Monday, December 04, 2006

Too Much Very Fine Stuff

Years ago I attended a glamorous party at the lavishly furnished Beverly Hills home of a Hollywood icon. His long career had provided many awards, mementos, photos with other famous people, and an income that allowed him to purchase whatever elegant accessories caught his fancy. The party was a thrill, but the house was positively claustrophobic! Furniture crammed tightly into each room. Every flat surface covered with collectibles, photos, decorations. Walls smothered with paintings and more photos. That was when I realized how easily even expensive, beautiful and sentimental possessions can turn into plain old clutter.

I happen to be a fan of modernism. I like the sleek lines, the lack of ornamentation. I also like the Japanese design aesthetic. If I were completely re-decorating our home, I'd probably look to a Zen monastery for inspiration. But I didn't always feel this way.

I inherited lovely 19th and early 20th century furniture, dishes and decorative items from my grandparents, and purchased many other antiques on my own. I collected Victorian teacups and plates with roses on them. I once bought a massive 18th century English linen press that we used for years as a dresser. (My partner, The Writer, hated it and said it looked like a huge coffin, but he's always been more concerned with function than form.) I truly enjoyed living with all these things for most of my adult life.

Then, several years ago, something changed. I can't explain it, I can't point to a particular moment in which I had an epiphany about it, but gradually I had to admit to myself that my beautiful antiques no longer "worked" with the way I live my life. I discuss in my book the process of letting go of most (no, not all) of these things that I valued so highly and associated with wonderful family memories. It wasn't an easy process, but it was rather liberating. The small number of dishes, decorative and personal items that I kept now feels quite manageable to me. Instead of antiques, empty space with no clutter has become my most sought-after "collectible."

So, I was interested to read recently in the L.A. Times an article by Jeff Spurrier spotlighting decorating trends. He reports on what he calls the home interior "vanishing act" that started in the kitchen some years ago with paneling that covers the appliances so that they blend into the cabinetry. According to Spurrier, other parts of the home are reflecting "our growing penchant for a clutter-free life." Now, in addition to hidden dishwashers, refrigerators and microwaves, we have such things as ceiling fans with retractable blades, medicine cabinets that pivot from the wall on the back of full-length mirrors, and, most amusingly, a "BenchToilet" in which the entire commode can be concealed by a teak panel that slides over the top of a long stainless steel cabinet that surrounds the fixture. This particular item will be available in Southern California next year and will cost $11,475 to $13,345 (plus the cost of the toilet). I'd suggest that there are many less expensive ways to eliminate visual clutter, but I do admire the spirit and ingenuity of the designers!

Of course, you don't need to be a modernist to enjoy a clutter-free home. I have friends who have lovely traditional furnishings in their very comfortably livable homes. And those homes all have some things in common: collections are contained, not scattered haphazardly everywhere; furniture is placed in such a way that there's plenty of room to move around it; and the decorative items in each home reflect the personalities of the people who live there. I try to achieve that in our rather eclectically furnished home, too, though it takes me a bit of extra effort. But I think a home is always a work in progress. At least it's nice to feel like this one is headed in the right direction.

© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob

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