Every year at this time, I look in my rearview mirror to check what the heck just happened. I flip through my 50 columns and extract my favorite nuggets of advice, one lesson from each month. Here are my top takeaways from the first six months of 2014:
JANUARY: While researching a column on linen, I interviewed Richard Ostell, a respected fashion and home designer from Westchester, New York. He made me love linen even more, which I didn’t think possible. Linen in a home is like a sigh of relief. “Linen is honest, simple, humble and durable,” he reminded me in an hour-long linen love fest. What’s more, and here’s where I really fell for the classic material, linen never needs to be ironed.
“Ever?” I asked.
“It defeats the point of it,” he said. “The rumpled look is part of its beauty. It should be left as it is.”
I let this sink in: I can get a better look with less effort. I am all over that.
Lesson: Linen, like life, is better relaxed.
FEBRUARY: I was awakened to the genius in everyday design when I heard about an exhibit, “Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things.” After its stop at the San Jose Museum of Art, I caught it at the Museum of Design in Atlanta. Laura Flusche, that museum’s executive director, redefined great design for me: It is not some hoity-toity, fancy-pants status symbol reserved for only those who can pay big money for it. It’s the opposite. The exhibit paid tribute to 36 ordinary objects that have become indispensable — the zipper, Bubble Wrap, the light bulb, the corkscrew, the rubber band, the paperclip — items so useful billions have been made.
Lesson: Great design can be so useful we don’t even think about it having been designed. Therein lies its genius.
MARCH: Readers raised my consciousness. They cried “fowl” after I wrote a column about how feathers were trending up in interior decor. They pointed out feathers are fine when the plumes are a motif in, say, wallpaper, fabric or tableware. But when actual feathers from endangered flocks are used for decoration, that is a bird of different color. This new awareness prompted me to look into the impact some other home decor choices have on our planet.
“Most people aren’t thinking about what impact their purchasing decisions have on animal and plant life around the world when they buy home furnishings,” said Craig Hoover, chief of wildlife trade and conservation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They’re thinking: That would look awesome on my coffee table.
But items made of carved ivory or tortoise shell come at a steep price to elephants and sea turtles. Showy pieces of pilfered coral deprive the thousands of species of fish that rely on reefs of food and shelter.
Lesson: If a home accessory comes at a cost to our planet or its wildlife, just say no.
APRIL: I moved for the fourth time in three years. Which awakened me to the importance of patterns in daily living. Though we take our routines for granted, they are the tracks that ground our days, the rudders that guide and tether us. When all your things are in place, you can swiftly get dressed, put on mascara, feed the dog, pay a bill, check Facebook, scramble an egg, floss, set the table and recycle the newspaper without thinking. When you move, you take every one of your earthly possessions and put them in a new place. Patterns get destroyed. But moving also gives you another chance to streamline your daily living and create new, better patterns.
Lesson: Living well is less about where you live than how you live. Creating new patterns that allow you to more efficiently get ready for bed or set the table add up to better living.
MAY: I found more color courage. For me, on a fear scale of 1 to 10 (10 being sky diving naked while speaking in public), putting big, bold, color in a room was a 12. The idea causes even the most intelligent, competent and confident people to dodge tango tangerine or sassy cerulean and default to benign beige and safe-harbor gray.
“Color is such an affordable pleasure, yet many people get stuck living in bland spaces because they’re afraid of making a mistake,” said color consultant Barbara Schirmeister. “It’s a shame.” One cure for color cowards is color blocking, which Schirmeister defines as the unexpected use of color in a large, confident way.
Make you nervous? Try this. Picture a completely white room. Now on top of your neutral background, add a turquoise sofa, a lemon-yellow chair, and hot pink window shades. Don’t worry about using unexpected combinations. Congratulations. You just color blocked.
Lesson: Color takes courage. Dive in. Don’t be dull.
JUNE: I discovered the role of irony in design. My ninth-grade English teacher was the first to define the word irony for me. “Irony,” Miss Krisko said, “is the opposite of what you expect to happen.” That word sprang to mind as I looked through a new design book, “Think Home: Everything you need to plan and create your perfect home,” by Judith Wilson. While I expected the usual eye candy, I found instead pages of the unexpected.
For instance, the author placed a muted celery green sofa against a wall papered in acid lime. Pairing a subtle color and its electric counterpart gave the room a welcome jolt.
Lesson: Next time you decorate, try doing the opposite of what’s expected. Counterintuitive moves often surprise in the best sense.
Join me next week when I share highlights from the second half of 2014. Happy new year!
Contact Marni Jameson through www.marnijameson.com.