<Since the images associated with this take up so much memory, I have put them into files (HOME 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) in a DROPBOX link indicated at the end…..if you ever reach the end of this post!>
Perhaps a bit of background is in order....
I left college with a degree in Philosophy, mostly focused on Ethics and Metaphysics ( the "big" questions that are most frequently posed around camp fires and late nights at bars and/or in college dorms). When I told my Dad what I was going to study he said, "What does that prepare you to do?" ....a very valid question from a practical man. The degree "got you thinking" but, unless, you wanted to teach Philosophy (which I did for four years) it did not open many doors so I went back to acquire some skills that could be specifically applied to the world of work in another area of abiding interest—architecture and design.
Four years later when I returned to school again to study Interior Architecture, I remember my Dad asking, "....and what is that exactly?" After some explaining he wanted to know..."So are you an Architect or an Interior Designer at the end of it? I'm sure my answer did not help matters! Even though he was clearly concerned, my Dad was mostly satisfied with whatever iterations into which this manifested, so long as I was happy and "not on the dole"—his personal payroll and/or on employment! As a father of three, I understand! Though I had no idea how (or whether) these divergent interests would put food on the table, I can now "connect the dots" in retrospect to see just how the combination of these two interests have played out in unique ways. I am happy to say that one of my favorite quotes of my Dad's has rung true in my ears many times over the years "The best job in the world is the one you love".
The last twenty-five years have been spent in intensive stints in the millwork business (kitchens, baths, libraries mainly) in the stone and tile business (designing products, showrooms and marketing materials) and for the last nine years, working in upper end residential design and construction projects with considerable art and antique ingredients as well. As such, I have been imbedded into various aspects of the world of architecture and design, but mostly as it applies to our homes. Through it all, I have seen, read, heard, counseled, cajoled, discussed, debated and decided on tens of thousands items/details in this arena and it has been (mostly) wonderful. I continue to be amazed by how much there still is to learn—which is also wonderful—and so I would regard this field of study/practice as one of my perennial blessings. That said, I have never really written about it as such, until now.
My interest in Philosophy has given me a particular perspective on the various subjects of design, one that looks not just at the "ingredients in the recipe," so to speak, but also at the history, the trends, the larger questions and impulses behind the use of those ingredients—so it is from this perspective that I am approaching this topic of "HOME."
"House and Home"
Before we get started, it's probably time to acknowledge a distinction that I make between two very similar words that appear to refer to the same thing but do not —the words'house' and 'home'. In many ways, this distinction is at the heart of what this entire email is about. I remember hearing my parents claim that as a teenager I was "eating them out of house and home"....so I used to think they were one and the same--but they are not! While the terms are used interchangeably, and it can seem like mere semantics to distinguish them, I would say this:
-a'house'is a specific architectural structure (i.e., house is not a barn or a shed or a store or a church). A 'house' is simply 'sticks, bricks and mortar' with a predictable inventory of rooms and amenities—a building— whereas,
-a 'home'is a place (house, apartment, condo, cottage, caravan, or even a room) where identity, character, memories and a sense of belonging has been sought after, fostered, nurtured and achieved. It is a quality that is usually visceral (you can feel it) and visible to many, though it may be hard to pin down why exactly that is.
We sense it when we describe a place as being "homey" or even when we describe our connection to a group of people as making us "feel at home." It is a state of being with quite personal qualities more than it is a "thing."
A "home" has certain qualities that feel right to us. So, when someone describes your space/spaces as being "homey" they are not really speaking about the fact that it has bedrooms, baths, a kitchen etc., as any house might, but instead they are making a qualitative judgement about the sense ofrightness, warmth and welcome in the atmosphere. They are saying something about themselves (and all of us) as well as commenting about what they are looking at: I would go so far as to say that this realization / acknowledgment / achievement is the proverbial 'holy grail' for all discussions and decisions, large and small about our spaces. If you feel that your space is 'homey' to you, congratulations! The rest is all details. To put a fine point on it then, my reference point for "success" in this arena is in determining how this real but somewhat elusive quality of "homeyness" can be achieved
If the observations I am going to share have any value, outside of being mere academic distinctions, it is in their ability to focus the discussion on and around ways to see the ingredients of that "state of being" more clearly. I believe that we all know most of this information at some level already—which is why we can all identify, and often agree upon, when a place has this mysterious quality to it. As such, my observations will not likely be revelations to you but rather, confirmations of things you have already observed.
