Introduction to Interior Design

Even though we all may not own berets or ascots, we are, of necessity, artists.  What we choose to put in our homes communicates to others (and ourselves) something about ourselves.  This column is an exploration of the principles underlying interior decorating and why we apply them.

I’m deliberately avoiding the more practical aspects (“blue is a calming color, green is neutral color”) to serve as a gateway to future, more useful, articles.  To paraphrase, the journey of a thousand words begins with a single phrase. Since these are really mostly opinions, if you want to play along, get out a highlighting pen and see how many unsupported opinions, useless drivel and bald-faced lies you can find.

Everybody who has a home has stuff in it.  Except for the most impoverished, we all make some choices about what to put there.  Of course, I had a time when most of these things were found by someone’s dumpster (boards & bricks to hold the books, a sofa with the stuffing coming out and a coffee table from an old cable spool) but now my home is filled with the stuff that I (or more properly, my wife) has decided are comfortable and useful.

We put stuff in our homes because we need to.  We want comfortable things to sit on and places we can store our clothes and other stuff.  But we make choices among the different things we furnish our houses with based not just on our needs for physical comfort but on the need for psychological comfort.  We all have some items that we’ve kept because we’ve imbued them with a sentimental attachment (I have my grandmother’s kerosene lamp, for instance) but when we buy items we’re looking to communicate to ourselves and to our guests something about ourselves.  In the same way that we choose our clothes, based both on how we feel when we wear them and how others react to them (most times one influences the other), so we choose items based on our sense of an idealized self.

As an example, my mother-in-law collects and furnishes her house with Victorian antiques.  Having those things around her makes her happy.  But her own childhood was as a really, really poor Midwesterner.  She didn’t grow up with Victorian things (in fact most of them were made before she was born) but I think they provide her with a sense of what she wishes her childhood had been like.

So interior decorating (and that’s what furnishing your home is), is necessary and approachable art.  It is a form of (sometimes unspoken) communication with yourself and with others about what we are.  Sometimes these choices are obvious.  Clean, utilitarian lines say “I’m an austere and sensible person”.  Fluffy pillows and the country look says “we’re relaxed here and we like things to feel homey like a grandmother’s house”. In the words of Epictetus, “Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

So why, you’re probably asking, am I belaboring the obvious?  Because what’s important when you buy furniture isn’t that everything match, it isn’t that it follow a particular movement (“Sorry, we only decorate with Federalist pieces here.”), it’s all about how it makes you feel.  And the more you know about how you want to feel, the easier it is to find the things that make you happy.  And that’s what it’s all about, making you happy with the things you own.  Happy shopping!