There’s this little game I play with myself every time I see someone’s home for the first time. If I don’t know them very well yet, I try to figure them out by getting clues from the way their home is “lived in.” Our homes tell a story. Sometimes they tell the truth about who we really are and other times we’ve created our homes to tell the story of who we’d like to be. I’ve become really good at this little game. Nine times out of ten, I can usually read what someone’s about just by looking around their home.
I was at a location scout with my producers for a possible upcoming episode of our show. The woman who lives in the house, let’s call her “Kelly,” is fun, young, smart, energetic, and full of personality. She has all this really eclectic artwork from her many travels all over her wall and great unique finds scattered throughout her home. None of it really fits together, but that’s fine because Kelly’s personality is reflected in her space. One of the producers makes a comment to me about the lack of color on the walls and pretty much everywhere else, except for in her random art collection. “Are you afraid of commitment?” I blurt out in Kelly’s direction. For the first time since we’ve been in Kelly’s home she is silent and looks at me with wide-eyed astonishment. She softly says, “I’m petrified of it. How did you know?” It turns out that Kelly is a good sport and excuses my sudden impulse to just say what’s on my mind. As colorful as she is in many areas of her life, it turns out that when it comes to relationships, she’s a bit cautious. By putting color on her walls she would have to make that commitment to a specific choice and it’s too much to repaint if she’s not happy. She can move a painting from one wall to another, but to paint that wall…well, that’s a whole other dilemma. This isn’t some “special” or “magical” gift that I have. It’s really just the ability to be able to understand who people are in their space and in life. We all spend so much time running around trying to acquire what is “right” or what the new trend in something might be that we sometimes fail to look at how we live and what our lifestyle choices are like. Walking into someone’s house for the first time is a first impression that speaks to who you are going to assume they are. Look around your home and try to see it objectively. What does it say about you? Is it really speaking to the way you live? Or even the way you might want to live…the lifestyle you’d like to have?
Space is a very powerful thing. Creating an environment that reflects what you love, hope, and wish for can have an unconscious domino effect in your life. Think about the way you feel when you enter a very sterile office building with no character or sense of history, bright florescent lighting, hard concrete floors, as opposed to when you’re walking into a café with warm, well-worn wooden tables, comfortable chairs, fresh flowers, ambient light, and the smell of fresh coffee.
Clients sometimes tell me during an initial meeting that they don’t know what they want because they have no taste, or they’ll look at my portfolio and point to a certain room and ask for that exact room. Every detail in the photo, someone else’s very personal space, they want. When I ask them why, the response is usually, “I’m not sure-it looks nice.” Then the hard work begins. Designing a room is actually quite easy. Understanding how to do it right for you and no one else requires that you stop decorating and start a lifestyle, and the beauty of that is you already know how.
Ask yourself the following questions:
(you might want to write your answers down)
1) when was the last time you felt happy, or comfortable in a space? (any space)
2) what was it? (hotel, restaurant, someone’s home)
3) what did it look like? (be specific. colors, furnishings, floors, accessories, lighting, etc.)
4) what did it feel like? (again, specific)
5) what about that space was relatable for you?
By asking and answering those types of questions you can begin to understand what you’re drawn to and how you actually live. Take note of some of your usual haunts. Why one bakery over another? How come you gravitate toward a certain hotel in London when there’s another one that is basically the same price closer to where you need to be? You already have an unconscious (and sometimes conscious) sense of what makes you feel happy, comfortable, and even “cool.” Now you have to start applying that into the way you put a room together, shop for a dinner party, make a meal, and set the table.
Once you have begun to answer some of these questions and start to look at the way you really live, you can break down the process of starting to create your space by working on a three-step process.
1) figure out what your needs are in your room.
2) determine what your budget is (reality based)
3) examine what you really desire.
In order to figure out what your needs are in your room (home), look back on the work you did in observing the way you live. Also, take into account the following:
1) do you live alone?
2) do you like to entertain?
3) when you do entertain, what does that look like?
(small informal gatherings? large sit-down dinners?)
4) do you have children?
(how much space do they need?)
5) do you live alone?
6) do friends and family stay over for an extended amount of time?
All the answers will give light to how your home will be set up. Keep in mind that your home should change based on the changes in your life. A home with young children is very different from one with kids in college. As your life changes so should your home. Figuring out your needs also means analyzing each room you plan to work on. How will I use my kitchen? Do I want friends and family to hang out in there while I cook? Am I planning to have a family in this house? Am I the formal dining room type or would something a bit more casual do the trick? Do I want an indoor/outdoor feel? By answering these types of questions you can begin to feel like you have a handle on how to start decorating, while keeping in mind that your lifestyle will drive the design process.
One of the great things about knowing your lifestyle is that it focuses your selection process and eliminates all other choices. There is less of a chance you’ll be overwhelmed when you walk into a furniture store with hundreds of choices if you’ve already set up a plan of what works for you and what doesn’t. Now that you’ve got completely figured yourself out and your needs, you need to figure out the budget. If you’re working with a limited budget, don’t stress out and design your home in stages. If you try to do the whole thing at once with a limited budget you will wind up cutting corners that ultimately you will regret. By allowing your home to evolve and take shape according to a realistic time frame and budget, not only will you end up with a home you love, but it will feel more acquired and filled with personality as opposed to “thrown together.”
Now comes the fun part and I think the most challenging….what do you really desire? Check out your list of all the places you examined. What were your responses to them? What colors stood out as favorites? What did you hate? What lighting made you feel really comfortable? All the spaces you take in (museums, cafes, friend’s homes, retail stores) give you so much valuable information about the way you respond to different elements that now you are armed with knowledge you can use when choosing the colors, furniture, rugs, objects in your home. Don’t be afraid to clip photos from magazines or book that inspire you. I do it daily and the photos aren’t just of home goods. They can be photos of a certain dish in a cooking magazine because I’m drawn to the colors, a car interior, a postcard, the box my pasta comes in. Also do a little inventory of your wardrobe. It’s quite telling. Are you mostly drawn to darker colors? Is there a reoccurring color theme? Is your wardrobe mostly traditional or are you a bit of a fashion risk taker? In your process to find what you love and respond to, don’t be afraid to also notice what you don’t. What annoys or upsets you about a space, a color, the way objects are displayed, a certain type of wood, is also very informative. By knowing that you respond to spaces that are very clean, precise, and functional it will make designing your space so much easier. You’re using tools that pertain directly to you and not some trend of a “signature look” someone might be trying to impose on you.
Most important, and I can’t stress this enough…be honest with yourself. If you really aren’t the eccentric, bohemian type you’ve always tried to be and in your heart you’re more traditional in your tastes (or vice-versa), don’t force your home to be something you’re not. We’ve all seen the people who can pull off the most daring of fashions because they are being true to who they are. Truth in lifestyle is powerful!
We’re all pretty complicated people with many different layers to who we are. Why should our homes only be one, very specific look? Just because you listen to classical music doesn’t mean you wouldn’t wear jeans and a t-shirt. Rooms need to feel a bit off balance, a bit quirky in order for them to come alive. The more you know yourself and understand your lifestyle, the more your home will be a great example of who you are in it.