I understand that minimalism is on the wane, and maximalism is on the rise. A natural progression of thesis and its antithesis. Some people do well living one extreme or the other. I, however, think happiness lies in a synthesis of the two, or alternating the two, or having minimalist spaces AND maximalist spaces in one dwelling. Or re-accessorizing a room frequently when the minimalist or maximalist mood hits. Why must I choose one or another? All or nothing thinking is a slippery slope leading to despair. A calm spot here, an exciting spot there… changing it all out on a whim… that is the formula for me.
I confess to an ill-fated experiment with minimalism. I thought minimalism would give me freedom. However, it wasn’t fun and I didn’t feel free. I purged things that I now deeply regret losing. I now believe in rightsizing the total amount of one’s stuff relative to the size of one’s space. I therefore abandoned my attempts at a disciplined, austere, minimalist lifestyle some time ago. I agree with minimalists in that too much stuff steals your freedom. I just have my own idea as to what is the right amount of stuff. Austerity might look like freedom initially, but then it just looks sterile and alienating and makes my heart sink. The right amount is directly proportional to the size of one’s dwelling and the negative space one needs to feel good emotionally. Period.
Not to sound like a minimalist, but too much stuff bogs down your life and spirit. The right amount of beloved stuff, relative to our space and needs, makes the arrangement of objects an aesthetic undertaking, balancing them with the right colors and textiles, rather than an exercise in eeking out endless and ever-inadequate storage solutions. Way more fun. Sometimes maximalism is about a riotous cacophony of stuff that somehow harmonizes, but sometimes maximalism is about a robust palette and an exuberant mix of pattern, and less about the excessive objects. Expressing the maximalist aesthetic is a personal undertaking that needs to be done in a individual way. It simply behooves us to make our choices intentional, and not a result of stuff overflow.
The lion-hearted among us can embrace maximalism in every corner of their home. Those with voluminous spaces and palatial homes can embrace maximalism with no fear of overwhelm. Others, who dwell in more modestly sized spaces like me, need to use maximalism strategically so that we can truly enjoy those maximalist visual moments without feeling consumed by them.
Those of us who live in a smaller space and have very sensitive nervous systems must approach maximalism strategically. Lavish maximalism works best for me in places where I pass through, or where I spend relatively shorter periods of time. A dining room roaring in color, or a powder room ravished in pattern, are my perfect spaces to express a passionate love for visual excess. These spaces are designed to delight. Quiet reflective spaces can reside elsewhere.
This is a solution for when we are torn between wanting calm but also not wanting to be bored. Grouping interesting or repetitive shapes in colors that are very low contrast to the walls does the job beautifully. Hence, I feel visually engaged but not overstimulated. I cultivate a collection of white and clear crystal objects to play with, both which create no-contrast interest against my apartment’s landlord-white walls. It may sound extreme, white or clear against white, but one must cater to one’s nervous system and I don’t do it everywhere. I assure you that I love color and do embrace it in some spots. A pure maximalist would surely mock me, but multiple objects in a low-contrast palette is a good way to cater to both maximalism AND my delicate sensibilities.
Sometimes I am in the mood for maximalism and sometimes I’m not. There are spots in my house that morph according to mood. This is accomplished by keeping a revolving collection of beloved objects so I can thin or maximize vignettes according to mood. Also, using temporary hanging solutions for pictures allow me to add or subtract pictures from a wall with no damage, and to introduce the right amount of negative space my happiness requires at any given point in time. Textiles are easy enough to swap out and store. Pure indulgence.
I recently decided that I emotionally needed more negative visual space, so I rearranged some art and replaced some larger pieces with smaller ones. I also created more breathing room between my beloved pieces of art pottery. Slightly more minimal, though definitely not minimalist. Easy enough.
I believe a room has two focal points: the one you see when you enter the room, and the wall you are facing when you most often sit in the room. To prevent overwhelm, the walls I look at the most tend to be more restrained in color. The walls that I see when entering a room often merit more drama. The challenge comes in making the room work as a whole. It can be done.