Advice / Themes
There is no shortage of advice (books, magazines, tv shows, blogs) on the topic of home design. I have heard it said that since the year 2000, the amount of information that has been published on the subject of home design eclipses all that was published on every topic prior to 2000! Even if that is an overestimate by 50%, it is still a staggering idea to contemplate.
So much of the information that is out there, though, is so specialized and micro-cosmic in focus, that one is left with many disparate puzzle pieces of information and without much help to understand how or why the pieces fit together into a meaningful whole or framework. In other words, you can source dozens of articles in a flash about "Hot New Color Trends!! but it is not so easy to find a consumer friendly article (vs a textbook or trade manual) explaining WHATcolor really is, HOW it works, HOW you can expect it to behave in different conditions and in different applications and, ultimately, WHY it matters, regardless of which color(s) might be trendy or not.
So, rather than show you lots of specific items in different categories that reflect this or that taste or providing another inventory of what I saw this year that I liked, I am going to propose a broader road-map with a focus instead on important (nearly universal) THEMESthat I have found to be present and repeated in my projects over the years. These themes have been at work, regardless of style, locale or budget—so I am offering a view from "above the forest," so to speak, rather than amidst the minutiae of specific details and solutions. Take it all for what it is worth but only in general terms because on the particular matters/choices that are truly relevant to you, it is finding your own 'voice' and interpretation through it all that counts.
As before, the photo attachments features images that are examples of many of the categories below and to which I refer. Each image has title that indicates (hopefully) why I chose it. Again, these observations are not specific to style, budget or locale—rather, they are thematic examples that might help you think differently about all manner of home design topics.
Finally,if there is any topic where I run the risk of 'boring the bejaysus' out of people, I am aware that it's probably this one—so if you stop caring long before I stop writing, just treat yourself to the DELETE or the OFF button. This is not a test; no one will ever know.
Functionality / Suitability Animating a Space Color / Light Contrast / Balance Scale / Proportion Focus / Editing Collections / the Personal touch Organization / Stuff Nature Comfort / Coziness / Intimacy
To my mind, these are the building blocks or pathways by which a "house" (or apartment, condo, trailer, room, etc.) is transformed into a "home" and, as such, are the most important topics to reflect on in the realm of home design.
1. Functionality / suitability:
First and foremost, a home and the important things in it have to work, consistently without your constant intervention and without constant cringing and worry or it will always be a distraction, a loss of "peace of mind."
If you have a space that you "love", but the roof constantly leaks or the basement frequently floods or the power keeps going off ...or there is a next door neighbor who has painted their house "fuchsia" (which you dislike) and has rusted out cars in the driveway (which you hate).... or you have a 150 mile commute to work every day or etc, it may be difficult to focus on the other themes I am suggesting here.
In other words, if a home feels like it cannot provide the shelter, protection and the basic peace of mind that it is supposed to, the color of the walls, et cetera, might feel quite secondary. But as much as that seems to be quite self-evident, we all occasionally talk ourselves into things that don't work...so this is a cautionary note. If something is really important and/or used a lot, functionality and suitability will always grab your attention, most especially if it is absent. It also means that, whenever possible, our attention should go towards making something functional or suitable (if possible) before focusing on how it looks.
The primary concern—that something has to work— is not just about the large decisions (where should Iive, what kind of house, should I fix that skylight leaking water,etc.) but about smaller ones too. "Does IT work for me/us?" should be in the first wave of questions when selecting something as demonstrated by these examples:
-I really like this chairthat only comes in silk fabric... surely my toddlers won't destroy that, will they? or,
-This is a great looking light fixture and at a perfect price but as I am 6'-3", I will have to duck every time I walk under it….and that's ok etc., or,
-We want this kitchen table but as it is 24" wider than our space can accommodate, we will only have 24" between the edge of the table and the adjacent walls so....either we'll all have to go on a serious diet or have two of our children eat elsewhere!
I have been a witness to all manner of these types of questions, debates, rationalizations and "wrestling matches" over the years (even quite heated ones between generally caring spouses)—but, in the end, function has to win out unless the item is purely decorative and does not have to perform in any practical capacity. Again, I realize that this should seem to be obvious but it often is not when some other aesthetic (or financial quality) about the item seems so compelling. How often have we all said something like this, "But it was such a good deal or it seemed like a good idea at the time...." If it is sure to create annoyance, regardless of how cool, beautiful or economical something is, avoid it—because none of these other themes/suggestions will solve the problem.
