On Design: How your home can tell your story

July 17, 2014 

When you are at home, are you surrounded by familiar things? Do you feel at home? Too often, homes look like smart furniture arrangements lifted from a showroom floor, perfectly matched by a helpful sales person, with not a trace of you or your personality.

It’s like you could be living in an executive rental apartment, gender neutral, with no color that might offend -- that would be beige.

There are many elements to transforming a house or apartment into a home. You don’t have to have the newest furniture, the latest trend in color or style, and you don’t have to have what might be considered a finished product.

Your home reflects your lifestyle, wraps you in warm memories and tells your story, whether you are setting out on your own for the first time or settling into retirement. Creating a home is a journey, not a destination, for you will collect memorabilia to chronicle a life well lived for the duration of that journey.

We are all collectors

We buy books, frame pictures, pick up mementoes from trips and special occasions -- some intrinsically valuable, others important only to us as reminders of places or events. Remember your first poster from a rock concert or frozen-in-time photograph of a crazy, beach house party? If you’re lucky, you still have them and can look at them from time to time and recall the exact date and friends who were with you. As you get older, you have more books, more pictures, even more reminders of memorable places.

Eventually, as you feel comfortable adding art work to your home, you realize you have a nice array of paintings, prints and other accessories that reflect your taste.

How to display these accessories can be a dilemma, especially when you decide to redecorate or move. Where to start? There are some design “rules” that are ridiculous, others that have some merit and then, there are some common sense recommendations that are really helpful.

Mixing elements and textures is mutually complementary and breaks the tedium of having several of the same things in one space. Bookcases can hold plates on stands or heavier pottery can be used in lieu of bookends for textural interest. Propping small paintings between rows of books can be a way to categorize your books plus add visual interest to the entire arrangement.

Speaking of books, many of the bindings on their spines are richly embossed, an art form in itself. Newer books are colorful with or without their dust covers, so add color where you may be hesitant to do so. If you collect porcelains or ceramics that are pale colors, paint a contrast color on the back side of the bookcases to better show off a collection.

Hanging oil or acrylic paintings, which are usually framed without a mat and no glass, next to prints, which are covered with glass, can be distracting. The texture of paint is dissimilar to the reflectivity of glass, so try to arrange paintings away from framed pieces with glass. This does not mean they cannot hang in the same room, but not in the same arrangement.

Smaller paintings or prints can be clustered together to create a point of interest. Larger pieces can hang alone. Don’t make the mistake of hanging small, miniature paintings where they cannot be seen. They can be hung on a wall near a chair where they can be easily seen when sitting, or in a small wall area, maybe between windows, where they can be closely examined. It stands to reason a larger piece can be hung to draw attention across a room.

Hang miniature paintings with decorative plates or odd pieces of sculpture for an eye-catching vignette in a small space. Just because you have dozens of decorative plates or have amassed an impressive collection of pottery does not mean they have to be arranged together in one place. Incorporate those pieces in surprising spots like on a bookcase or on a table with other favorite things.

Define your space

Start your arrangements of accessories by imagining boundaries for the space you want to fill. If you are using a table top, its dimensions are naturally the boundaries. However, if you are looking at wall space, arrange objects over a piece of furniture using its width as your defined space.

If you have one dynamite piece to show off, place it on a stand or pedestal using complementary framed art or plates on the wall behind it, keeping the composition to a minimum -- in design parlance, the minimalist approach. With small objects that are similar in finishes or themes, arrange them together on a wall-hanging small cabinet for best results or cover a table top with them.

Your guests will be delighted by looking at the individual pieces and you can entertain them with the provenance of each one until their eyes glaze over! Some people call this too much clutter, too many dust catchers, but ignore the naysayers. This is your home and you can commit one day every week or so to dusting.

Another design rule that will make your project less frustrating is the eye-level rule for artwork. You would not hang a mirror near the ceiling if you want to see your image, so hang the first piece at eye level and work outward and upward from that point. How high you hang things can be determined by the height of your door facings, how low by a chair rail or an imaginary line where one might be.

In rooms with vaulted ceilings, the sky is the limit. Large, imposing paintings or prints hung over doors draw the eye upward and embellish the architecture in a soaring space. Be bold in venturing out with new ideas about how you want to display your collections. If it doesn’t work, all you have to do is fill the nail holes, touch up the paint and move on to a better idea.

Use of family photos

Some designers absolutely abhor the use of family photographs in your “public spaces,” the formal living room for example. Although this should not be a hard and fast rule, there are photographs that chronicle events familiar only to family members, so why not display them in the den, study or beside your bed where you get the benefit of seeing them often.

Large photographs of children in elaborate frames do look awkward in the living room, especially long after those children are adults. Painted portraits are interpretive and ageless and will look more appropriate in the public spaces. Smaller family photographs grouped together in your private rooms are fun for your guests to see, but do not need to dominate your space or conversation. You wouldn’t bore your friends with a slide show of your family vacation, so why force them to comment on your first pony ride? Finally, be judicious when deciding which family photographs warrant display for all to see.

Now that your accessories and cherished memories are unpacked and displayed, you have created a living space that speaks to more than just a place to hang your hat and drop your briefcase. It is your home, a narrative of your life.

Katherine K. Walden has practiced interior design for more than 40 years. She is the owner of Katherine Walden Interiors Inc. in Macon. Contact her at kwaldenint@aol.com or 478-742-2224.

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