It happens to everyone. The accumulation of possessions that clutter our homes. The somewhat tacky souvenirs you bought on vacation, the ornate knick-knacks inherited from Grandma’s city apartment, the homemade crafty gifts you feel you got to keep on display – you know what I mean. And the framed photos -all those framed photos!- taking up almost every inch of wall space and lining many horizontal surfaces. Nothing dates a house – and makes it a b*tch to clean – like an overabundance of “decorative” objects.
To begin a home decorating masterpiece you have to start with a clean canvas. You got to throw out, giveaway, and clear out!. And you got to be RUTHLESS. Here are a couple of tricks that I have found that help people part with needless belongings that they have become WAY too accustomed to having around.
1. Would you buy it now?
If you saw it in a store now (in its present condition) would you buy it? People hang on to things cause they remember how much they paid for them and feel it is like throwing away money to get rid of them. The solution? Donate it to a charity thrift store or sell it at a garage sale. If it is really worth some money have someone eBay it for you. Any of these solutions is less painful than just pitching it out.
2. Does it have sentimental value?
Take a photo of it. If its small enough put in a designated “Memory Trunk” (mine is a large Walmart Tupperware Trunk) that is stored in an attic or garage. If you think you will miss not seeing it displayed in your home, store it out of sight for awhile. You will be surprised how, after time, you find you won’t be missing it at all – and then you could take a picture of it and eventually either donate or sell it.
3. I can’t discard photos!!
Too many framed photos is redundant and frankly, most of your guests are not interested in seeing them especially after the first time. Even people living in your house don’t notice them after awhile. De-frame them and put them out in a nice album. They are easier to clean and won’t fade. Leave out only the ones you truly love and have the most meaning. Be discriminating!
4. What about small figurines, knick-knacks and miniatures?
These are notorious place fillers that add little/no decorative value but do add a lot of added cleaning maintenance. Don’t leave them scattered about. If you really want to keep them put them together in a one unit – like a glass enclosed case or doll house.. You can find a lot of knick-knacks at garage sales – REAL CHEAP. Nobody seems to want them – and guaranteed your kids won’t unless they can sell them.
5. Is the object just worn or junky looking?
Throw it out. JUST DO IT. Dusty fake floral arrangements, beat up toss pillows, dollar store candles, small wall signs with cliché sayings, the crap that is known now as “chachkas”. It will take some time to get use to the more “empty” appearance of your home but filling every inch of horizontal and vertical space with “stuff” just to fill it up is one of the most common mistakes people make in home decorating. Even if the things you own are basically quality, nothing can be appreciated if there are too many objects crowded together. Clutter cheapens everything. Less is more. I remember a scene in the movie “Gypsy” where the famous stripper’s mother tore off all the tawdry embellishments on her daughter’s gown leaving her with a simple, elegant dress she then accessorized with just a fur stole and long white gloves. Classy – even for a stripper. In much the same way, there is a lesson to be learned in decorating.
Keep it simple and use just a few good pieces. Then STOP.
The “stopping” part is the part most of us have trouble with. With stores like Home Goods calling to us like a sea siren, we love to keep up with our “nesting” activities by adorning our homes. But just by “conscious de-cluttering” you make your living spaces seem fresh and updated – without spending a dime! And another big payoff – it will look cleaner and it actually IS easier to clean!
OK! So… it’s the end of Class 1 – you know what your homework is!
“Style is something each of us already has, all we need to do is find it.”
–Diane von Furstenberg
Now that your home is clear of clutter (and only left with things you want to keep or absolutely need to keep for now) you are ready to begin planning how you are going to redecorate your space. At this point you need to think about the style of décor you would like to create in your environment. Do you lean toward a country or a more traditional look? Do you gravitate towards a relaxed contemporary? (like Pottery Barn) or a bit exotic? (Pier 1).
Whatever your taste in furniture and decorative pieces, just be mindful of the scale and design of your house itself. A small/medium ranch looks more appropriate with a smaller scale pieces and clean lines – extra-large, over-stuff, ornate furniture often looks very out-of-place in that setting. A large house with vast rooms needs larger pieces to fill it – not a lot of small ones. Most typical Long Island homes look well-matched with a relaxed, rustic traditional or contemporary décor. Homes with some warmth, character, and without too much formality have the most popular appeal –and that is an excellent goal to work towards!
When planning your space, remember CONTINUITY – a hallmark of good design and smart planning (there will be a separate class on this later). Your home should feel cohesive – with the mood and style being harmonious throughout. Years ago I was asked to help a family plan a room addition for a hot tub (remember when those were popular? – I am dating myself!). When I visited the home, it was an unforgettable mishmash of clashing styles. The typical center hall colonial opened up on the left to a super formal dining room with throne-like chairs covered in brocade, with a huge gold gilded chandelier hanging above. Heavy drapes with gold tassels, pedestals with Roman urns and a huge dining room hutch competed for space. It looked like the Palace of Versailles. Meanwhile, off the dining room was the kitchen – which was done in country style. Gingham curtains, wooden signs with cutesy sayings and a collection of ceramic roosters and cows lined the rustic pine kitchen cabinets. The living room opposite and open to the dining room was done in black Oriental import furniture; covered in colorful raised carved figures, walls lined with Asian artwork and “Ming Dynasty” accessories scattered about. The family room was a sleek modern with lots of steel, glass and leather with bold primary-colored artwork. Each room seemed to be a unique world of its own – expensively done – and very disorienting! So while this house was the extreme, do remember to plan your rooms so they feel like they belong together under the same roof – even if you do like to mix styles up just a little!
And remember to furnish all your rooms so it is conducive to use all your rooms. If you are over 50, you probably remember joking that your parents and their friends needed a velvet rope to keep out visitors from entering the “ever-so-formal” dining room and living room. Just look, don’t touch and no way EVER sit down. Rooms for “show” are dated (and ridiculous). You should feel as though you can use your dining or living room as readily as your kitchen or family room. Furnish and decorate these rooms to be welcoming and comfortable.
Many times we inherit (or purchased years ago) quality wood furniture that is not really our current taste but too costly to replace. Just about any piece can be modified or accessorized to look more updated. Formal dining chairs can have the ornate seats recovered in a contemporary solid textured fabric. The floral centerpiece can be switched into a wicker basket and the silver candlesticks can be switched out to heavy wood ones for a more casual look. Replacing dated/discolored furniture handles and knobs can make a big difference. A friend of mine removed the brass diamond-shaped insert that was inside the glass of her hutch – giving it a clean, new appearance. And by removing the hutch part of a dining room set (creating a buffet), you can place lamps on it and framed art hanging over it for a fresh new look as well. Likewise, a dated master bedroom set can be updated by replacing a floral or printed bedspread with a solid colored or textured one. Lamps, updated cabinet hardware, and a few other new accessories that reflect your current style can transform the room as well.
Once you figure out what your “style” is, it helps to give it a “name”. A friend of mine likes “Pottery Barn-style.” If something looks like it came from the Pottery Barn catalogue, she knows it will fit with the style she is trying to create. Another person I know is trying to create a “Country Farmhouse” decor and she asks herself if any purchase she is considering fits that description. There are so many magazines and store catalogues dedicated to a certain “look”, that if you are unsure of yourself, you can look through them and note the details of rooms you would like to emulate. Just remember not to go overboard with anything too predictable or cliché – and don’t over accessorize!
So pick the style you would like to dress your house in – the next class is picking a color scheme!