2. Animating a space : People, pets, flowers, scents, music... awakening the senses:
Equal in importance to the fact that things needs to work, is the concept of the need to animate a space.
Space, be it a spartan and humble space or a lush, layered and elaborate space requires "animation" or it risks being only a stage-set. Put another way, space, however, big or small or simple or fancy, is merely a void that we pass through until it is brought to life by animate ingredients that matter to us and that give it a pulse, so to speak. We have all seen or walked through houses that, while they might be considered beautiful, stylish or chic, were not somehow alive--as if they were meant to be looked at rather than lived-in. If you can't imagine settling in and putting your feet up, then you might be in a place crafted chiefly for looks rather than living—a museum rather than a home. A museum is a showcase for the display of beautiful and rare things. A house can be that also but if the inanimate things don't allow people to be at ease around them, if they "upstage" the inhabitants and visitors or make them feel less important by comparison, then that house will struggle to be a home.
The best way to animate a space, I feel, is with people. If you live with or around family and friends, great. Enjoy, savor, entertain. Don't live around family or friends?, then try pictures or mementos. Having pictures or mementos around that remind you of why these folks matter and of the moments you have shared are powerful tools and pictures of people, pets and places also trigger fond memories for guests in your home—it has the same comforting effect on them.
There are certainly other ways to bring a space to life: try pets, flowers, music, candles, books, etc...or all of these! Whatever it is that fills the senses and spaces with a presence that is of comfort to us, that accompanies us on this journey, that brings us joy...add as much of "that" as you can.
Pets: I know that having a pet is not an option for everyone, either because of where one lives, how much one travels, whether or not there are allergies involved but, suffice to say, if you can have a pet go for it! The amount of joy and companionship we have received over the last thirty years because of our pets, is incalculable. Their personalities, presence and antics have always contributed a positive aspect to our home. I have heard some version of this point of view from more people than I can remember.
Flowers: We happen to have a garden and we live in a town that has a great weekly Farmer's Market as well. Like the above but in a different way, flowers are a reminder that there is simple beauty in the world and that we can and should marvel at it. When we do bring them indoors we are sure of not missing them! It might just be easier to "stop and smell the roses" when they are sitting in the middle of your kitchen table.
Scents: Whether it is the smell of fresh-baked bread or a scented candle, or flowers (or you fill in the blank) the presence of appealing scents in a home have a unique and powerful way of animating a space. The explosion in the scented candle business over the last decade is proof-positive of this.
Sounds/music: When extended quiet and inactivity become the norm, the feel of a home changes. Now that we have joined the ranks of "empty-nesters", the house is different and it takes some serious getting used to, as many of you know...the quiet and stillness of it is so different. Sometimes that quiet is great and sometimes it can feel quite hollow. Hearing music, we have found, is a great way to balance this out.
As further evidence of this, we are now selling the house I grew up in and now that my parents are not there anymore, that place has reverted to being simply a house again. Since I have been connected to that house since 1968, I could not have imagined that it would ever be so bereft of its personality until I came to grips with this simple reality—it has become an inanimate structure again, a house rather than a home. The pulse of family and friends, visitors, music, flowers, cooking scents has left it and while there is sadness in this, it is only natural. And (and I know you are not supposed to start a sentence with and...) yet there are many fond memories that remind me of the receptacle of our life that it once was—it now simply awaits its next chapter of being a happy home for someone else.
Even though we are empty-nesters, we regularly have folks over. Our home is also enlivened in others ways: two dogs (Buddy and Bella), two cats (Gracie and Midnight) , two horses (Inko and Skye), birds in abundant variety and quantity,frequent fresh flowers, the smell of cooking and or an occasional candle and last but surely not least, by the sounds of music. Our house feels animated and "homey" to us as a consequence. I'd have to say that if I were to pare away any of these ingredients, it would likely start to feel less so...and the right paint, furniture, lighting, etc., would not fill that gap.
3. Color / Light:
One of the first times that I remember focusing on color was when coming in for landings in Shannon Airport in the 1970s. My Dad would always bring the view of the farm fields to my attention. After breaking through the clouds you would be treated to a rich tapestry of "green fields" bordered by stone fences. From the perspective of the plane there was no such thing as 'green'—there were, in fact, DOZENS of greens. It felt so different to landing in Chicago, truly another world. Fast forward to design school where I learned about the intricate nature of color and its interdependence on many non-color circumstances as well as its COMPLETE dependence on light(ing).
