I was just wondering….
After pondering this question for a while, I think there are a number of significant factors that have definitely influenced my own design preferences.
My father is a very reasonable and logical man and likes everything looking new. His family furnished their homes with pieces contemporary to the era. My mother, on the other hand, is a decided traditionalist. My childhood home was really a mix of both. My mother was from a large German family and had many older relatives with collections of wonderful antiques that were passed on to her, so our home was an eclectic blend of 18th century meets mid-century modern. Myself, I love furnishings with a history older than the 20th century. I get practically light-headed, imagining where and with whom they may have lived before. It’s a very romantic notion, I know, but I tend to approach life more emotionally than logically.
As a child, I was fortunate to be able to travel frequently with my family throughout Europe. Rather than staying in any of the large brand-name hotels, my parents opted for renting a car and rooming in small pensions or sometimes with friends. I was able to see how families lived in centuries-old buildings with furnishings that had been handed down for generations. I have many vivid memories of things like the Belgian lace cafe curtains on the windows and the cloudlike feather beds that we slept on. It all seemed so strange at the time (you know--milk, fresh from a cow and all) but I treasure these postcards in my mind all these years later.
Gardens at Shonbrunn
On those childhood journeys, I thought that if I had to see ONE MORE palace or museum full of old stuff, I was just going to die. A million thank-you’s to my parents for forging ahead and putting up with whiny children, thousands of miles from home! As I’ve gotten older, or maybe as a result of constant multi-tasking, my short-term memory is not what it once was; but visions of the Clock Museum and the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, or the Louvre and Notre Dame in Paris hover right at the top of my memory.
When I was in college (the first time) I was lucky enough to land a job that I adored in a small boutique offering French and English furnishings, gifts and accessories (similar to Foxglove in Atlanta) . I was surrounded, forty hours a week, by these lovely offerings. It impressed upon me at a young age, just how much joy can be derived from spending time in a beautiful place that is suited to you and that you love. Isn’t that what great design is all about in the end? The ultimate goal is to create that feeling of joy in your environment, not to simply design a space that is pretty to look at. Had I not had that daily experience of being in an environment that brought me such pleasure, I don’t think that I would have embraced that concept as fully as I do now.
My major in college also played an important role is developing my design preferences—but I wasn’t studying design at the time. My first college degree is in History, and that background has definitely impacted my aesthetic. I think that now I have a better frame of reference when working with and enjoying antiques because of that education. When I went back to school for a design degree, my absolute favorite courses were the two sections on the History of Design. I really could not get enough of those classes—if they’d offered twenty sections, I’d have taken them all! Because I was familiar with so many of the “back-stories” of the people who created or influenced the design movements, I felt like I really “got” what was going on and wasn’t simply learning to identify a Louis XV piece from a Louis XVI.
So now I’m left to wonder “What will my children embrace when they are adults?” Though we don’t get to travel as much as I’d like, I do take every opportunity to teach them what I can about architecture and design, and even gardening, too. When we’re in the city (SF) I point out things like interesting corbels or the anthemion pattern in the architrave on a building. We are regulars at antique fairs and flea markets. Even when we’re in a thrift store, I try to teach them what to look for. At 8 and 10, they know the difference between sterling and silver plate and how to spot crystal in a sea of glass. A couple of years ago, to encourage them to look at pieces with a critical eye, I started paying them a ten percent “finder’s fee” on items that they found for me that I ended up purchasing. (Gee, I hope that doesn’t violate any child labor laws!)
Although I really try to limit TV viewing in our home, American Pickers, Pawn Stars and Antiques Roadshow are always on the TiVo. The boys and I love to cozy up on the living room sofa on weekends and watch the treasure finding unfold. I hope that, in the end, the result of all this is that they at least will grow up to appreciate the quality craftsmanship and artistry that goes into the making of fine furnishings, artwork and accessories.
I understand, however, that this regular and early exposure can backfire, so I make an effort not to force feed it to them and try to only administer it in small doses. Just yesterday I was talking to a friend who’s parents were avid collectors of all things French. She told me that she had had enough of it from childhood and now is not interested in collecting anything and prefers retro and mid century modern pieces for her home. So, I guess you can’t insure that your children will share your design tastes, even after educating and encouraging them in the virtues of whatever your aesthetic. Alas, when raising children, there are never any guarantees….
When I considered writing this post, I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of what goes into developing a personal aesthetic. What I didn’t realize is that the title could have read: “More than you ever, ever could possibly want to know about ME.”
What I would really like to know is what has led YOU to YOUR design style? Was there a defining moment, or did it develop over time? Did you rebel against your parent’s style sensibilities?
I’d love to hear your comments!