Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Functional Can Be Beautiful.

I think one of the biggest mistakes we make when it comes to interior design is that sometimes, we're too literal and we choose too much form over not enough function. We feel like we have to go out and buy accessories to cover our desk tops and counter tops, or just to fill some negative space (or void in our lives). I think we have to be honest with ourselves and realize that the most beautiful part of our homes is the fact that we live there, our friends and families gather there, and that it's meant to be a safe, comforting sanctuary, not a showroom. I don't care what you do before a cocktail party, but chances are, your coffee table is going to occasionally collect a magazine or twelve, a crossword puzzle, and some reading glasses during the week, and that's a beautiful thing. It should be functional for you and your lifestyle. Your coffee table doesn't have to be the resting place for a decorative bowl full of wicker earth balls (you know which ones I'm talking about).

Ok, so we've admited we live in the house. Fantastic. The next step is to think through our decorative elements and accessories. For example, you may live in Charlottesville, but you may love all of your family trips to Italy and want your kitchen to have a wine/wine bar feeling. Awesome. How about instead of going out and buying a stack of decorative hat boxes with some wallpaper-ish pattern of grapes, Chianti bottles, and Tuscan villas decoupaged on them from TJ Maxx for your kitchen counter (who keeps hat boxes in the kitchen, anyway?), you could put out a few of your favorite bottles of wine, or a favorite vase or bowl full of corks, or use open storage that could display your favorite wine glasses, corkscrew, etc. The best part? You'll actually use these things. The hat-less hat boxes will take up space and collect dust. No thanks. (You all probably know by now, I'm not crazy about a theme room. I think it's great to convey a feeling, but when we get too "themey" we run the risk of our living room looking like a nursery sans crib, changing table, and Diaper Genie. You know, the light house curtains, with the light house border, with the oar and fish net window treatment, and knobs made out of fishing tackle. But that's a whole other entry).

The big picture lesson here is that decorative can be functional, and functional can be beautiful. The icing on the cake? You're already going to own a lot of the things you need to decorate for functionality. While I love to have guests drop by on a weeknight and at the drop of a hat for an impromptu gathering, I can't live in a home that's always staged like a movie set for a party. This place has to be ready for Ed getting ready for work in the morning and for Ed lounging around in old lacrosse shorts, with a morning Mudhouse, with his flip flopped feet, on the coffee table, on the occasional weekend. What I try to do is to figure out how to make my everyday, functional life, beautiful. I like to do that by decorating with things I'm going to actually use.

Similar to the aforementioned wine example, I use bottles of Pellegrino water atop of the china hutch in the kitchen. Not only do I love the pop of blue with the red star, and the green glass against the pale, milky blue walls, I drink this stuff like it's, well, water. I love to drink it with a wedge of lime with dinner, have it for guests, and it keeps me from drinking soda. You might say I'm a recovering coke addict. Diet Coke, that is. So, instead of hiding the stash in the pantry and putting some basket of fake ivy atop the hutch, I put out an old metal basket full of these bottles. They're pretty bottles, about $1.70 a piece, delicious, and they're ready to be thrown in the fridge one by one. If you don't like Pellegrino or sparking water, you can find a lot of Italian sodas/lemonades in pretty bottles, and as I mentioned before, you could always do several bottles of your favorite wine. A little more expensive, but bottoms up, my friends. It's a kitchen, it's a place to eat and drink. Pretty fitting, I'd say.

I also keep my favorite rain boots and umbrella by my front door. Being a tall guy (6ft. 4inches), my boots are tall, and I think pretty cool and sculptural with the simple lines. I keep a great umbrella with a bamboo handle in one of the boots, serving double duty as an umbrella stand. They're solid navy, and they pop against the white walls. And the best part? They're ready for me to slip on before heading out on a rainy morning. No digging through the closet. Talk about functional. The Burberry-esque box holds some spare gloves, dog leashes, etc. Take this idea and apply it to similar elements of your life. Guys, invest a few dollars in a desk valet, so you'll have a stylish place to always leave your watch, ipod, cellphone, keys, etc. Not only will it look a hell of a lot better than a pile of pocket accoutrements on your dresser, but you'll avoid the daily trip on the hot mess express as you frantically look for everything in the morning and before going out.

Another one of my favorite, functional design elements is my "adult" piggy bank. I feel like I've earned the right to talk about this because in college, I collected my laundry money in a giant, plastic Bud Light beer bottle that I bought at Spencer's in the mall. Oh, to be young, in the South, and in the closet again. (sigh). Boys will be Boys. Don't judge, it looked really good with my "Animal House" poster. But no, seriously. Everyday when I come home, I empty my pockets and dump all of my spare change into the pictured, over-sized jar/vase (it's about 18 inches tall, the picture doesn't really capture the size). I keep it on the floor next a leather club chair. People typically don't even notice it's full of change, because it's just a pretty blue, recycled glass jar that looks nice where it's sitting. And if they do, you just get a little sparkle of silver and copper in the bottom. I mean, people put out vases of fake river rocks and glass pebbles, and we could all use a little change. Having it out and having it be both aesthetically pleasing and functional, really encourages me to save my change and money. There's over $150.00 in change in the jar currently, and I've been collecting for under a year. Not only does every penny add up, it can be aesthetically sexy to save.

So, do yourself a favor. Look at yourself in the mirror and say "I'm [your name here], and I live here." Then make your home comfortable and functional for you. We all have different lifestyles, and maybe the bachelor's off-white duvet cover isn't right for the couple with 2 dogs who sleep on the bed. Maybe that just means you find a machine washable version or look for a different color. If you have a piece of furniture or some random statuary that you knock over or trip over everytime you come in the door, you should move it. It doesn't matter if it looks perfect's causing you to trip (very circa Dick Van Dyke and the ottoman.) We can't and shouldn't all do the same thing. However, what we all can do is decorate to make our lives a little easier and a little prettier. So, keep it simple, keep it functional, and keep it fabulous.



  1. Ed, I am so glad I found your blog! This post is exactly how I feel. I have never understood the desire to collect things that aren't functional. Esp (egads) the slightly creepy Precious Moments. Sorry if that offends anyone but they aren't my thing. I collect old silver (or some plate)napkin rings, esp if they have someone else's initials or name on them. I enjoyed looking at your attractive and functional examples.

  2. 3 things:
    1- i have those decorative ball things in my house, but i chose ones that look like skeeballs because... well, they look like skeeballs.
    2- classy jar full of change is a great idea, love it!
    3- i'm so your internet stalker.

  3. haha Jessica, I love you.
    I, too, have some decorative balls, but they're old croquet balls of my grandfathers, so I feel you!
    I think internet stalking deserves a good old JMU high kick/clap behind the knee! Let's hang out soon!

  4. Just found your blog (from small & chic in c'ville), glad to see someone so practical. I believe in livability, function and re-use, non-Pottery Barn/Ikea kind of decor. Love the Downtown Mall, I got many treasures from a great consignment place (probably gone now). Not an alum, but my kids are, and I lived there part time for a while.