A creative tension of maximalism, calm, and flexibility, let me have my cake and eat it too. That’s how I do maximalism. My things have been naturally and lovingly curated over the course of my lifetime. I make no apologies. I love my things and like to feel that they reflect a rich life. I defend our right to beautiful things, and I aim for peaceful co-existence with said beautiful things. My things have all earned their real estate by being beautiful or useful or iconic or sentimental. Long live things. And exuberance.
I want to introduce little seed pearls to this blog. The point is to share individual words or phrases that can resonate within our psyches, unwittingly tripping cascades of ideas, or spinning delicate whirlpools of innate knowing. The right little pearl seed lifestyles filled with meaning and wonder.
The Tao of mermaid
“Fluid” and “buoyant” are my new loves. These words embody the Tao of Mermaid.
Taoist writers often use water imagery to communicate the power of softness. Lao Tzu wrote that, “Nothing in the world is more soft and yielding than water. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.”
Another water metaphor is that of surrendering to a river, which can effortlessly guide us past the rocks.
These words help me cope with a world that has become both scary and arbitrary. I hope they inspire the best counter-measure in me the next time someone is rude. “Fluid” and “buoyant” tap into my powerful childhood desire to be a mermaid. They connect me to my Piscean nature and magnify it into a formidable force.
Mermaids and mermen, fluidity and buoyancy are our gifts. They can help us to better navigate this perplexing world.
Seared ribeye tempts and tantalizes many of us. Great steak, paired with a salad and an exceptional glass of red wine, is rapturous. Cook it with respect, and it become a celebration shared by many. It’s like participating in an act shared by the collective consciousness.
The steak mystique
Steak symbolizes the good life to many people. A friend in grade school huffed, “Company dropped by and the adults ate all the steaks. We kids had to have hot dogs!”
Steak MEANS something, even to children.
I’ve often heard “those with more” berate “those with less” for daring to eat steak. Dammit don’t they know they know that they are only allowed hamburger and some type of limp, over-cooked starch and canned green beans? Won’t those insolent peasants ever learn their place? (Myself, I think that the poor have very little power over their lives, and are at least entitled to unfettered choice over what they eat whether it is prudently frugal or not.
Steak represents success and indulgence to many people. Pair it with lobster and you are golden.
My timeline to pan seared ribeye nirvana
Going to Ponderosa for steaks with my grandparents was a big deal. Grandpa worked hard for the money, and he was proud to take his family out for steak. I was proud of him.
Cut to my twenties in Connecticut. My dear friend Sam and I would broil a steak every Friday night, and pair it with salad and vodka martinis. Then we would go cocktailing in the sweet little towns along the Essex River. Such good times those were.
But I never really became a FIEND for steak until I met Frankie. He grills them. He does it attentively, and mindfully, and they are perfect and succulent and decadent.
The path to pan seared ribeye nirvana
Here is what I have learned about preparing a memorable steak:
Only buy obscenely super-thick steaks. Thin steaks are problematic.
Only buy rib eyes. Raw New York strips or sirloins may look good in the store, but they never cook up the same. You will live to regret non-ribeye purchases.
Marbling matters. You want lots of it.
Mediocre steak should be avoided. Save your pennies to buy fantastic meat, even if it means only eating steak rarely. Quality is worth the wait.
Investigate whether you prefer grass-fed or grain-fed beef. They differ.
Don’t desecrate a great piece of meat with marinade. It is steak murder. Sam’s ex-boyfriend marinated steak in Italian salad dressing and she is scarred for life. Marination is for cheap, tough cuts of meat.
Grilled steak is best. However, sometimes uncooperative weather drives us indoors. Though it will never produce the flavor nuances of a grill, I have adapted a reliable method for cooking a medium-rare steak indoors from Alton Brown. Here it is:
Bring the steak to room temperature. Really. Putting a cold steak in a hot pan will shock it and it will protest by constricting into a tough meat wad.
Put a dry cast iron skillet in the oven.
Set the oven for 500 degrees.
When the oven reaches 500 degrees, remove the pan.
Put pan on a stove burner.
Turn the burner to high and wait five minutes.
Rub olive oil on both sides of the steak, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.
Sear steak for 30 seconds. Do not move it, mess with it, or breathe on it during those thirty seconds.