As Patti can attest, I 'burned the midnight oil' many times creating custom painted chips that displayed various color theories....endless gradations of white to gray to black, complimentary colors, related (analogous) colors, contrasting colors...primary, secondary and tertiary colors...little did I know!
Through it all I learned that all color is dependent on several things for its identity beyond the ingredients of the pigment itself: the eyesight of the user; the light conditions in the environment; source of the color (natural, synthetic, printed, computer-generated) the adjacency of other materials of color, even the cultural contexts at work (Red with yellow arches means.....Mc Donald's; Blue-Boys, Pink-Girls, Purple-Royalty, etc.) In other words, color is HIGHLY subjective and dependent construct, not at all as independent and objective as one would think. The very same singular 'color' can appear to be many different colors depending upon the location, your age, your visual acuity, the time of day, adjacency of others colors, whether the room is bathed in North, South, East or West light, etc. It also matters if you are seeing the color in question in the moist West of Ireland, in the South of France, in India, Arizona or Antartica as the composition of lighting, altitude even the relative humidity also play roles in the final effect. So when you choose a color of anything then, do not be surprised if it looks utterly different in conditions that differ from where you saw it or where you picked something out. Know that there are a vast array of conditions that will influence the color you see and how you respond to it on a given day. Think of any given color as a chameleon that is ever-changing rather than as a fixed or immutable element.
When you buy something, be aware that if you saw it in a brochure or online or in person, you may have witnessed three slightly different iterations of the same thing.
Any color created with the projection of light, such as is displayed on computer monitors, digital phones, tvs, etc., uses the RGB standard (red/green/blue) for color generation and while RGB is a 'standard', it is quite device dependent. (Go to a TV store and watch the same show on 10 tis side-by-side and you know what I mean.) Printing presses use the CMYK standard (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) and all iterations of a color are specific mixtures of those inks. Conclusion: color is only a fabrication of percentages of pigments mixed together in a certain lighting condition and applied to a particular thing that reflects it back to you in a unique way. A good universal reference point for matters of color is the PANTONE scale if you need to communicate something with precision. http://www.pantone.com/color-finder?from=pb This scale is used by graphic designers, manufacturers and interior designers the world over when they need to make sure that the color they describing will be agreed upon by all; it is the equivalent of universal musical notation for color. That said, this is generally an "over the top" and unnecessary reference for most people.
The word 'reflect' is an important notion in speaking about color as it brings up the subject of lighting, sheen and material composition and their role in the color equation. The very same color will be absorbed and reflected back in diverse ways based on the material to which the color is applied and this is also true of sheen—gloss versions of a color tend to feel a bit different (often deeper) than the matte version of the same color.
So, when you look at a color now, you may see it differently, both literally figuratively. All of this is not just in the 'fun fact' category as it has ramifications for how you pick items, purchase them and live with them. How?
1) Well, if you saw "it" online and it needs to coordinate with something you already own, be very aware that its appearance on your computer or in a printed catalog may be different in real life.
2) If the color you saw looked awesome on the wall at the store (where there was halogen lighting) and a large North-facing window and you can't understand why it looks so different under your LED or incandescent lights and your South facing window, now you'll know why
3) If the yellow chair looks perfect in the off-white showroom on the slate blue rug, know that it may look quite different in the forest green room with the rust, cobalt and green rug at your home.
Also, as you probably know, color ages over time in a handful of typical ways: in sunlight (UV rays), as a result of cleaning, and as a result of wear. So, if you buy paint or carpeting or ceramic tile, order enough MORE than you really need because the next dye lot of that material will likely not match what you have, if it does, you are unusually lucky. (When the wall gets damaged and has to be repainted or the carpet at the top of the basement stair landing wears out or the tile breaks and has to be replaced, you won't have to rely on luck for it to match up to what is adjacent to it.)
Don't let any of that scare you—it's just setting expectations, not describing defects. I have worked through dozens to hundreds of meetings through the years where clients did not have the correct expectations about such matters and so some of the above was challenging news.
