Long before there was Pinterest, when I was in college, I began to collect tear-outs from high end decorating mags: House Beautiful, House and Garden, Country Living, et al. At first I put them in “redrope” expandable file folders with closed ends. Then I got fancier and used plastic sleeves with 3-ring binders.
The idea was that some day I would be adult and prosperous (aren’t those the same thing?) and maybe build or at least buy and decorate a house. In the meantime, I had fun experimenting with decrepit rentals or just skylarking around in my head. Some of the early ones were architecturally amazing, like that little a-frame out on a volcanic cliff over the Pacific near Big Sur. ("Wild Bird.") I found it again and again. The northern California hippie improvisations and semi-Japanese personal spaces were wonderful to read about. I’m not sure they’d be so great to live in, between the rain and the smoke, but then — I’m from Oregon.
When I was near a high-end magazine provider, I bought French mags. They often worked primitive stone walls or sinks in among super-modern elements or used bare branches ingeniously, which caused me to save a lot of branches here in case the ideas would work.
By now I have shelves and shelves of three-ring binders, some of which are specifically ideas for this house. But this house is crowded and anyway, it’s getting late in the game. Time to discard. It’s a good thing to do on a day that’s too hot to move around much. At first I was saving the sleeves, but now I’m just pitching them. I AM looking at every one and saving a few.
But such a review is also useful in terms of analyzing why I saved them, what made them so attractive. How they got into a magazine layout in the first place.
First of all is color. I lean to warm colors but spiked with purple or turquoise or emerald. In the Seventies there was a preference for “citrus” with primary spots of saturates. I never “got” the beige craze, but all-white kitchens and bathrooms grab me. (My bathroom is supposed to be all-white. My kitchen is a kind of tarnished pale yellow, but with wild daylily wallpaper as accent.)
Second is light. Having very many windows is not practical in Montana wind country, even with modern insulated glass. Anyway, lots of glass means lots of cleaning. But I want light and lots of it. I think about the “kind” of daylight: east light for me in the kitchen making coffee so that's the biggest window I have. I really want French doors, but not sliders, which a lot of people here do have.
West light is for what one does at the end of the day: reading, sorting, "sitting-down" things, watching the news or the bright but darkening sky. It would be good to have a windowed porch up high, but this is a one-story house. In summer south light should be interrupted by a big tree like my cottonwood and it is, but in the winter the bare branches let through south light to warm the house.
North light is mostly excluded here because the minus-temp Alberta clippers come with it, but in summer, my very few north windows let in the sun from an angle that only lasts a few days around midsummer and I’m always startled because it looks so eerily different.
In the tearouts and in BBC dramas, lamps and their shades have huge importance. Because two of my front room walls are slapped-up board shelves for books, floor to ceiling, I felt free to screw on pin-up lamps with plain shades so I could put chairs for reading and hand work almost anywhere and still have nighttime working light. (I also put a basket and jar by each chair for scissors, stapler, an array of pens and high-lighters, bottles of antacid, bookmarks, tape, DVD clicker, and so on.) If I take my glasses off to look closely at something, the baskets hold my glasses.
I was a little slow realizing that photography of rooms in mags means placement of out-of-frame one-time lights, maybe a reflective glow and maybe a dramatic spotlight, that can transform dark corners. I also had to consciously consider the plants and bouquets which are so artfully placed, some in places they couldn’t be realistically because there is no light. Lately movies have gone all out with glamourous candles — the cost and heat must be incredible — but I don’t use many because of fire danger, esp with cats in the house whose tails wave around carelessly.
A Mary Emmerling set-up
In terms of specific decorators, I prefer Mary Emmerling to Martha Stewart. My bedroom is papered with Mary Emmerling blue and white shirting stripes. Both women have staffs of energetic young people — there must be dozens of them — who carry things around. Emmerling’s specialty is little houses in wonderful places, but she takes with her several collections of crosses, turquoise jewelry, and family photos loose in baskets. When you look at her books, they are in every house whether it’s nautical at Cape Cod or adobe in the SW. Martha is better at glamourizing household work: fabulous laundries and clever storage.
There were five 2-inch 3 ring binders about yards and gardens. I had such plans! It was hard to understand that in a small town like this one’s yard is not one’s own. The neighbors and town ordinances will force their taste onto you, whether it is a matter of grass like astroturf or trees constantly whittled. I’m keeping one binder of ideas as I try to skirt around theirs, which are mostly industrial: meant to be riding-mower friendly and to eliminate all fallen leaves. All flowers confined to beds. Fancy ideas like compost, bird feeders, bird baths, and so on are partly bear hazards, cat feeders, and attention-attractors. I’ve learned that attracting attention is not a good idea, though most people are not very close observers. There have been joke faces attached to the trees in my front yard for twenty years without anyone noticing them unless I point them out.
I wish for a deck and a fence. If I had money, I’d be tempted to give them priority over the roof, which is insane. A deck is likely pretty impractical given the neighbors I have now, but a fence would be a comfort. Maybe I'll get a pad of graph paper and record some ideas. Just in case.