“What a beautiful house – Does anyone actually live here?”
It was allegedly the Duchess of Windsor who said that no woman could be too rich or too thin. The Duchess probably did not do her own decorating, but if she did, she might well have added that no house could be too tidy or too elegant.
A lot of homeowners would agree that there’s no such thing as a too-perfect home. Don’t we all want our abodes to look ready for the photographers from Architectural Digest to arrive at any time? Hardwood floors gleaming, fresh flowers perfectly arranged in their cut crystal vases, glossy magazines at just the right angle on the coffee table.
Except that many of us who have attended upscale house tours or even realtors’ open houses would concede that there is such a thing as a forebodingly beautiful house. Remember the grandmothers of previous generations who would put plastic slipcovers over the “good” furniture – making them completely unusable? Most interior designers agree that the tradition of museum-quality home décor is long gone. Just as many homes now forego formal dining rooms in favor of well-lit, welcoming kitchens with a center island around which hosts and guests alike can cluster, the trend in home décor is veering away from the too-perfect look.
So suppose you already know how to do the hard part: the beautiful presentation. Your hardwood floors gleam with a burnished glow, your end tables stay clutter-free, and no one ever leaves coffee mugs or sports bottles in the foyer. (Really? Maybe you’d consider doing an on-site neatness training for my family. But I digress.) Now that you’ve accomplished that challenging goal, it’s time to make your home look not just magnificent but also used and enjoyed – by a real live family. Below are a handful of decorators’ tips:
Small rugs accent polished hardwood floors nicely, breaking up the perfect-ness with a splash of color and texture. But you can also get color and texture by choosing a wide plank hardwood flooring style with so-called “imperfections.” Note the knotholes and wavy lines in these examples (Chestnut and Heart Pine) and how they keep the floor from looking overly formal.
Window treatments light enough to react to a passing breeze or circulating fan acknowledge nature in a way that cordoned swags do not. Curtains made of light, gauzy material, or lightweight blinds, make a room look much more “alive” than drapes so heavy that they never move. Good advice on choosing a window treatment is available here.
Oversized oil paintings can work well in a large formal room, but smaller drawings or artsy photos can be very effective in breaking up the formality. For example, in this picture, note how quickly the cluster of framed pictures draws the eye.
Use books as decorations. We’ve all seen the coffee tables with the perfectly arrayed copies of Town and Country or the tomes on Impressionism, but books such as favorite collections of poetry, memoirs and biographies, and travel guides look both pretty and “real” – as if someone has read and savored them, rather than just arranged them there.
Memorabilia: Too much of it can multiply into clutter, but placed carefully, it looks unique and clever. Favorite high-quality trophies or medals, vintage sports accessories, antique jewelry or purses, your grandfather’s cigar box, your great-aunt’s perfume bottle. The authenticity of well-loved objects will show through. And authenticity is ultimately the goal. Your home should reflect your personality, not your decorator’s talents. So enjoy that beautiful home – and let your guests see that there are real people living inside!