Last "bits" on paint color:
In case you run into a discussion of color terms, here are the basics: Hue: the actual color you are talking about….red vs green vs blue, etc; Value: the lightness to darkness of the hue on the scale from the brightest to the darkest version of a color;Saturation:the apparent "strength or weakness" of a given color i.e., a green lawn appears greener at dusk than the same green lawn appears at 10am; Tints/Shades/Tones:a "tint" of a color refers to the effect of adding white to it; a "shade", to the effect of adding black to it; a "tone", to the effect of adding grey to it. There's more but these terms will get you through almost any color discussion.
A couple of the mainstream paint brands have online programs enabling you to take a room and to "try on" a color—a nice feature but again, limited by your computer screen for accuracy. When choosing color, consider being 25% more adventurous/bold than you would normally be—you probably won't regret it. There are a handful of great companies from which to chose paint: Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, Pratt and Lambert, C2, Fine Paints of Europe, and a range of small companies who are to paint what craft breweries are to beer....
Not sure where to start? If there is a painting, a textile or a certain possession the colors of which have always captivated you, extract your color palette from it!
You already like the color/color combinations, you might really like a lot more of it! Artwork, textiles and rugs are, for me, the best starting places and the richest sources of great color combinations. It is customary (though not necessary) to pick rugs first when designing rooms and that is because so many of the color answers are right there, already combined in a way that you may like and, therefore, a good place to start—but the very same could be said of a cherished piece of art, a great pillow, etc.
Good paint stores can scan objects now and "match" (really, only approximate) that color in paint if you can't find a paint chip that works. Finally, the SHEEN chosen will impact the final effect also: flat/matte being "the most quiet" version, high gloss being the most "active" one and rarely used except for front doors, certain painted millwork applications with several gradations in between. Tip: when choosing sheen combinations, expect that sheens that are only one step away from one another will rarely create the contrast that you might be expecting--keep sheen combinations (Trim, walls and ceiling) two or three steps away from one another for them to be noticeable. (Benjamin Moore makes the same pigment/color in 6 different sheens!) Lastly, flat/matte sheens do not telegraph wall imperfections the way glossier sheens do—the glossier the sheen the more refined the surface will need to be or it will be noticeable.
One way that technology has been brought to bear on this subject is with innovative color viewers—check these out!
The influence of lighting on color is HUGE! The very same hue/color can appear to be utterly different when seen in daylight, at dusk, under incandescent light, under fluorescent light, in candle-light, etc. But the influence of lighting on our perception of space is even larger than its effect on color(s). As a broad brush stroke statement, I would go so far as to say that LIGHTING is the most important topic in design after functionality and animating spaces given how much it impacts our "feeling" about items and the spaces in which they reside. You can inoculate a bad space from many of its own defects and can, equally, diminish a great space just as quickly with "bad" lighting. Anyone who has ever had a candlelit dinner... or stood in a lit parking lot at night or stared down the xenon headlights of a late model car in night-time oncoming traffic (which is everyone....) knows this intuitively. If the budget allows, spend more on lighting; if the budget does not allow it, cut back on something else in the budget and boost the lighting part of the budget!
The topic of artificial lighting is not just about the type or source be contemplated but also includes matters of layering, density and ability to control the chosen light source. I am a BIG fan of progressive dimmers which gives you lots of flexibility over the final effect. The very same space can take on many different moods based on the level of illumination at work. This, of course, means that you can tailor your experience of a space without changing anything else in it—which is great.
While fancier whole-house lighting control systems (http://www.lutron.com/en-US/Pages/default.aspx) can be very costly, individual dimmers at critical locations are not. When dealing with dimmers, seek advice from the store or the electrician. Note: if you marry a dimmer and/or transformer to a low-voltage lighting source, make sure it is sized correctly or it will buzz a lot and then, possibly, fail. Been there. Also, know that, depending upon the light source, as you dim the light it may not only change from being lighter to being darker, it may also change in color as it gets dimmer.
The purpose of good design is to positively influence how you feel about and interact with a space: appropriate and flexible lighting has an enormous capacity to do just that.
4. Contrast / Balance:
We often know and appreciate things for what they are when we also experience what they are not. That may sound vaguely circular so let me give some examples.
-If you were trying to understand or describe the nature/pleasure of sitting beneath a warm blanket on a chilly night you might be hard pressed to do so without "the chill in the air" also being a critical part of the enjoyment in your experience. A warm blanket on a warm night....not quite the same.