Flip steak, taking care not to pierce. Use tongs or a spatula.
Cook the reverse side for 30 seconds without moving it.
Stick the pan in the hot oven and set the timer for 2-3 minutes. You need to adjust this time according to the thickness of the steak. The thicker the steak, the longer the cook time.
Flip the steak and cook for 2-3 additional minutes.
Remove pan from oven.
Move steak to a cutting board with tongs or spatula.
Do not stick a fork in it. Do not cut it. Wait two minutes.
Now you may eat your properly pan seared ribeye.
First, make these edible moments great. Then slow down and truly savor them. After all, a truly great steak is a monumental occasion.
Filth — no. And a big, consuming mess is depressing. However, a little mess here and there is a sign of a life well lived. Clearly we must have been preoccupied with something fascinating, or at the very least, pressing, or there would be no mess. No apology needed.
“Things were a little untidy, but what did that matter? It was possible to become the slave of things; possible to miss life in preparation for living.”
― Elizabeth von Arnim
Genteel meaningful messes
Genteel meaningful messes are largely a cacophony of books, magazine, papers, the remnants of your beverage, probably wine, coffee or tea, and maybe some clementine peels. It may not be neat, but you do present as a person who clearly loves learning and exploring the written world. Just add fresh flowers and your genteel mess is elevated to the level of a still life painting.
Exuberant meaningful messes
Exuberant meaningful messes stem from explosions of creativity. No explanation needed when you are creating a masterpiece. Genius is often expulsive. Rock drumming comes to mind. And splashing paint onto huge canvases. And dancing maniacally. And cooking deviously.
Hot meaningful messes
Hot meaningful messes are tributes to having taken monumental risks, and failing monumentally. Forward motion requires trying and failing. You should be rewarded for your courage. Keep moving forward.
Work-in-progress meaningful messes
Work-in-progress messes can be untidy, but worthwhile. Sometimes you have to make things dirtier before you can make them cleaner. Just don’t let the mess linger too long, or it becomes a drag on one’s peace of mind. In fact, it may be best if you only dump the drawer when you can organize the stuff and re-home it right away.
Adorable meaningful messes
A boyfriend’s failed baking attempt in a flour strewn kitchen is a cute meaningful mess. Just make him clean it up afterwards. Doggie messes can be cute too. Just snap a photo for Facebook and then get a broom.
Troublesome meaningful messes are the domain of dirty kitchens and dirty bathrooms. This is a form of self harm. Love yourself instead. You deserve a little spa to prepare for your day, and a clean, orderly kitchen to prepare your healthy, luxurious, little meals, or your big, life-loving, fam-feeding meals. Clean bathrooms and kitchens are worthy of our time.Our kitchens and bathrooms should be worthy of us.
Also, if clutter in ANY room is so prevalent that we can’t find anything, that is just masochistic. Avoid.
Meaningful messes in parting
Maybe embracing the quirkiness and humanity of our messes can help us to vanquish them kindly, without self-recrimination. We deserve that. Usually.
Floor plans are intrinsically linked to how we live. A bad floor plan makes living a dreadful chore, while a good floor plan celebrates and facilitates a life well lived. Open floor plans are both beloved and loathed, depending on how you want to live your life, and how you like to relate to your house mates and guests. Here, I contemplate the navigation of these choices.
Open floor plans — refreshingly flowing or a fresh kind of hell?
“Think twice before opening up your floor plan,” Eddie Ross advises in the December 2017 issue of House Beautiful. Admittedly, an open floor plan benefits no one if perpetually dirty dishes or sound containment factor into the equation. And you must commit to a color scheme that unifies all of the task areas. But…
I’ve mostly lived in smaller, older, more traditional spaces. Closed off kitchens made me sad. I felt like freaking Cinderella as my mate lounged in front of the TV in the living room while I, the scullery maid, slaved over a hot stove and scrubbed nasty dirty dishes. It offended me as a feminist, a mate, and a human being. I tried to put a positive spin on it with frankly sincere folk music or witty talk on public radio. I mean, there is something ancient and GROUNDED about a kitchen, right? It’s where meals have been crafted by loving hands in earthenware vessels with hand-carved wooden spoons and fire-forged knives since the dawn of civilization in the Fertile Crescent, right? Shouldn’t I feel honored to be part of the meaningful tradition? Probably. Yet, I resented the hell out of my Cinderella status.
