Friday, October 16, 2009

Three Questions to Finding Your Own Style

At the bookstore, I put all the magazines that I didn't want back in the rack and slipped my trusty "This Old House" and "This Old House Interiors" under my arm. My graphic designer friend headed off to the art book section and I meandered over to the books on home design. One of them immediately caught my eye. It was called, The House Always Wins: Create the Home You Love-Without Busting Your Budget by Marni Jameson. Well, all right! That sounded perfect. I grabbed a comfy chair and settled in.

The first few pages had me hooked! The first chapter was all about figuring out your own sense of style and creating a plan. It was fabulous - and funny. Mrs. Jameson is very self depreciating writer and her own decorating horror stories populate the book. I enjoyed reading it so much that I ended up buying it along with my magazines.

Since finishing "The House Always Wins," I have to admit I was slightly disappointed with it. The first and last chapters were fabulous, but the middle sections of the book were really written with a different kind of consumer in mind. In the beginning and end of the book, the author talks about finding your own look, waiting until you have the money to buy - and not settling for something you hate, just because you can afford it. She writes a lot about how to make the right decision the first time, so you don't waste time and money on things you ultimately don't like. I found all of this information incredibly helpful.

However, in the middle chapters she goes step by step through designing the ideal home - basically from the joists on down. In other words, this book is fabulous if you were building a new house or a condo and were overwhelmed by having to make all the decisions on everything from flooring to light fixtures. She helps you build a plan. The book would also be great if you were moving into a new house and were in the process of deciding what of your old stuff stays and what goes... and what you need to buy for the new place. But for someone like me, who has a house full of stuff and not planning on moving anytime too soon, it kind of misses the boat. I was hoping for a little more on how to use what you already have.

The other problem I had with the book was the idea of "a budget." The author and I have two entirely different ideas of what that means. She seems to think nothing of hiring a $800 an hour designer to help her buy stuff. Me? I don't have $80, let alone $800 an hour. Now, in her defense she makes a very good point - occasionally it makes sense to pay a professional on the front end so you don't make more costly mistakes later. Hey, that is why I had a pro paint my house rather than attempting to do it myself, but with the number of consultants she called, I kept thinking, "Good grief - you're a freelance writer, so how can you afford this? What in heaven's name does your husband do for a living??"

There was, however, one a set of questions in the front of the book that really set me on fire and motivated me. She suggested asking yourself these three questions...

Who am I?
Where do I come from?
Why am I here?

The question "Who am I?" gets at the heart of the matter and asks what you need in a house. A family of five is going to need something different than single woman, a sports lover has different needs than a book lover, and so on. Here's how I answered that question:

I'm a single divorced woman who loves to read, cook, garden, make things and work on projects. I have a small in-home business of selling books and I blog. I am a landlord. I am also extremely busy - I have multiple jobs and I do a lot of volunteer work. I do occasionally like to entertain, but it is usually either small gatherings of close friends or my annual big holiday party.

From this little paragraph I jotted down the following statements:

- My home needs to be a haven - a place I feel safe and comfortable.
- It needs to be organized and low maintenance because I am so busy.
- I need good working kitchen - I need to be able to get to everything I need.
- I need space for art, for working on my crafts and projects.
- I need a workshop and outdoor storage for tools.
- I need a home office for my computers and my files.
- I need space for my book selling business.
- I need a place for storing and displaying my personal books, as well as places I enjoy reading.
- The house needs to be as energy efficient as I can make it because of my tight budget, and sound efficient as I have a tenant.
- Entertaining should be a component in the house, but does not need to be a main focus.
- I need to be able to unwind at home. I want to be able to blow off stress when I get home.

I also jotted down some words that I want to use to describe my home:

Elegant, comfortable, warm, cozy, beautiful, happy

So, what did this tell me about my home? Quite a bit! Some of it was rather surprising. For example, one thing that I immediately realized is that I need to reorganize my kitchen cupboards. See, when my husband and I moved into the house, he and his daughter unpacked us. (I don't remember where I was at the time, working maybe?) Anyway, she arranged the kitchen. Then when I was separated, I just took a few things and left. My ex didn't change much either. So, when I moved in back, it was just easier to put things where they were. Essentially, I am working with a kitchen that was put together by the daughter of my ex-husband!

Now some things make sense - the glasses are by the sink, the silverware by the dishwasher, but a lot of it does not flow well for someone who loves to cook. I am always having to crouch down or get out my stepladder. It's logical - from my ex-stepdaughter's point of view - not mine! In fact, just recently I re-arranged three drawers to make them work better with how I cook. Instantly it felt so much better and made me just a little bit happier - and it cost nothing to do.

Keeping with the kitchen theme for a moment, the other thought that occurred to me was to get more and more off the counters. Because I am busy, I want to just wipe down the counters and go. Sure, I'll leave out the things I use every day, but other than that - I'm scaling way down. These are the things that I am really excited about. They aren't things I would have thought of, but these little changes are big to me. I remember when I first moved in thinking that I didn't like the way my ex's daughter had arranged a few things, and that I would fix it later, but out of convenience or compromise, I never did. Is it any wonder my house hasn't felt like my own?

The next question the author's list was "Where do I come from?"

I grew up in a home with handcrafted furniture that was made by my father and a mother who had very expensive taste in home furnishings, so I appreciate well made pieces. I am especially attracted to beautiful wood pieces in deep rich wood colors. I also have an appreciation for art, particularly local artists, and interesting objects that look handcrafted. I like things that appear to be “one of a kind.”

For a few years my mother owned an antique booth and I spent a lot of time there, so I love 1800s Victorian furnishings - elegant, decorative, rich with detail. This also fits my home, which was built in this era. I am sentimental and like having things that were given to me around me, along with photos and other objects that remind me of loved ones. That might be part of my love of antiques - creating my own history. I like things that have a story. For example, when I look at my friend Shelly's rocking chair, I remember our first annual Ladies Garage Sale. When I wind the Grandfather clock my father built, I remember all the stories it carries - not all of them good, but all a part of my life.

The final question on the list was, "Where am I?" and it referred to your neighborhood. The idea is that you can't change a tiger's stripes, and while the architecture of a house doesn't have to dictate how you furnish it, you may not want to do country in a New York penthouse or Modern in an old barn, unless you are very, very bold. My area is made up of older homes built mid to late 1800s to early 1900s. These are Victorian homes, frequently wildly painted, many with lots of details like gingerbread and decorative cornices. It is also an artistic community. My neighborhood has many of the newly popular restaurants, bars and shops. There is also a big interest in green technology in my area. My neighbors are a lot of college and post college aged people, as many of the homes have apartments in them. These are the kinds of people who like liking in quirky apartments and old houses.

This last question really just solidified what I was feeling about style - blending artistic with traditional. Keeping the Victorian style, but not being hemmed in by it. It is one more step towards figuring out this whole "style-thing."

Actually all these questions were helpful, and they pointed out a bunch of min-projects I can do, like cleaning off my counter tops, that will help make my house more functional, without spending money. If you are interested in picking up the book, you can find it here:

Before and after photos by: srbyug
Via: Flickr

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