-Light that pierces darkness has more meaning than light that brightens something that is already well lit. We notice and marvel at the changes within dawn and dusk much more than we do the difference between Noon and 2 pm.
-The pleasure of silence often needs to be an antidote to noise/activity in order to be truly appreciated.
-While it might be a novelty, a white painted room with white furniture and a white rug and white flowers is likely to be quite boring, quite quickly as a result of this fact. The secret sauce in these experiences is the contrast— without it, our experience is somewhat dulled. The same is true in matters of design. Contrast activates the mind and the senses.
This observation also applies to matters of style: a mixture of styles is often more interesting than a space where everything is crafted from the same time period or aesthetic point of view. The current design "buzz" words for this fact are eclectic' or 'transitional' and you might also see the word 'activate' used a lot in descriptions of how one genre or style can be brought to life by the mixture of elements that are NOT of that same style, period or point of view. There is truth in this: the contrast of styles and colors does prompt closer attention and inspection to the ingredients in a way that items of one style or feel do not.
That said, people used to feel the opposite about this. It used to be that spaces were considered more pleasing and harmonious when all the elements did fit together in style and feel, i.e., if you had an "English Georgian" house, the things in it were often chosen from a fairly expected list of ingredients, and the same was true if your house was from another specific design period. That belief or way of thinking about design has nearly evaporated over the last ten to fifteen years: now, a judicious mixture of styles, periods, etc., is considered normal and fashionable. Crafting spaces that 'work' with many disparate ingredients is challenging and requires a deeper dive into the ingredients of design down to the levels of shapes, proportions, relationships and moods. Many 'unexpected' things can work together if they relate to or balance each other; through it all, a keen eye for the roles played by contrast and balance are required so as to end up with a pleasing (vs utterly disjointed) result on a consistent basis. Luck and serendipity also play a role!
This represents a BIG change in the world of design and I believe it started in the world of food—with the so-called "fusion" movement. As in the world of design, one used to go to an Italian or French or Mexican (et al) restaurant and expect very predictable fare, then celebrity chefs came on the scene and started to influence the tried and true formulas with creative mixtures of their own making which often involved cross-pollinating recipes with spices, sauces and treatments from a variety of cultures. Most of the more famous restaurants in the world today have become so by virtue of their ability to master the alchemy of unexpected ingredients and pairings.
Today, you are quite likely to hear design descriptions of spaces that used not to exist: "Modern Country", "Industrial Chic", "Moody Modern", "Bohemian Minimalism", "Steampunk", etc. These labels are all attempts to capture new voices/points of view that had no frame of reference twenty years ago. The same trend at fusing together disparate influences exist in the fashion and music worlds too—all of which points towards our increased desire and ability to appreciate contrast and balance.
5. Scale / Proportion:
This is one of the more challenging aspects of design to get right! The relationship between an object and the space it inhabits, as well as objects and their relationship to each other, is difficult to assess in the abstract...which means that one often has to have the items at-hand to see how or whether they "work" together. Since it is rare to have access to things you don't yet own to test out, (known in the trade as having something 'on approval' ) this aspect of design is often left somewhat to chance, even in the projects of the talented and experienced. That something is in or out of scale/proportion is a judgement about the relativity of and the relationship between things. Does something feel at home or cramped in a space? Does it feel lost? Does something dwarf or overwhelm something else? These are tough questions to answer in the abstract and so it often result in the shifting of things around when things finally appear together in the same room—so don't be surprised if this aspect of design becomes quite vexing.
It is not unusual to discover that the things you were worried about, work out fine and those that you thought would be fine need more attention to get right. As with other aspects of design, taste, opinion and previous experience plays a huge role: what one person loves, another may not. Like all efforts at recipe-making, trial and error are inevitable. Mysteriously, items that seem overly large for a given space can work quite well (especially wall-mounted items) and, conversely, small objects in small spaces can make those spaces seem even smaller.
One way that this plays out, and a trick that works almost every time, has to do with floor tile choices. In small bathrooms people often think that small scale tile is needed whereas a bigger than normal tile actually expands the sense of the space, especially if it is laid in a diagonal pattern relative to the walls. Small tiles equals more grout joints which equates to a busier appearance and often makes spaces feel smaller as a result—the reverse is also true; larger tiles, less grout joints, less busy appearance, which can result in the space feeling more expansive.