An open floor plan changed my life for the better. Moving to a townhouse with an open family room, kitchen, and dining room served to nullify my scullery maid resentments. The kitchen sink overlooks the family room, and I am never excluded from the fun. I no longer feel like the ostracized ugly step-sister. The fact that my stellar domestic companion does his share of cooking and dirty dishes indeed helps (and nothing is sexier than a man who cooks) but it is the floor plan that has rescued both of us from the loneliness of kitchen DRUDGERY. An open floor plan benefits us, DEFINITELY.
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of several early twentieth-century architects who opened kitchens to the other public spaces. This integrated women into goings-on beyond the kitchen as they prepared meals. Certainly this changed the lifestyles of women and the way they could entertain. Apparently I did not invent the isolated-in-the-kitchen problem. History did. Thanks for rethinking it for us, Frank et al. An open floor plan benefits the multitudes, without question.
Big or small, open floor plans and great rooms make for a pleasant, flowy kind of life unless you really REALLY prefer privacy.
Small, clever open floor plans
Expansive great room floor plans
I agree with Eddie Ross: Think twice about an open floor plan. It might not work for you. But then again, it could be just the ticket — an open floor plan benefits many.
We have other choices besides open spaces vs. closed spaces. In The Not So Big House, Sarah Susanka and Kira Obolensky propose a different paradigm for space planning. Rather than than creating dedicated rooms for every possible activity, they suggest bump-outs. I envision an open floor plan with nooks of all kinds: office nooks, library nooks, piano nooks, sleeping nooks for guests… you get the idea.
Susanka and Obolensky also radiate ideas for defining spaces within an open space. Open, yet intimate. Nice option. An open floor plan benefits multitudes of people, but these options can make it ever more livable.
How do you relate to space?
Philosopher John O’Donahue tells us of the innate Celtic understanding that the human heart longs for open spaces, but it also longs for the psychological safety (and dare I say “coziness”) of enclosure.
I read about a couple who loved camping, so they built a tiny house in which their bedroom was the roof of the home, under the stars and completely exposed to the elements. That is indeed an open space. I long to spend a night in a glass igloo in Finland, gazing up at the Northern Lights. Maybe not every night though.
In contrast, my friend Jackie in college loved minuscule rooms, with mirrors and paintings from floor to ceiling, like a monk’s cell gone astray, veering into the wayward and decadent. We all must decide for ourselves whether we want to embrace the extremes, or strike a balance between the two.
Me me me
As for me, although I like an open living area, I have always felt safe and blissfully secure sleeping in a smallish attic bedroom beneath a sloping roof line. If moonlight streams in the window, casting shadows of tree limbs and leaves on a hardwood floor, all the better. I now live in a home where there are enclosed rooms when I crave quiet and solitude, and open spaces for communal time. This is just right for me.
Home offices merit our best home styling trickery. Work is a cornerstone of our human existence, and the place that houses that work is important. Dig deep into your smarts and creativity to make your work space worthy of you and the time you spend there. Unleash your decorating mojo here and now!
Slay your day
Motivational office decor welcomes us to enjoy our return to a hopefully calm, focused routine after an unapologetically fun, indulgently relaxing, or satisfyingly productive weekend. Yes, those are your only three weekend choices.
Anne of Green Gables said,
“Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
― L.M. Montgomery
That thought alone makes a Monday motivational. Monday begins a week of infinite possibility. What could be more exciting? It’s a chance to be even more fierce. And smart. And creative. And mindful. And kind.
Slay your work space
So, Mondays are inherently motivational. But what makes for motivational office decor? What helps us to be our best? The right work space inspires us, grounds us, nurtures us, energizes us, and gives us perspective.
I am not a fan of word art in general. It’s trendy and contemporary, neither which I aspire to be. But offices are the right place for it as long as it is not smarmy. You know what you need to see in order to stay on track and reach for the goals that make you happiest.
A grounding elemental is so absolutely necessary in an office. For me, that element is books and antiques. For you, it may be earthy colors or textural textiles.
