By Mary Catherine Adams
In an increasingly consumeristic and materialistic culture, it’s no wonder that interior design trends come and go, and people redecorate every few years. We are inundated with images, swept up in the latest trends, and subtly persuaded to question our taste.
However, most of us want to be confident in our interior styles and to avoid the emotional and budgetary damage of serial redecorating—not to mention the support we then give to consumerism. We want to know we are investing in pieces we will love for a long time to come.
How do we find our personal interior styles? How do we execute them in our homes? There are many approaches, but I propose a beginning point to crafting a timeless and personal home: We can consider who we were as children.
All images courtesy of the author.
What we loved and did then often reveals who we are, even if adulthood has confused us or if those childhood dreams and desires need some honing and reshaping. I encourage you to ask these questions of yourself: If there were no limits, what does my dream house look like? What colors and patterns and shapes adorn that place? What does it feel like to be there?
Attending to these questions draws us away from the tendency to compare or judge ourselves according to the dictums of social media. If we are honest, the answers reveal personal interior style in its rawest form. It may be helpful to write them down. Based on the culture that surrounded us as children and our inherent interests, we arrive at a set of attractions and values that are unrepeatably ours.
Simultaneously, reconnecting with childhood might require facing desires and tastes within ourselves that we find intimidating or frightening or embarrassing. Memories of our childhood homes may arise, inviting us to confront pain or disappointment. Conversely, we might find elements from our parents’ houses that we want to emulate because of the joy they brought us. In both cases, we can be grateful. These also shape our styles, teaching us what we want and do not want.
For this kind of work, we need time—and patience. Finding our personal interior styles likely cannot happen overnight. Being willing to connect with our loves and desires, we have also to be willing to wait as they reveal themselves or reveal themselves in more mature form. There may be a few mishaps along the way: buying a lamp at a good price but then later realizing we don’t like it; foregoing a vase because it seemed superfluous and then finding later there was a perfect place for it. Let’s see these as opportunities to learn about ourselves and our homes; resell, donate, try again. The process is the art.
Along with being patient with the process, we need to give ourselves permission. Decorating our houses is mostly morally neutral territory. It is about crafting a beautiful place that enriches the lives of those who come in. But many of us agonize over our aesthetic, ironically, because we give it too much importance. In a way, by constantly challenging what we like, we idolize interior decorating and prevent ourselves from living.
We allow a self-critical voice to air its views. On the one hand, it says, “You can’t like red—only neutrals,” but on the other, “Neutrals are so trendy. You’ve got to get more colorful” or maybe, “Stop with the antiques; this looks like an old lady’s living room.” Pay attention to that little critical voice and question it with a laugh: “What’s wrong with red?” “What did neutral colorways ever do to you?” “I loved my grandma’s house!”
That voice is just the same old one most of us face, fearful of risk; it is distinct from the gentle voice that might say, “That red wall may be overwhelming in the morning. How about some red hand towels instead?” The first is abusive; the second, fruitful.
With these things in mind, we can start putting rooms together, prioritizing the pieces that are most important to us: sofa, dining table, headboard? The priority varies for everyone, and there is no wrong way to begin—except not to begin. Keep an active budget, a clear image of that dream house, and keep your eyes open for the things you find beautiful. Listen to your inner child’s attractions.
Unfortunately—or fortunately—I think few of us can fit our personal interior styles perfectly within a given decorating style. “Midcentury modern,” “traditional,” “glam,” “vintage:” they are helpful categories but limited. What attracts us and speaks to our souls may fall loosely into them, but a truly personal home will engage with many styles and eras and be impossible to categorize fully. Its beauty will be entirely new.
Mary Catherine writes and works in interior decorating in rural southern Michigan, where she lives with her husband and children.