Books on Home Decor

As I wrote last year, my family recently moved into a new house. With all the other changes in our family, it took us a long time to settle in. We wanted to take the opportunity to make our home more comfortable, functional, and attractive while everything’s in flux. So I did some reading about home decorating and organization.

However, I think I am naturally a horrible audience for these kinds of books. I have such a lack of interest or talent in these matters that small suggestions sound like mandates to me. I get overwhelmed and end up making mental lists of reasons why none of the suggestions will work for me. It’s hard for me to see any of this kind of material as ‘inspirational’ because it always seems primarily ‘aspirational’–all of it seems covered in assumptions about money and class. And if it’s not about money and class, then it’s about portraying an image of your family as together and happy and fun-loving in a facebook-photo, surface-y way. Every once in a while I find an idea that I like because it might actually make things run more smoothly or conveniently, or it’s a way to make an unattractive thing look better with little effort. But mostly reading this kind of material just makes me feel inadequate, poor, baffled, and frustrated.

I’m totally willing to own this reaction as a flaw in my own character rather than a problem with the genre or with any particular book. For the most part. Here are reviews of two books on the topic.

First I read:

Life’s Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets: Your Ultimate Guide to Domestic Liberation by Lisa Quinn

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Of course I loved the title of this book. I was excited about the idea of liberating myself domestically by eschewing stupid chores as pointless and oppressive. I liked Quinn’s ideas about overcoming perfectionism, but found them hard to apply because she and I set our standards in such different places. When she talks about lowering her personal standards, she still ends up placing them somewhere that feels unreachable for me, so it actually ended up feeling disempowering, although I know the opposite was intended.

When Quinn suggested caviar as a pantry staple, she lost me for good.

And then I read this book:

Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair

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This book was suggested to me by A Practical Wedding, a blog community I like and trust. They said it was approachable and realistic, even when I pressed them that my idea of approachable and realistic is usually very different from that of someone who’s writing a book about home decor. So the fact that my reaction to this book was somewhat similar to the one I had to the first one tells me the problem is me, not the book.

My favorite suggestions were the ones that focused on function and convenience. Blair likes flexibility, durability, and fun stuff on the walls. She suggests which kinds of rugs, sofas, chairs, tables, floors stand up best to the messes of kids. This is useful if you’re building a house from scratch or buying all your furniture new all at once, but may be frustrating to read if you’re already locked into something that’s less than ideal.

Blair’s explanations for for her principles and ideas sometimes felt short and lacking nuance to me. Little things bugged me about the assumptions behind her suggestions. She said a dining room is pointless, assuming that all kitchens are big enough to hold a table, when fewer than half the homes we looked at while house-hunting had eat-in kitchens. She has a whole section on the living room and another one on the family room, and another section on what she called “the family office,” which means her book is meant for people whose houses are big enough to include dedicated rooms for these three functions (our old house wasn’t). She had a page about how she doesn’t allow any merchandised character clothing or decor in her house without explaining why this is important. She blithely dismissed problems that may come from siblings sharing rooms as no big deal, which seemed nonsensical to me based on my childhood experience.

I don’t claim to have much taste, but the pictured rooms didn’t appeal much to me personally. I guess this particular shabby-chic hipster-with-kids aesthetic isn’t my thing. Blair also has a thing for what she calls “industrial chic” and that’s also very much not me.

People who like this genre and already don’t feel overwhelmed and attacked by the mere suggestion of improving their space will probably like this book. One interesting aspect of the book is its asides on parenting tips, giving ideas for things like movie nights, one-on-one check-ins with each child, and chores.

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