Every work space needs something cherished. Often people choose pictures of their near and dear peeps. It just has to be something special to you so that you feel loved when you glance up from your project.
Light and color are the most obvious energizers. The wrong light and colors can frazzle you if they are not attune to the vibes of your nervous system. Know thyself then choose lighting and color wisely.
If you don’t have a view of the outdoors in your office space, a picturesque landscape painting may do the job. A horizon opens up your perspective both literally and figuratively. Perspective nurtures perspective. Very important when working a project.
Enjoy your motivational office decor, and enjoy the day, fabulous ones. Be epic.
Lettuce in a vase emotes a glowing, ethereal quality. The simplicity is compelling. I cannot look away! Isn’t it deliciously convenient that some of the most beautiful floral arrangements are the easiest to make? I spied this at an agricultural fair, looking unloved and abandoned. I, however, find it utterly worthy of attention and admiration.
Lettuce in a vase? You got me. I’m hooked.
With nothing but leaf lettuce in this vase, the experience becomes all lavish ruffles and bright, fresh, life-loving, flirtatious green. No distractions to dilute the experience. Except…
Showing the naked lettuce roots through a clear glass vase adds a quirky dimension to the arrangement. It reminds me of nineteenth century botanical illustrations. Clever.
The vase frankly looks like a cross between a light bulb and a beaker from a chemistry lab. Unpretentious and noncompetitive, it whispers, “All hail the beautiful leaf lettuce!”
I saw this non-floral arrangement at the 2017 McHenry County Fair in Woodstock, Illinois. It sat haphazardly on a table near the floral arrangements, with no information as to who created it. I’d love to credit the arranger if anyone can tell me.
Style compelling vignette decor with evocative objects that tell your story. Curate vignettes from the palette of your past, your passions, and your fleeting interests. Fall in love with the silhouettes, colors, and textures of the things in your home, and let them speak to one another in a vignette.
Vintage radios, hats on hat stands, cigar boxes, record albums, clocks, telephones, cameras, typewriters, tarnished silver table service, trophies, pool balls, bacci balls, croquet balls, baseballs, wooden bowling pins, bird cages, barometers, suitcases, globes, eye glasses, shutters, telescopes, kaleidescopes, typesetter boxes, bells, board games, iron banks, quirky dolls.
World view = art in vignette decor
Pictures, framed or unframed, hung, leaning, or suspended, such as elevated fine art paintings, charmingly amateur paintings, arresting black and white photographs, vintage or not, crisp color photographs, thoughtful drawings, intricate etchings, intriguing portraits, depth-filled landscapes, quiet still lifes, delightful children’s art work, haunting silhouettes, poignant framed needlepoint.
Cocktails concocted = bar ware in vignette decor
Art deco cocktail shakers, cut crystal wine carafes, wine bottles with labels either artistic or amusing (e.g. “Seven Deadly Zins”), vintage seltzer siphon, champagne bucket, glass bottles of mineral water such as Perrier, Pellets grino, or Ty Nant.
Quiet pleasure = books in vignette decor
Handsome old books with patina and textural cloth bindings in muted colors; Victorian photo albums covered in dusty old velvet; books with gold embossed covers; whimsical old children’s books; newer glossy books with or without their paper covers, with interesting titles made in bold fonts; box sets, books that reference something personal, like furniture or goats or food porn or whatever you’re into.
Likeness strikes = figurines in vignette decor
Animals such as dogs, deer, bear, foxes, horses, and other animals; people doing interesting things; body parts such as busts, hands, ears, and skulls; faux animal heads; religious figures such as The Madonna, Buddha, Ganesh, Saint Francis.
Integrity distilled = handmade things in vignette decor
Carved wooden sculptures, wooden tools, or wooden toys, either vintage or made by modern day artisans; cutting boards, either old and patina-ed or new and handmade with gorgeous woods in unexpected shapes; trays, spheres, pyramids, or obelisks in marble or onyx; baskets, duck decoys,
Artistic utilitarian = kitchenesque things in vignette decor
Colorful Fiestaware pitchers or salt shakers, jadite cups, character teapots, oddball old toasters, beautifully shaped kettles, art deco pitchers, classic farmhouse pitchers, spatterware, antique utensils, copper molds, iron molds, Bakelite flatware, bamboo handled flatware, tortoise handled flatware, chinoiserie servingware, teacups.
