A portion of my wild crew in our hard-working den.
At any given moment, my home can be found reverberating with the chaos of children: Three little Mosses, likely three cousins from next door, and, often enough, a few more kiddos from down the street… probably all being pursued by one large dog.
So the thought of sitting down to write about Slow living comes with some hesitation. How can I write about creating a Slow home without feeling like a total hypocrite? Well, I admit that I do feel a bit hypocritical some days, but that often has much more to do with me forgetting the reason behind good home design and much less to do with the normal chaos (e.g., muddy — and let’s be honest here, probably half-naked or elaborately costumed — children) that’s often reigning in my home.
So then, what is the reason behind good home design? And what does it have to do with Slow living?
My favorite answer hails from Sir Terence Conran, one of the best designers of our time, who explains in his New House Book that “good design is ninety-eight percent common sense, two percent aesthetics. For instance, ask yourself: how do I want my family to live, and how do I want my friends to feel when they visit me?”
Simple, right? Conran’s explanation takes the emphasis off material perfection and puts it on human sensibilities. Good design and the material elements that go along with it are here to serve the family, not rule it. I think that mothers oftentimes see a beautiful home and a home with children as mutually exclusive — as in, if my home is presentable, then it’s probably because my children are asleep or duct-taped to the floor.
Sometimes that may even be the case (no, no, not the duct tape part), but it doesn’t have to be. Not if we think first about creating our homes, as Conran advises, in terms of how we want our family — half-naked children included –to really live. We’ve chosen to have children, after all, and when we set about doing so it probably had something to do with desiring the love, creativity, and warmth that family life provides. The material things that we bring into our home have to encourage and hold up to those ends.
But the material considerations should very much come second. If we don’t first know how we want to live at home, no number of Container Store organizers or designer furnishings will serve us.
This is Pam and Bryan’s Home, which I photographed for Apartment Therapy. It’s a great marriage of style and function all wrapped up in a bustling family home. For more inspiration, you can check out their full house tour by clicking on the picture.
There are countless practical considerations to explore in future posts: hard-working home materials, where to splurge and where to save, creative ways to repurpose housewares, style issues, and I’m sure much, much more.
Today, though, I want to emphasize what should be our starting point for any home design endeavor, whether it be a total remodel or a simple furniture rearrangement. Before I begin a project in my own home or with a client, I take the time to really explore how a room or whole home will be used. The last thing any of us busy mamas wants is the unrealistic and fruitless task of maintaining a magazine-ready home.
Not to say our homes shouldn’t be beautiful, because they should be. But realistically, given the family you have, would you rather spend the time wiping fingerprints from that sure-to-shatter-yet-picture-perfect glass coffee table, or actually sit down and…wait for it… enjoy your cup of coffee, children underfoot and all? Everything we own takes energy to maintain; so our things, especially our homes, should serve us — not the other way around.
My friend Angelique has one of the most inviting homes I know. Her 100-year-old home is furnished with a mix of interesting textures and hard-working materials, all with a soft appeal. You can check out the rest of her home on Apartment Therapy by clicking on the picture.
So here’s you’re blogging homework, friends. (Kidding, kidding.) (But, not really.) When you get a free minute, sit down with a piece of paper and pen, and jot down what activities take place in your home (sibling wrestling included) and what activities you wish to take place in your home (one of mine is a daily cocktail hour with my husband).
After you’ve come up with suitable answers and have a bit more time, take yourself on a tour of your home, noting:
a) What each room and its main components are used for (the living room is where we lounge, read, and watch movies; I use this chair for nursing, writing emails on my laptop, etc.)
b) Which material elements pose problems (the coffee table eats up too much floor space, the bed is uncomfortable, etc.)
c) Which rooms could serve you better (the dining room is underused, the kitchen is too cramped, etc.)
d) What you think is missing in each room (more seating options in the living room for when you’re hosting guests, better lighting, a table in the laundry room for folding, etc.)
The important thing to remember is to be honest and realistic. But once you’ve answered the questions above, you’ll have completed 98 percent of the good home design equation.
Images: Leah Moss