Having an overly large item in a space can make the space seem less restrictive and can also provide much needed focus. What most design advisors suggest is to mix scales, rather than have everything be of the same overall size and proportion. A hierarchy of scales seems to work well in many cases: a blend of overly large to tiny elements creates a lot of visual interest.
6. Focus / editing:
The eye craves a place to rest. If everything has equal visual value, then the eye (and your attention) bounces around not knowing where to land. Something has to stand out from the pack as the most important ingredient, whether that be an object, a view or a color. Without focus, a room can quickly become the visual equivalent of a 'run on' sentence. To expand on that metaphor, every space needs punctuation to thrive visually.
Think of a candlelit room. If it is dark and there is one candle lit, your eye and attention have only one choice as to where to settle. If there are fifty candles lit in all parts of the room, then it is a completely different experience, primarily since the eye does not know where to settle. The same applies to the wider topic of crafting details and spaces. There has to be a hierarchy or one risks visual bedlam. Let something "call the shots" visually, and let the other items support or contrast with that....without competing. Also, allow enough "negative space" (unfilled, unadorned, blank expanses of space) to exist so that items can get the attention they deserve without having to fight for it. (Interestingly, the January cover of Architectural Digest is as close to visual bedlam as I have seen in a while!) Yikes!
It is tempting to think that successful design and architecture is a process whereby judicious or tasteful additions of one visual experience alongside of another happens, etc.....in other words, an "addition" exercise. While it may seem like semantics, my experience is that the creative process is ultimately one of "subtraction", not addition. The best results are a consequence of taking away ingredients so that the ones that remain do what they are supposed to do—it is, therefore, more about editing. Knowing what needs to leave in order for other details to flourish is often a function of experience but generally, it is simply a matter of awareness. The same "edit" button/function that you might employ as a cook or an artist or a musician or public speaker is what also works in the realm of design.
Sometimes it is best to empty out a room and ONLY put back into it that which you think is vital and pleasing—almost invariably, this exercise results in some things no longer having a place in the "team photo", so to speak—and that is ok.
When I got into the tile business, I started collecting antique tiles (an extension of the above) as the patterns and glazes on antique tiles are often not able to be replicated today. Then came the horses....so you can imagine what that led to....
Whatever the subject matter, I have found for myself and for my clients that personal collections are interesting, fun, life-giving pursuits so long as they are handled (mostly) with moderation. Collections also have a unique way of personalizing spaces, providing a window into your personality and interests and adding a uniqueness to your home that makes it 'yours' and not someone else's. Again, it is important to reiterate that this does not have to be a costly endeavor to be an interesting one.
My hunch is that you know this already. I would put in a special "plug" for that which is handmade (vs mass-produced) as I believe that items that still convey the artistic DNA of the maker have a unique ability to bring joy and to add interest. Something that is handmade by you, all the better.
The personal touch: displaying something that is the product of your own talent, skill, ingenuity. I often hear from people that they don't think they can do creative things themselves (draw, paint, write prose, poetry or music, weave, design, take great photos.....you name it). My answer when I hear this is always the same: 'That's not true.'
On the contrary,I think everyone has a creative gift or gifts and I believe it is a great joy to discover and to develop those gifts. Taken a step further, I think it is important to feature your gift(s) in your home in a way that reminds you that YOU have such gifts. Because we so often compare our skill levels to others who are far more advanced at a given creative pursuit, people can be reluctant to showcase something that they feel is not on par with the work of others whom they admire—and this is a mistake, I believe. So write, draw, paint, photograph, compose or make something and then display it! Displaying it will help signify the importance of the pursuit and will likely encourage you to keep at it. We have no reservations about displaying the artwork of young children and in taking pleasure from that—so, extend that favor to yourself. You don't have to be a master, a maestro or a genius at something for that "something" to be life-giving, interesting and enjoyable for you. Don't wait until you reach the highest level of skill at a creative pursuit before owning, celebrating and featuring it—if you do, you will rob yourself and others of that important experience.
Also, if collections are a 7 out of 10 in their ability to personalize a space, featuring something that you created yourself is a 10 out of 10 on that scale! There is no substitute for the feel of something that is unique and certainly no substitute for something unique that is "made" by you!
8. Organization / Stuff:
It almost goes without saying that, when things are in disarray, we are affected negatively by it. "Order" is an important ingredient in design and when it is lacking, our spaces cannot give us the comfort we need from them. On the extreme ends of this are, of course, people who have 'issues' (hoarders and those who suffer from OCD) but for most of us in between these extremes, a comfortable level of organization and order results in a fuller sense of well-being. We all know this, I am simply pointing out that it is a critical theme in successful design. This theme is, therefore, not about the item(s) or color or uniqueness of something as such but rather about its placement, presence and density in our space(s).
