Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Be Thankful For: The Democratization of Decorating

Years ago it was much harder for the average person to have a stylish home. Curtains were handmade because off-the-rack-sources didn't exist. Furniture was painstakingly purchased and lots of people went without. Those who did have curtains & custom upholstery made, went a little nutty with the matching because they could. I remember happily helping my mom as a kid decorate our living room in perfectly coordinated fabrics below:

As much as we might roll our eyes at Pottery Barn or Ballard Designs, they really have helped to democratize decorating for the masses. They brought affordable (more affordable) style into people's homes. I remember browsing Ballard Catalogs as a teenager and wishing I could have a grand formal home with topiaries & (reproduction but I didn't know it) paintings of Greek columns and just wanting everything in there. (Thankfully, both Ballard Designs & I have changed our styles a bit since then!- see pic below :)
But for those homes that didn't subscribe to design magazines (like mine) the catalogs were IT. I poured over those catalogs the way I pour over design magazines today. I tore out pages (and still have some- I need to find them & scan them in for a post) for my inspiration files on my teenage bedroom decor: Pottery Barn, Ikea & Ballard. Whether the design was "good" or "bad" is irrelevant: the important thing is that they reached lots of homes & got people thinking about their spaces & how they could affordably improve them.

And in the 10 years since I was tearing out their pages for files, the general population has become so much more design-savvy & the catalogs have managed to keep up & help us get here. (And so many more have arrived on the main scene: Wisteria, Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma Home, RH to name a few... And of course Target & Bed Bath & Beyond & Linens N Things too.) (glass ball lamp from Target below)

I won't even get into cost or quality and I don't even necessarily shop at all of these stores, but what amazes me is how far they've brought us design-wise. Good design used to be something generally reserved for those with money. Of course when people made purchases they tried to shop wisely & make their spaces as beautiful/ functional as they could (and many of them did), but the variety of sources was just so much more limited than it is today & it was just that much harder to do so. Today, you can go to Ikea & a bunch of thrift stores & create a beautiful space without spending an arm and a leg. Take my bedroom (pic below) for example: You couldn't do this before. We're now at a point where even in the very early stages of decorating ( & for lots of young people who are just starting out) we can have a beautiful look. With craigslist (sending old purchases out & even bringing new ones in) we can upgrade our spaces as we go along.
With the onslaught of home-decorating shows on channels like HGTV, the average person is just so much more exposed to design than he/ she used to be. (To be honest, I don't have cable & really only like a VERY VERY small number of the design shows out there because I think the design is so gaaaaaah on so many of them) BUT still- most of the time, spaces are improved & by watching the shows people begin to develop an eye for design. We can figure out & assess what we like and don't like. Learn budget-friendly tips & tricks. Just getting more EXPOSURE to design in general has made the average person so much more design-savvy.

And let's not forget magazines like Domino or Cottage Living who featured beautiful affordable spaces. Neither of them were able to get to a very ripe age, but I still have hope that there's a good one out there waiting to be born. (Or maybe exists & I don't know about it?!!! ) But magazines like these got us thinking. They got us realizing that we could do what the people in those gorgeous pictures were doing: creating a beautiful home on a budget. (HINT! HINT if anybody in the mag industry is out there!! We're STARVING for a magazine like these!!!! ) (Now I know many of the rooms featured were WAY out of my budget, but the ideas themselves could easily be used for someone on my budget which is what I loved. For example, you could subsitute Home Depot's custom jute roman shades ($25) for a custom set ($250) and still have "the look.")

And don't even get me started on blogs. New ones are popping up daily (I wish I could stop time just to read all of my favorite blogs- there are so many now!) and there are so many creative people out there showing how to live beautifully & affordably & making good design super-accessible. They inspire us to think outside the box & make our homes our own. (Thanksgiving Table below by Eddie Ross)

I will admit: I LOVE custom pieces & fabrics & do believe they can often make or break a room. My LR curtains, chairs & sofa were all done in fabrics I chose. BUT when it came to my accessories & casegoods, I went with thrift store & ebay finds, antiques, & less expensive catalog items. (Now these aren't guidelines for everyone- you might fall in love with the perfect dining room table from a designer showroom & maybe that's your LOVE.) But my point is that through dissecting room after room in catalogs, design magazines, and blogs, I was able to figure out how budget decorating would work for me in my space: Where it was I wanted to save and where it was I needed a splurge in order to get my look.
In catalogs, I saw what I liked (functional, pretty, clean spaces with some nice pieces) & disliked (sometimes a lack of character, layers, individuality) & took what I thought was the best from them & did the same thing with magazines. (Now think about it really quickly, because I'm not knocking the catalogue companies- when you are staging a home for sale- you make the space look pretty & nice, but you DEPERSONALIZE it in order to sell it. You remove personal items like photos & crazy artwork & wall effects that might not appeal to everyone... Well, catalogues are doing the same thing. Their job is ulitimately to sell and if they personalize spaces too much, they won't appeal to the masses, which is what they need to do to sell the most amount of goods. So it makes sense that we might often feel that a showroom or catalog room isn't a "real'' space or something to aspire to.) Anyway, with magazines, I dissected what I loved about them & eventually developed my own (ever-evolving!) style. I figured out how to get looks I loved for less. (image below from cococozy)

I started out as design-clueless as anyone. (I always loved decorating & rearranging my room as a little girl but Laura Ashley was pretty much the extent of my decorating- below, but mine was much worse.) Good style develops over time, and thanks to aqll of the readily available tools: catalogs & blogs & shows & design magazines, it's more attainable than ever these days to achieve it in our own spaces.

So, along with everything good in my life- my family, my friends, my faith, my health, my home, my business, my time, YOU- I'm thankful for accessible design this Thanksgiving. (Don't worry- I won't say that at the Thankgiving table- I would totally get looks for that one! ha!) How about you?
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!!
***update*** Janell brought up a really great point in the comments (#2) that this whole thing has also created more pros and challenges on the flip side, often for working with designers. It's awesome for designers to get such style-savvy clients (we love it!!) but it can also be difficult because some of the expectations created by these shows are unrealistic. If you decide not to "do it yourself" & elect to hire a designer (which can save you a lot of money in time & mistakes) there will of course be fees for your designer's services & those services should still hold as much value as they used to.
I have met with clients who want "design on a dime"-type designing but what they might not initially realize when contacting me is that the space will not take me any less time or effort or ingenuity to create (often more!) and so my fees for a designing like this can cost even more than my fees for sourcing a room of a more sizable budget. (This is because sourcing for discount items, fleamarketing, thrifting, etc. takes WAY more time than it would on a standard design. These design shows have crews of people providing free labor-often the biggest expense- and sourcing budget items & designing for FREE... The man-hours that go into creating these spaces costs money in real life. If they were to add up all of these true labor costs, the spaces would cost WAY more than "a dime.") I always try to make sure my designs fit within a client's budget but that budget of course has to allow for my fee... Because as much as I love doing this- we have to eat!! :)
SO- my thoughts are that the exposure & accessibility to all of this design is great for us all, but that in the end what it all comes down to is being able to put it together in a beautiful, functional way- by yourself or with help- whichever way works best for you!