Illumination fascination = lighting in vignette decor
Ginger jar chinoiserie lamps, bare-bulbed lamps showing off edison bulbs, industrial task lamps, curvy Art Nouveau lamps, glamorous Art Decor lamps, ornate Victorian lamps, spare mid-century lamps, edgy modern scandinavian type lamps, groovy 1970’s lamps, lava lights, fairy lights, Italian lights; candlesticks in either pairs or odd numbers, candleabras, devotional candles, pillar candles, beeswax tapers, grouping of extra slender tapers in multiple colors, Kosta Boda snowball candleholders with tea lights, kerosene lamps, camping lanterns, colonial lanterns.
Elemental hammersmithing = metal in vignette decor
Door knobs, door knockers, keys, switch plates, bricks or rocks coated with gold, silver, or copper metallic paint, vintage hand tools, aged fans, gears, propellers, pulleys, chains, brass elephants from India.
Earth tones = organics in vignette decor
Silver bowls of white roses; tall, linear vases of pussy willows or blossoming apple tree branches; dishes or topiary of sculptural succulents; terrarium, classic European topiary; bare branches, either graceful or jagged; ethereal grayish driftwood, chunks of wood showing the grain, a scrap of reclaimed wood, bamboo; a single large shell such as a conch, or a collection of shells; geodes and crystals — very large ones can be breathtaking, or group multiple small ones in a meaningful way; malachite, tourmeline, river rocks or field stones; jars of pebbles or bowls of quartz; petrified things such as prehistoric creatures and dinosaur poop; insects in amber, faux butterflies, bird nests, feathers, naturally shed antlers, pine cones.
Potting wheel poetry = pots in vignette decor
Floor vases made by Roseville or Rookwood; Native American, Mexican, or Portuguese pots; bowls crafted by a local pottery in your region; tiles such as those from Italy or Morroco; Arts and Crafts period tiles such as Rookwood; terra cotta pots, Chinese Foo dogs, ceramic fruit and vegetables.
Refracted diamonds = reflective objects in vignette decor
Glass jars, modern glazed ceramic jars, bell jars, depression glass, carnival glass, Tiffany glass, mercury glass, blown glass, stained glass, and cut crystal glasses or bowls; glass jars filled with sea glass, pearls, or costume jewelry; antique bottles in jewel tones; Moravian mirrored stars; Art Nouveau mirrors; windows gleaned from architectural salvage; crystal balls; shiny sterling silver or plated silver bowls; magnifying glasses, Tibetan singing bowls, perfume bottles, glass paperweights.
Visual inhibition = sculpture in vignette decor
Statues of classical greek gods, statues of animals like whippets, large sculptures of wings, garden statues, busts of famous people like Beethoven or Napoleon, modern abstract sculpture with fascinating shapes.
Circular energy = spheres in vignette decor
Spheres, crystal balls, feathered balls, knotted balls, sun dials, gears, clocks, decorative plates on stands.
Luminous looms = textiles in vignette decor
Tapestries, wall hangings such as faux fur or macrame, fabric with historical significance, fabric created by a designer you deeply admire, gorgeous fringed shawls, textural wool scarves, kilims, kitchen linens, dining linens, feed sacks, juju hats.
Tactile beguiles = texture in vignette decor
Partissementerie, knotted rope, balls of yarn, jars of string.
Holding within = vessels in vignette decor
Classically shaped vases, mid-century modern vessels made by McCoy, ewers made by Haeger, modern vessels in brash, unexpected shapes, Morrocan tagines, bejeweled goblets, colorful wine glasses, pewter mugs, copper mugs, battered tin cups, bowls of personality.
Oddities & endlings = unclassified objects in vignette decor
Book ends, crowns, scepters, magic wands, cd box sets, Celtic crosses.
A honeydew, if you choose
Please comment with your ideas for items to add to the compendium! I hope for this compendium to someday bulge with thoughtful objects, creative suggestions, and bizarre notions.