This is the question that has been haunting me as I continue my year-long study of English interior design.
I am not an artist or a designer. I identify as a scholar. I approach aesthetic pursuits with this detached dichotomy firmly planted in my brain. I love artists and yet their instincts mystify me entirely. I am instead comfortable in the realm of cold, hard facts and logical decision-making patterns. I cannot SEE that this chintz will contrast marvelously with that stripe, even though I appreciate the final result. Aesthetes, to me, are as mysterious as prophets.
So I turn to books instead. Or study fashionable friends’ homes with a voyeur’s eye. Or listen to my mother, who is a native-born interior designer, even though she never pursued the profession officially. The hope is that if I study enough naturally gifted designers, my analysis of their good choices will translate into good choices of my own.
The problem is that I’m not convinced that this is the case. Can design instincts be taught? Will assessing the 500th home tour from House & Garden actually result in better choices for our home renovation? Will my feverish pinning of all relevant English design inspiration result in a refreshed and beautiful home?
I think the answer is maybe. Will I ever have an EYE for interior design like many of my gifted friends and colleagues? Probably not. But can I be taught to make better selections? To fight against some of my initial (bad) instincts? I suspect so.
Pinpointing and naming my design aesthetic has at least been helpful. I am solidly enamored with English homes, despite some of my initial desires, and I plan to say more about this, in a notebook-y sort of way, soon.
In the meantime, you can find me nervously taking notes on all the interior design advice I can get my hands on. I’ve been particularly guided by Beata Heuman’s beautiful, thoughtful book, Every Room Should Sing. While I don’t think I’ll ever be gutsy enough to mimic her wild rooms, I am inspired by her counsel. More in this vein soon.
I do wish our library had more books by the real, traditional designers (e.g., Dorothy Draper; even want to read Edith Wharton’s book on home design), but the hefty stack I’ve gone through so far has certainly refined my personal taste.
Opinions I have only very recently formed
I don’t really like American interior design blogs. For one, all of their homes tend to look the same; and two, I don’t like the way they look (every room is a different color; chevrons and Marrakesh patterns on every conceivable wall and rug; unnecessarily painted furniture, etc.). Three, not everything you buy has to be subjected to some DIY project. Often, it is good and pleasing to leave things alone.
Accordingly, white is the only acceptable color for walls. (Although I could tolerate extremely pale, washed-out colors in some small rooms. Or a light gray.)
We do not need more things.
Countries whose interior aesthetics I generally admire: France, Japan, any country considered part of Scandinavia
Beware of trends.
A room that looks like it was designed by someone is not a room I want to live in. Rooms should be real and livable and welcoming.
Deborah Needleman knows everything that is useful to know.
Home aesthetic goals
Aspiring to a home that is…
Welcoming and comfortable.
Outfitted with only the beautiful and necessary pieces. (Loving the Shaker dictum: “Do not make anything that is not both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, be sure that it is also beautiful.”)
Replete with allusions to nature.
Capable of eschewing the principles of wabi sabi. Whatever that means in actual practice.
Again, have no idea how all of these things would be realized. But they are what I’m thinking about right now. I don’t pretend to know anything about all of this. But I like learning and forming (bizarrely strong) opinions just the same.