A good 'Spring Cleaning' or purge is a satisfying and clarifying endeavor, one where you really get to see how good design is (as mentioned above) more about the subtraction and editing of things than it is about the addition of things. The other side benefit of staying organized is that it allows us to keep current as well: your needs and tastes change and it is perfectly ok to acknowledge and to act on that realization. "Culling the herd," so to speak, is not just a numbers game (arriving at less stuff) it is also a time for a re-evaluation and a creative source of refreshment; you get to ask yourself great questions such as, Do I like this?, Does it give me any joy? or, Has it passed its proverbial expiration date? It is perfectly ok to say 'goodbye' to things that fail when those questions are asked! You can use the opportunity to 'gift' the item to someone who might really appreciate it which, in itself, sets off another virtuous cycle. Remember Wm. Morris' quote: "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
Again, we all know that 'nature' is important but how does that relate to making our house feel like a home? In all cases, our sense of place is not just about the structure we live in or what exists inside of it but also how and where it is rooted in the environment. This is as true if we live in a high-rise in a downtown metropolis as it is if we live near a lake in the countryside. There are thousands of ways to bring nature indoors (views, photos, plants, prints, fabrics) but however it is achieved, I am simply saying that it is an important consideration to mull over. An awareness and acknowledgement of the wider world of nature is, I think, a crucial feature of our sense of rootedness, participation and belonging in the larger world of creation we inhabit—this is both an awe-inspiring and a healing aspect of design. Any way that you can bring nature indoors will likely "pay you back with interest"....pun intended.
10. Comfort / Coziness / Intimacy:
I have not mentioned the categories of comfort and coziness or intimacy as it applies to space until last. Why not? They are essential. Because crucial as they are, I think they are a consequence of--rather than a category apart from--the above. When one attends to the categories 1-9 above in a way that is uniquely personal, the result, if I may be so bold, almost hasto be a place of refuge and comfort. That does not mean that it removes all stress and anxiety of course, but that it is 'geared up' to help— as much as a "place" can be— in that way. Comfort means different things to different people but it is vital for all.
Coziness and intimacy are words that hint further at the roles that scale and proportion play in creating a space deemed to be comfortable. Is there is a reason that so many people prefer a window seat or a reading nook to a family room with a 30' tall cathedral ceiling...or, that so many people love cabins and cottages when they want to relax? The answer to that is bound up in the subject and nature of coziness/intimacy. It is possible to do so, but when private spaces take on public proportions, it can take a whole lot of extra work to re-balance them back to a human scale where coziness and intimacy can be re-established.
To be a place of refuge and warmth.
At the end of the day, when you walk through the space/spaces you call home, that is what you probably want from it, no? I have found this to be true regardless of style, trend, location, climate or budget particulars that apply. If your space/spaces are not "doing their part", so to speak, then it is more than possible that the reason(s) for this can be found by tweaking things in the categories above. It is also likely, in my experience, that even slight adjustments in any of the categories will improve the situation enough to be noticeable to you. Slight adjustments in several of the categories above may really shock (or as a friend of mine, Bill Ohs used to say) and/or 'surprise and delight' you!
(Bet you thought you'd never see that word...!!)
Your own style, taste, experience, budget and location are perfectly suited already to create a house you would deem to be "homey". Perhaps you have already discovered this; perhaps you have not or you don't quite believe it. If you revisit what was written above, you will notice that there is not one thing mentioned that is beyond anyone's ability or that requires a specific set of talents, budget or location to achieve. Of the hundreds of homes I have had the chance to visit or to work on, the best and most memorable oneswere those that spoke in a fresh and particular way about their owners, about their family, friends, passions, etc. Using that observation as a benchmark is instructive. Being successful in the pursuit of this benchmark can be achieved, quite simply, I feel, by understanding how these THEMES can be understood and applied in your own unique way—that's all.
Here are some sources that you may or may not already know about that are worth exploring either for the pursuit of INFORMATION, INSPIRATION or ITEMS. They will all be able to provide plenty of "food for thought" by introducing you to spaces you may like or love...or not...but will surely serve as an inspiration to the eye.