The latest issue of Dwell (March 2016) contains a quote that confirms what my whole life’s experience has taught me about decorating living spaces:
“The living room in which one can live and think freely is neither beautiful nor harmonic nor photogenic. It is the product of coincidences; it is never finished and can accommodate everything that can fulfill the changing needs of the occupants.”
That was written in 1958 by the Swedish architect and designer Josef Frank. The article goes on to discuss Frank’s philosophies and concepts “including accidentism which encourages the acquisition of furniture pieces one at a time, and combining them with old or existing ones.” (Frank says “nor harmonic” and I’m pretty sure what he’s referring to is a contrived harmony. Real harmony comes with the friendly overlay of time—using a space in life’s passing.)
I thought, “What a breath of fresh air. This goes against the decorating overconsumption that’s hurting the planet, but it’s the truth.” I’ve visited thousands of homes in my career as a feng shui consultant and the ones that were put together by a decorator don’t feel authentic. The vibe is that they are “for show.” And that’s what we see in decorating magazines. But I’ll add my voice to those of many feng shui experts, including the great Karen Kingston, who say to keep items only because you love them or use them. Don’t try to live in a magazine-perfect space—it’s not likely to be comfortable and supportive in the long run.
Two decorating fads that are dead giveaways for a staged, “magazine-perfect” look are an excess of pillows and decorative, meaningless balls just sitting in a basket or bowl. What should be in the basket or bowl is real food that you can eat. Living with fruit and vegetables in view in your home symbolizes health and prosperity as well as bringing optimism into your life. Make sure the food is already washed (if it needs it) by the time it goes on display. Then you really can just walk by, pick up an apple, sink your teeth into it and go on your merry way in your home. If the food came with brand or price stickers on it, remove the stickers before putting it on display, or at least turn the sticker down so you don’t see it.
Too many pillows on a chair, couch, or bed say, “True rest will be elusive in this space.” The reason is that someone has to remove pillows before they can lie down on the bed or sit on the furniture. Twice I’ve consulted for wives who have said the exact same thing when I suggested that they get rid of the overabundance of decorative pillows on the bed: “My husband is going to love you.” I think to myself, “Well, of course—poor guy, he’s working all day and when he comes home, before he can stretch out on the bed, he has to remove a bunch of useless pillows.”
Often those decorative pillows have hard objects such as buttons sewn onto them. Those hard embellishments go completely against the idea of a pillow in the first place—a pillow should be about comfort. Excess pillows on chairs and couches can also symbolize a lack of friends, because the pillows occupy the space where people could be.
Here are a few more decorating photos that illustrate some of the points I’ve been making.
I hope you’re laughing as hard as I am at all the pillows on this bed of a fashion victim on the right. I won’t go on to discuss the many other things that are feng shui problems in this bedroom, but I will say that I have a hard time believing that ANYONE sleeps well in this room.
On the other hand, this simple, mostly gray bedroom below is a great example of restraint in pillows—two per person is ideal for a lot of people. The larger pillows can be placed at the corner of the sharp bedside tables to protect the sleepers from the poison arrows.
In this living room below, the bowl of apples (together with the forsythia blossoms) add a perfect touch of life to a room that could rather cold without them. I can count four pillows that I would do away with, however. I’d leave two (matching) pillows on the couch, and that’s all. I love barrel chairs and the pillows on these barrel chairs are an insult to the design of the chairs. If a barrel chair isn’t fabulously comfortable without a cushion, it’s the wrong barrel chair.
This dining area to the right is even better. The colorful fruit on the table is a way that real people accent the homes they actually LIVE IN. Also, I like that the beams are so high above the table that they don’t exert a negative influence on the diners.
In the name of glamour, status, trendiness, and pushing-the-envelope we’ve come up with some very false homes and living spaces. Let your home decor come together over time and you’ll have your version of a “calculated casual” look that will enchant both you and your guests. It will have the unexpected, yet inevitable, look of a natural landscape.