Cut and Paste

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed an increasing number of decorating books being organized by room.  This results in a parade of entry halls, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and on.  It comes off as a sort of scrap book, disjointed images of a common theme cobbled together on large pages.  Like printed Pinterest.

I am confounded.  I have a few books that are organized by color and I have found these handy when casting about for inspiration or stumped by combination.  Southern Accents on Color comes to mind and I still refer to it nine years after I bought it.  Others, focusing on one object or another – chairs, wallpaper, curtains – serve as handy reference books.

But finding a catalogue of living rooms leaves me cold.  Worse still if I know that all the rooms of the house are, indeed, included, leaving me flipping back and forth trying to piece the puzzle together.  It’s like meeting someone at a cocktail party and visiting for ten minutes, “Well, she seems nice.”  A fleeting impression, but no depth, no perspective, no relation.

Seeing the house as a whole allows me to see it better.  Seeing how each room relates to another shows me how the decorator tackled the challenges that the space presented, shows me where and why he chose to make a statement and where he chose to take a breath and demur.  Having the house portioned out creates that often jarring experience one has at show houses; no common thread.

Beyond that, it shifts the focus from home to things.  Perhaps this is the crux of the matter and it matters only to me.  I think homes tell stories.  True, some tell sad and neglected stories and some tell desperate and pretentious stories and some tell heartfelt and lasting stories; they all speak to me.  When there is no narrative, when we don’t know that that particular African mask was brought back from the bachelor’s grandfather’s grand tour or if it was uncovered at a Paris flea market or simply received a good sanding after its purchase at Pier One, it is just a thing.  It tells us nothing.

I look to all this stuff, the books, the magazines, the style sections and sites to open my eyes to how to do it better.  Not just decorate, but create a home for my family and friends.  When I see those rooms all lined up like shoebox dioramas on a schoolroom shelf, it makes me want to open my scissor and drag the blade along the fold; to set the house in order.

Image, Pablo Picasso, Studio with Plaster Head, 1925.

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12 thoughts on “Cut and Paste

  1. I agree Patricia. I love to read the history and details of the home and even about the owners when possible. I makes it real and meaningful.

    Art by Karena

  2. I think you have hit on exactly the problem here: so many of these books are about the *things*, and how to arrange the *things* so that they look pretty. Not so much about the meaning of possessions, or how people actually *live* in the home. It's partially because we're a consumer-based society, and partially the fault of the medium (in print it's easier to visually present items than to form words to describe the experience of life). To me it's just like those people you see lately who arrange their books by size or color — the books are then just things with which to decorate, not the sum of their pages or the memory of the experience of reading them.

    Anyway, thanks once more for a thought-provoking post….I've been lurking for a while, and really enjoy your blog.


  3. Agree completely! Bunny WIlliams 'An Affair with a House' is one of my very favorite home design books for all your reasons given! You said it so well!

  4. I agree!! What you said that particularly struck me is that the more people "read" these types of books there seems to be the notion that every room has to be "over the top" … they miss the punch of a special room and the calmness of another. Not lacking personality, just not screaming it! And we need a place to actually live!

  5. Very well articulated. I think this is a symptom of our plugged in "immediate" generation. People was instant gratification an they are not interested in the details as much. Like you, I want the story.

  6. Books like these are like a boxful of clippings. Like you, I want a beginning, middle and end of story: kinda like your excellent post.

  7. I went to bed after reading this last night and not commenting, and woke up still thinking about it (which happens often with your posts). No matter how glossy and perfect photos of interiors are, it never compares to the feeling you get when you enter (either through print or in person) an amazing interior that still has the detritus of personality strewn about. If you take away life experiences (things you bought while traveling), relationships (things you inherited), things you scraped and saved for, etc., it just becomes a bunch of stuff.

  8. Well said. It isn't just the story a house tells that is mysterious and fascinating, but the story told over time. I'm perplexed as well by the slightly stressed-out need I see to "finish" a house. I don't understand how to remove the home from the context of one's life. What happens when the house is finished? A while back I did an interview with Parker about antiques, and he said he loves antiques because you can never really own it, you're just a caretaker of it until it passes to another generation. I think about that a lot, and hope that the idea of house as a stage set has not surpassed the deeper idea of home as the foundation where we live our lives.

  9. I absolutely agree! I was just thinking the same thing the other night when I was flipping through Alexa Hampton's The Language of Interior Design. She has it laid out where she shows the whole house. It was such a nice relief from how so many books are laid out anymore. The room by room model just leaves me unsatisfied.

    Thank you for the great work you do on this great blog.

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