defining and creating a home

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I received this awesome compliment today. It was about this blog and how I write, but it was more than that. My friend complimented me on my style and how my house is a home, and unique yet comfortable. And how I seemed to her to set this “taste of home” with my gardening, my cooking, and treasure hunting to accent my home.

She isn’t the first one to say that, as one of my other friends defines my style as being like Sister Parrish. That made me giggle because I definitely don’t see myself as like that at all, or even have the talent, although I do like the whole English country house style.

But Sister Parrish had a design philosophy that she spoke of that I can identify with as a homemaker:

As a child, I discovered the happy feelings that familiar things can bring — an old apple tree, a favorite garden, the smell of a fresh-clipped hedge, simply knowing that when you round the corner, nothing will be changed, nothing will be gone. I try to instill the lucky part of my life in each house that I do. Some think a decorator should change a house. I try to give permanence to a house, to bring out the experiences, the memories, the feelings that make it a home.

I love putting things together and I love the compliments on my style, but am I worthy of such accolades? I am surely not so to professional chefs, landscape architects, and interior designers. But in my own defense, I never pretend to be them, I am only ever myself.

Growing up my parents did take me to lots of antique shows. My father said the shows were more to educate your eye than make a marked-up show prices purchase. We also spent many a weekend looking at antiques and collectibles down on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Oxford and Chestertown were favorites) and up through Lancaster County (Shupps Grove, Renningers, Stouts Black Angus). Also estate sales along the Main Line when they were truly a special thing with manageable realistic prices (Susan Vitale sales were the bomb). And church fairs and historic houses’ white elephants/rummage sales.

I share my late father’s love of looking and learning about things. And in part that is what any of this is about I suppose, form of intellectual curiosity that sparks a creative thing. And it just starts with looking. Opening your eyes and taking it in. In a way that is what I like best about Pinterest. You can look and save photos that inspire you.

For me, putting the rooms together in our home was a labor of love. It’s the things we like and had separately and jointly meets a comfortable style of living. I don’t want to house of fussy that it looks like a museum or jumped out of the pages of Architectural Digest where you can’t sit on a chair. I want a place where pets and kids can exist, yet it’s not all plastic and laminate. Growing up I was around a lot of things and my entire world wasn’t child-proofed and vinyl and I survived just fine.

I like mish-mosh, a mix of styles, but I guess today if you were going to put a label on me I am vintage traditional meets gracious country living. But that doesn’t mean everything in my world is sprouting milk paint, chalk paint, or chalkboard paint. Ask any of my friends and they will amusingly tell you my disdain for all of those things. Nothing against the people that like that style, but it’s so not me.

I do like some painted wood however, but it’s tole painted and cool trompe l’oeil that will make my heart beat faster, not something milk or chalk painted with a cute pattern and adorned with gingham cut with pinking shears and tied up with a burlap or raffia bow.

I like things that are pretty or unique or have a cool look to them but I don’t like fussy. You also won’t find many ruffles and bows in my world. It’s a great boudoir look but I’m not a 1930s film star.

That’s the thing of it: when I’m putting things together for my home or my garden or my kitchen, it’s what I like, what we like. It’s not what someone else told us we should like.

I laid the foundation with some of the bigger pieces and from there I took cues on color and style for everything else. And I also think people need to remember that it doesn’t have to be spanking brand-new from La-Z-Boy or out of some designer show room. You can find a lot of treasures in unexpected places, and save yourself a tidy sum in the process. Once you lay your foundation, you can layer over time.

And if an older piece of furniture has great bones, don’t ignore it as you can reupholster or cover with something more to your liking. And if you want to paint over natural wood, that is your choice, so make sure the colors you pick are ones you like and can live with, not someone else.

I like things that create or evoke a warm and homey atmosphere. Or evokes a happy memory. Like vintage quilts. You can indeed pay a pretty penny but you can also find them reasonably priced. One of my favorite sources over the years has been church fairs. Also you can get great handmade quilts at mud sales too. I find my quilts all over. I buy them to be used. If I find I am afraid to use a vintage quilt I will swap it out for one I like better. Pretty much that simple. And when the get too worn, you can repurpose them into pillows for humans and dog beds. Yes, seriously.

Vintage dishes and glasses are also something I like. But I am not living in Winterthur, so they have to be sturdy. Not famous or collectible, but usable. A lot of vintage dishes and glasses have a warmness to them and a happy, cheerful look I just prefer.

As for the garden, it represents pieces of gardens I’ve had throughout my life and things I’ve loved and admired in other people’s gardens. My garden is a work in progress and a constant evolution. You plant each season and each season you either maintain or adjust the work of previous seasons.

But a lot of what makes a garden magical is doing the work yourself. It’s about connecting with your space in nature and learning through trial and error. Sure by all means hire a professional for the bigger projects you can’t tackle like tree work, but get your hands dirty. It’s a wonderful feeling to garden, truly. Try it for yourself. Start small and pick projects you can manage.

Cooking is a lot like gardening. You have to dive on in. You will have triumphs and disasters. I love vintage cookbooks and pick them up at church sales and thrift stores and garage sales. They have a lot of the basic recipes modern cookbooks no longer have and learning the basics lays your foundation in the kitchen as a home cook.

But the components of what makes a house a home isn’t just the gardening style with flowers tumbling out of a flower bed or flower pot. It isn’t just the good smells coming out of the kitchen or that vintage find that looks cool in one of your rooms. Making a house a home is also that bunch of intangibles, the things you can’t see. Feelings. Emotions. Sentimentality and comfort.

Maybe my approach to making a house a home has to do with almost creating a feeling like comfort food evokes? I love a house that when I walk into it I see the personality of the inhabitants. So maybe that is the key and why it is more rewarding if you design? It’s how you feel and what you like, not what someone else’s interpretation of that or you is.

So I guess my best advice is to be an active participant. There will be trial and error and success and “what was I thinking???” moments, but in the end, the sole and key ingredient in defining and creating home is you.

Many thanks to my friends and all of their compliments.

Thanks for stopping by.

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2 thoughts on “defining and creating a home

  1. You do have a wonderful gift of expression. And, I agree with having a home reflect the personalities of those living there. When we moved to our townhouse in Exton, Jeanne’s creative juices kicked in. Soon, the parts of both our histories and “found things” came together and made our home a most comfortable abode. Thank you for what you do.

  2. LOVE vintage cookbooks! Favorite is Good Housekeeping Cookbook War Edition, has a supplement with how to maximize your food with ration stamps,, garden, save sugar, etc. Fascinating.

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