WE ALL HAVE a personal style, made up of influences both aesthetic and intangible. Our homes tell the story of that style: where we’ve been, where we are right now and even, a bit, about where we’d soon like to be.
“What’s your favorite style?” someone asked me the other day. “Personal,” I quickly replied. Receiving a crinkled nose and furrowed brow in return, I continued: “Style derived from one’s personal taste and needs. Too often, people try to paint a pretty picture, a contrived notion of what a home should be. A home should function for, and be a function of, the people who live in it.”
The furrow gave way to arched eyebrows. I started laughing: “Should you kick away the soapbox, or should I?” By now we were both smiling. “Just make it personal,” I said, “and it will be great.”
It’s always struck me that people allow their wardrobes to change and morph as they do the same — yet our homes typically remain rather static. We don’t often give ourselves the freedom to play, to make mistakes, to evolve in our homes the way we do with our clothing. I would argue, though, that our homes are a truer reflection of us, our families and our lives than our clothes are. We tend to think that altering our homes is much more expensive than buying a new item of clothing. But is it? You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make changes that have a real impact.
To imbue a sense of change, I frequently move small things around my home. Something I’ve collected on a trip — even just a rock or an object found in a dusty corner of an old shop — will undoubtedly displace another item, instigating a full rotation. It feels like a fresh breeze.
Play around! I’d love to live amid a Dan Flavin work, but I’ll never be able to. Instead, I have three long colored-glass tubes leaning against one wall. I play the game often: See something inspiring that’s out of reach? Look for its cousin, and live with that.
I rarely move furniture, however; pieces usually sit exactly where I put them when I moved in, and I don’t question my decision. Sometimes, though, I’m forced to. A friend who had never been to my home came over recently. Why, he asked, did I have a large piece housing nothing more than stereo components and old CDs, when books were on tables and under benches and chairs? “Shouldn’t you get a bookcase instead?” he inquired.
Well, of course I should. But the furniture in question was a piece I loved. I coveted it for years before acquiring it. If I moved it from where it had always been, it would have nowhere else to go. So I began asking myself the same questions I pose to others all the time: What do you want your home to be, and how do you really live?
Picking three words that define your style, I find, helps greatly. Do you want your home to be cozy, serene, comfortable, happy, colorful, light, dense, spare? For me, it’s textured, layered and varied.
How do you actually live? Lacking ample square footage and numerous rooms, city dwellers have an easier time answering this question than those with more space: Do you use your living room? Your dining room? There’s no harm in being both realistic and aspirational: I’m dying for something contemporary, austere and clean, and also something with a jolt of color. Both would stand out in bas-relief against the backdrop of all my layers and would represent a real change.
Do I break the rules I set for myself? Yes, and you should too. When you see something you love, get it. You’ll always find a place for it — even if it’s a large, unwieldy but eminently covetable piece. Which now, by the way, houses some (but by no means all) of my books.