home:

Candles (Photo credit: magnuscanis)


Every night, as we sit down to dinner, we light candles around our small, (11 by 10.5 foot), dining room, a mixture of votives and tapers. We dim the chandelier and enjoy our shared meal in soft light. No TV. (We don’t have kids, so this is our choice entirely and probably unthinkable if you do have kids, especially small ones.) But even if you’re eating alone and it’s just mac and cheese, light some candles! A meal is an occasion. It’s an important time to nourish your body and your spirit.


I have a variety: wood, silver plate, pewter, brass and glass. Check consignment, thrift and antique shops. Buy singles in one material and mix up the shapes and sizes.


Fresh flowers

Every week. Yes, they die. (So do we.) But oh, the beauty! Even one small bud — a freesia or a rose or a peony — in a vase beside the bed gives you something charming to wake up to. Nothing makes me feel richer than when our small apartment has fresh flowers in every room, do-able on a budget of $20-25. This time of year, some pussy willow or flowering branches are nice, and the sharp scent of some eucalyptus stems is always a great-looking option. Stock up on Oasis, (the green foam blocks that florists use, and sell) and a few frogs (the metal or glass stem holders you drop into a pot or vase) and you’ll be able to make interesting arrangements, in a wide range of containers, (a vintage teacup?), with ease.


Something fresh, green and growing reminds us, especially during an interminable winter, that life is all around us. I put my plants in funky containers I find in flea markets or antique stores, like a round turquoise metal tin that once held honey. A plant can cost as little as $5 and last for months, well cared for.



Whatever your heart desires! Some of the objects currently on display in our place are these carved wooden horses. I found them both in Ontario — the larger one in an antique shop, the small one at auction. The larger one, whom we’ve named St. Andrew for the church we were married in, is a piece of folk art; the smaller one has no markings of any sort. He might be brand new, or not. But I love how they ended up, by accident, going so nicely together.

This early heavy glass bowl is now (sigh) badly cracked, (I placed a candle too close to it), but still works, holding a collection of Christmas ornaments I bought at Pottery Barn a few years ago. In candlelight they glow.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean; a small collection of small vintage clocks, from a house tour on Apartment Therapy.


Picture frames

So many choices! The simplest sketch, or magazine photo, or your wedding invitation or a ticket to a show you loved gains prominence in a handsome frame. A small collection of similar color/shaped frames makes a great little tablescape.


I collect textiles of all sorts, from antique paisley woolen and cashmere shawls to bits of new stuff I make into pillow covers or tablecloths. Vintage linens have fantastic details, like faggoting, crochet, cross-stitch — all the sorts of handiwork almost no one does anymore.


Don’t just store them on your phone or computer. Spend an afternoon going through your favorites, from a holiday or a family gathering, print them out and assemble them on a memory wall or family wall.


Nothing is nicer than breakfast in bed! And the only way to have breakfast in bed, comfortably, is with a small tray with deep sides, (so things don’t slide off and crash to the floor.) Also useful for holding teapot, milk, cup and saucer, spoon and a little dish of something, say about 4:30 p.m on a cold, gray Sunday afternoon.


Easily forgotten, a large apron, preferably with pockets, makes food prep and cooking a lot more fun when you’re not worried about getting grease or sauce on your clothes. Look for a butcher-style, so long and wide it wraps around you.

Cloth napkins

Linen or cotton, they add color and style to every table. I’ve never used paper. Flea markets are a great place to pick up old soft linen napkins in bundles of six or eight, sometimes with fantastic embroidery or colors.


Interesting containers

My desk holds a Victorian silver-plate child’s cup (pencils) and a green glazed ginger jar (pens.) Our television remotes sit in an antique wooden cutlery box, both organized and unseen in a handsome container that’s nice to look at. I recently bought a small ceramic dish for one of my favorite editors, (a man of impeccable style), useful for pens and pencils on a desk or as a vide-poche — a place to dump out change from your pockets at day’s end; literally, a pocket-emptier. We use covered baskets, including this one, to stash magazines, extension cords and our insane collection of ugly electronics chargers.


We have a dimmer on both bathroom lights and in the dining room. Few things are as depressing and unflattering as light glaring into your eyes 24/7, which is the lot of anyone working in an office under fluorescent lighting. The only thing nicer than a long bubble bath is one enjoyed under soft lighting.

What grace notes make your home happier?

14 thoughts on “Making a lovely home: adding grace notes

  1. You’ve listed several of mine. I love candles, fresh flowers and plants. I also like antique books stacked on shelves and tables. We have a knitted throw draped over our couch in the family room. My husband’s grandmother made it. Our dog chewed a hole in it, but we don’t care. It is soft and warm and reminds us of his grandmother every time we wrap ourselves in it.

  2. Sculptures, abstract. Over the years I’ve collected quite a few pieces from friends who sculpt in stone and I’ve never regretted a purchase. Some are large and on stands and some are small. One I even use as a door stop. I love them because they are unique, heavy, and fit into any decor without clashing.

  3. Loving your page 🙂 if you want please take a look at my blog , I just started , its a diary blog in the perspective of a young girl living on a distant planet , would love to know what you think <3<3<3

  4. I collect Elephants. I started collecting them after I read “the White Bone” by Barbara Gowdy. They represent for me the power of the beautiful women in my life. The added bonus was that people stopped buying me cats. Love cats, I really do, I just don’t really need them in sculpture form all over my home 😉

    I have Elephants now in all sorts of sizes and materials (all carved sculpture)…even 3 my Great Aunt gave me from a trip she took 60 years ago to Africa.

    One can never have enough candles . I also collect antique wood planers…great for door stops and spectacular at collecting dog hair 😉

  5. Candles are wonderful, and fresh flowers are a simple pleasure. I try to keep fresh flowers in rotation in the spring and summer months. And I don’t know about other households with young children, but we’re raising three boys in our household and we do not watch television at all M-F(and limit engaging in other media) during the week so that we can eat together and spend quality time with each other as a family. I think it’s important to raise children to understand and appreciate these moments of togetherness. My husband and I try to model that for them. We read together, listen to jazz. and talk (imagine that) to each other. Then, once we put the kids to bed, that’s time for my husband and I to spend our time together catching up on the day, and just hanging out together. Our room is peaceful, natural, with pops of color, our space is warm and soothing. That is grace.

    1. Amen to that! Love your priorities and how you stick to them. Your sons are surely lovely people…and congrats to you both for that. So much easier to tune out and grow savages.

      It’s been said that married couples talk very little. It’s one of the reasons I married!

      1. Love that sentiment. You’re right, there is this notion that married couples do not talk. I love, love “talking” with my husband; he is a dear friend, as well as a life partner.

      2. Which is nuts…My first husband and I did not talk much (hence a divorce.) Jose and I talk all the time. I didn’t understand how a husband could be such a good friend, but this time I do. 🙂

  6. We have candles and burn insence, frankinsence or oud wood at night. I also love sticking photos up on the walls. I have a couple of sentimental objects around too. Almost everyday I go to the shops and I stand in front of the flowers, oohing and arring over the colours and the smells but I always stop myself from buying them thinking that I might be wasting money. I’m about to head down to the shops now and I am going to buy those flowers, put them in the living room and enjoy them!

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