Senses of Living® Décor

January 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


As a designer, I have to be aware of what is happening in the design and décor world. This time of year, we get lists. We get lists of what's hot and what's not, and lists of those who purportedly have contributed significantly in the past year. After reviewing some of these year-end summations, I found myself just shaking my head with my mouth agape!

I recently read the January issue of a popular design magazine; it was devoted to current "Tastemakers," hence the title of this month's column. As I browsed the issue, I saw some nice designs. By "nice," I mean functional, timeless, comfortable, accessible (=affordable) designs. So far, so good.

But I also saw things that made no sense. When evaluating designs (or anything else), I commonly ask, "Why?" I've said this before, and I'll keep repeating it until you also make "why" a significant part of your vocabulary.

For instance, there was a lot of pomp and circumstance. Don't we have enough of this in our everyday lives? Why do we need pomp and circumstance in our homes? Steer horns on the otherwise barren mantle? An ottoman as display shelf? Items chosen for their cost rather than their esthetics? Someone who wanted to return to the (IMHO) potentially gaudy "Baroque revival"? Why?

There were several tastemakers who did landscaping, and they did it well. But the feature included no educational information, and their interesting ideas are not that easy to execute (as a biologist, I know). Maybe I'm too oriented toward education, but I feel cheated if I'm only shown pretty pictures without being educated. Do you? Why not? And what about the landscaper who felt uncomfortable "with the wilds of nature"? What is that about? I had to read the paragraph three times to make sure I wasn't skipping an crucial word or two. Sounds like the type of person who gives landscapers a bad name. Why would such a person be a tastemaker?

Then there is celebrity (self-proclaimed and otherwise). What are these people's credentials? Family names? I don't care. Association with expensive fashion houses? I don't care about that either. People who are able to use $1million to decorate a single room? I REALLY don't care about that. Do you? If so, why?

What about innovation? What about providing sound psychological evidence for décor rather than gestalt improvisation? What about placing function ahead of form, so that design and décor make sense rather than causing people to shake their heads? These are all questions that I asked (and answered with data) when I first decided to offer my design services to others.

Of course, even in those early days I realized I would have to deal with the "what's hot, what's not" lists, and I have written about these in other columns, such as my essay on trends at Senses of Living - September 2004. Having just been confronted with such a list from the Chicago Tribune, I HAD to make a statement. I could just stop with "Why?" or maybe just "Ick," but I won't.

I have now learned that it is "hot" (perhaps literally) to have a ceiling-mounted and ceiling-vented fireplace called "The Fireorb." Yes, this fireplace is quite eye-catching, and would be stylish and appropriate in the "right" room. I tremble to think of the people who will feel obligated to purchase The Fireorb for their traditionally-decorated homes because it is "hot."

Maybe you want a Fireorb, and think a new paint job will make your room more consistent with the futuristic fireplace? Well, I am told that it is "hot" to select paint colors with food names. Unfortunately, I found problems with this (surely, you aren't surprised!). Most of these food colors are not new shades or tones; they have just been renamed. And, their color "cheddar cheese" is a bilious orange, and we all know that the orange coloring in mass-produced cheddars comes from dyes (usually from annatto seeds); natural cheddar is a warm creamy color, so their food names are promoting "unnatural" foods.

Amid the vast array of "What's Hot, What's Not," I did find one citation that warmed my heart (I'm not being sarcastic, either). Right there, among the mundane recommendations for fashionable living, was the simple statement: "HOT: Defining Patriotism for Yourself." This self-empowering encouragement can be applied to any aspect of life or décor. Somehow, though, it seems inconsistent that this praise for individuality should be hidden within pages of "group think" promotion. It's a hidden gem that I'm now sharing with you.

Here's another gem I'll share: These lists are about laughter! Any décor scheme looks better with laughter, and that's what these lists make me do! I have no idea whether I'm laughing WITH the authors of these lists, laughing AT them, or a little of both, but I am definitely laughing.

And with that laughter, I am reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, décor just isn't that important. Yes, I have long argued and demonstrated that we can improve our lives using décor, and THAT is important. Anything that improves our lives, the lives of those around us, and the world in general is important. But investing any energy in learning about "hot and not" lists, or "in and out" lists, or trends or tastemakers is just unnecessary.

Enhancing your own lives is important. Defining patriotism for yourself is important. Laughing is important. Becoming your own tastemaker is important.

Isn't this a great way to start 2005? Emphasizing what is important and ignoring that which isn't important. It's prioritization, and it's something I help people do with their home décor, and with all aspects of their lives. If you want to report your success with prioritizing, or need some assistance, call me at 773.508.9208 or email me. I think it's important to hear from you! We can laugh together!