Senses of Living® Décor

April 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall

Multifunctional Décor For Life

I seem to be overly fond of that old Saturday Night Live skit parodying the multifunctionality of certain products advertised on late-night television: “It’s a floor wax! It’s a dessert topping!” I use this approach when designing my Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipes, but this approach also definitely applies to some of my favorite multifunctional décor items.

The inspiration for this column was a talk I gave on March 13, 2004, on “Indoor Gardening for a Rainbow of Thumbs.” As usual, I’m not content with only teaching “how.” I had to go into the “why” of raising plants, from the psychological benefits of intentionally taking the time to water them (and thus de-stressing) to the purported advantages of being surrounded by organic shapes, textures and aromas, to the physical/health benefits of purifying the air of numerous volatile chemicals, to replenishing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, to cleansing the air of many unpleasant odors. Such multifunctionality is not limited to plants, though.

Shelving is SO multifunctional. Though they (and their occupants) are dust magnets, I personally don’t think you can have too many shelves. I use them for:

One shelving unit can hold any combination of the above items. That is what makes them multifunctional: flexibility! Additionally, the mixture/combination of purposes can actually end up enhancing the overall décor and ambience of a room. Yet another aspect of multifunctionality! Now, remember, there are still décor questions about color and texture and material and more; a general column can’t address such things. Once you decide on shelving as a solution, you can contact me for specific help.

In past columns I have written about the value of storage/data boxes. Well, I’m gonna write about them again. Not only do they substitute for filing cabinets, toy chests, magazine racks and similar storage needs, but when draped with beautiful fabric, they can become tables/support for lamps, beverages, magazines and anything else that would normally (whatever THAT means) be placed on an end table, or a “coffee” table (FYI, I am NOT a fan of “coffee” tables, as they just fill a room’s open space, and invite clumsy people like me to bump into them or fall over them; the only reason to have one is if your couch/sofa is too long, and people sitting the middle need a place to set their beverages.). A fabric covered data storage box can also be used as a base for a decorative vignette in a corner or otherwise blank space that needs some “enhancement” (but do this mindfully, with a specific purpose; don’t just “fill it up” for the sake of “filling it up.” PLEASE! I saw this sort of busy-ness during my recent travels in Florida, and I found myself asking, “Why is that there?”). Finally, stacked and draped data storage boxes can be used as room dividers (from a psychological, if not an actual physical perspective). Though they should be stacked no more than four, or maybe five, high, a pseudo-wall of color can truly enhance a large space with a splash of color, texture and geometry (and functionality!).

“Hide-a-beds”/convertibles/”fold-aways” are a given feature of dormitory rooms, efficiencies, guest rooms, and the homes of wise people who place more value on the efficient, practical use of space than on the latest trends as bestowed upon us by “style makers” who are usually allied by the furniture industry. Whether a specially constructed bed/couch/loveseat combo, or a futon and frame, such sitting and sleeping furniture is crucial to the mindful use of space. My use of such furniture allowed me to accommodate friends visiting from out of town, or friends in need of emergency crashing, or similar situations (remember: GOOD DÉCOR IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS!), plus even now I use an old convertible loveseat as a combo chair and desk and staging area for various projects. Don’t rid yourself of this flexible furniture just because “someone” said you should (and “designers” often say you should rid yourself of these items).

Before leaving the concept of flexible furniture, let’s discuss the selection of a multifunctional chair. Essentially, I would encourage something long and low, with BROAD ARMS. What broad arms, you ask? Because this means that the chair can be used as a couch (just sprawl yourself across the arms of the chair, dangle your legs, and be decadent), or as an ottoman when you are sitting on a different chair (it is good to get your feet up to help blood flow). But let’s return to those broad arms: you can use them as a table for your drink, you can put your magazine or newspaper there, you can balance a plate of nibblies on the arm, or just put any other “necessities” on the arms of a chair; you don’t need a table!

Décor multifunctionality is a theme to be revisited. Now, I’m going to close with a rant about “designer expectations.” I spend a good bit of time researching what other designers are doing, and trying to determine their justification for doing it (beyond lack of talent or just plain bad taste). Please, Please, PLEASE! Do not concern yourself about trends or what’s “hot.” Trust me, if someone has to tell you that something is “hot,” it isn’t! “Hot colors” are determined by a group of people sitting around trying to figure out how they can squeeze your money away from you! Saying something is “dated” is convenient when someone wants to rehab, but that “dated” appearance can be refurbished as “retro” if desired! Nothing is black and white! Then, there’s my favorite chastisement: people being told by designers that their décor is not “adult.” Oh, that’s painful! And cruel! And just plain wrong! When a designer says something isn’t “adult,” s/he means that you didn’t spend enough money on it! Great trick, don’t you think? Plus, the same designer will turn around and encourage you to add “playfulness” or “whimsy” to your décor. Could we aim for a bit more consistency?

If I accomplish nothing else, I want to encourage you to have confidence in your own taste. That means knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are. And if you need help building that confidence, call me at 773.508.9208 or email me. You can do it!