Making a pretty home: grace notes

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s the next in my ongoing series, which includes 10 tips; lighting; choosing and using color and customizing/DIY.

If you’d like personalized help or advice, send me some photos and I’m happy to help you find a solution to your decorating dilemma. I charge $150/hour.

As a former student at the New York School of Interior Design, I learned a lot in those classrooms!

The smallest home — even a shared dorm room — can still be made personal and lovely. And it doesn’t have to take much money, but a bit of imagination.

A few ideas:

 

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— Look for items that are similar, in size, shape, color and texture. Group them together

A small (or large collection) has much more visual impact than one item. Here are two wooden horses I found in Port Hope, Ontario, a small town east of Toronto. I found the smaller one (new? not sure) at auction for a few dollars. The larger one, hand-carved folk art, was more than that, just over $100. But the pair work nicely together.

— Don’t overlook the beauty, color, texture and life that flowers, greenery and plants can add

But have fun with it. Don’t keep them in their sad little plastic nursery or grocery store pots! A funky antique or vintage tin, a glass jar, a pretty pottery container are so much nicer; this site, Jamali Garden in New York City, is a trove of amazing and affordable ideas. Keep an eye out at your local thrift and consignment shops for affordable ideas and inspiration. I found this terrific metal cachepot at a local consignment shop for $25 and have been adding various pieces of greenery and flowers over weeks, replacing them with fresh ones as needed.

 

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Treat yourself to a few tools, like Oasis, the green foam used by florists to line pots and dishes so you can adapt a wide array of containers to any design you like. A frog, a glass or metal holder into which you stick plant stems, will also offer you more arrangement options.

 

$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!
$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!

— Color!

A calm soothing white/cream/neutrals color scheme is gorgeous (albeit difficult with small children and/or pets). But adding pops of color keeps it fresh. I scored five of these lovely wine glasses for $10 at my local thrift store. So pretty with a holiday table!

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— Add a personal and unexpected detail

This velvet sofa is at least a decade old and the welting had worn thin on the cushions. Replacing it was too costly, so was re-upholstering or slip-covering. All that needed fixing was the welting. But the scale of the welt was also key, something bold and interesting. I looked at plenty of polite, safe pale green options on-line before going in this direction instead. Love it.

 

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— Relate texture and colors to one another

I found this Victorian mirror in Port Hope as well; its soft apricot velvet interior echoes the color of fabric on a table below and several frames we hung nearby. The table-covering is dark embroidered silk (texture, color, pattern), with a pierced copper-colored lantern (texture, color, pattern) atop a bold cotton print (pattern, color.)

 

At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!
At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!

— Keep your eyes open for surprises

I found this pierced metal lantern in, of all places, a shop at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis, when I was out there for a presentation at the University of Minnesota about my book, Malled. I’m a curious traveler and, no matter where I journey, even for a short business trip, I build in a day or two to explore local shops, museums and/or restaurants. Regional tastes can vary widely and you never know what you might find. This one cost very little — $13.50 — so I bought two, (pairs always have more impact!), and shipped them home via FedEx since they were light but too bulky for my suitcase.

 


 

One error many people make is assuming their rooms have to be all-done-all-at-once. Buying everything from one place, whether Ikea or some other retailer, can make a room look cookie-cutter and boring.

If you’ve inherited some nice pieces, find ways to incorporate them, whether some lovely china and glassware or a great old chair (if the shape and condition is good, re-upholstering is well worth it.)

Read design magazines and borrow some books from your local library, (not to mention hundreds of on-line sites for inspiration), to find rooms you find really attractive — so much so you want to go live in them!

Don’t worry if they’re in a huge mansion or tiny cottage; don’t focus on cost or whether you’ll find something just like it. Look at all the details you find appealing and figure out why so you can make (more) thoughtful and informed choices when you buy something to add to your home. 

Clear, fresh colors (lemon yellow, aqua, fresh white) or moody, jewel tones? Worn and weathered surfaces or clean, shiny modern ones? Do you prefer a floor of bare hardwood (and what color)? Or an area rug? Maybe sisal?

The most interesting of all rooms are added to, (and subtracted from!), layer by layer, year after year, decade after decade. The richest, visually, use different textures, tones, materials — like wood, glass, stone, metal, wool, silk, cotton, velvet, mirror and ones that relate to one another the way old friends find much in common to discuss.

Also look at some specific styles of design, whether French, English, Japanese or Swedish; you might find you’re suddenly and deeply passionate about tansu chests, Navajo rugs or bergeres. (Hello, Ebay….)

This book, from 1977, A Pattern Language, is widely considered extremely helpful.

I like this one, Decorating With Pattern, from 1997; (as you can see, the newest books aren’t necessarily the best!)

Of all my many design books, I love Home, by Stafford Cliff, with great photos and interviews with people about their quirky, lovely homes. Certainly the only design book I’ve ever seen with an athlete included (Sebastian Coe)!

Have fun!

 

 

 

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
Candles (Photo credit: magnuscanis)

Candles

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.

Candlesticks

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.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

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.

Plants

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.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Objects

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.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

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.

Textiles

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.

Photos

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.

Trays

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.

Aprons

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.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

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.

Dimmers

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?