After college, one of my first homes was a small, one-bedroom apartment, incredibly drab and lifeless, with no discernable architectural style. Friends and family alike shook their heads in dismay -- how to turn this place around? Within a week, however, that postage-stamp apartment looked and felt absolutely spectacular and welcoming. Several amazed visitors independently offered the same suggestion: "This place should be featured in Architectural Digest!" It was indeed a landmark turn-around, which actually required little more than a touch of creativity, and less than $800 from start to finish.
Although the austere, boxed architecture, stark surroundings, and drab interior at first seemed hopeless, on further contemplation, I realized that a minimalist décor style would compliment the basic structure of the simple walls and small windows, which could then be further enhanced -- okay, hidden, if you will! -- with a touch of whimsy. I chose a Japanese theme for the basic furnishings. An inexpensive, attractive wooden futon filled the bedroom, and corresponding Japanese lighting fixtures carried that simple but stylized theme throughout the apartment. In such a cramped space it worked well to keep colors light, airy, and uncluttered, so I chose wall paint, sheets, bedspread, and bathroom towels all in a matching, light shade of cream.
Whimsy entered with the addition of a home-engineered corner waterfall in the living room, cascading over smooth, stacked river rocks into a large, hand-blown centerpiece bowl (filled with water plants, and cheerful goldfish - no room for Koi!). Tall, lush palms and tropical plants soon crowded the living room, turning it into a magical jungle. Each plant nested beautifully into a hand-woven African basket (stylistically not straying too far from the simplistic Japanese accent theme). A couch would have crowded that tiny welcome room, so I instead stretched an ornate, doublewide, handmade cotton hammock from wall to wall. That cream-colored hammock featured hand-carved wooden spacers at each end, which held it invitingly open, welcoming visitors with great seduction and drowsy comfort -- without the structural imposition of a couch. Delicate wood lattice, quickly nailed to the inside of the otherwise unattractive windows, held fast-climbing potted vines that quickly covered the remaining vestiges of the original room, while softening the "view" to the outside. Several exquisitely hand-carved "Flying Angel" statuettes, handmade in Bali and each unique, flew suspended from the ceiling. On breezy days, those exotic aerial delights ducked back and forth between the tops of the trees, helping turn what had once been a cold, entirely unattractive room into my own version of "Paradise." Handmade coconut-wood kitchen wear and a hand-woven sisal rug, alongside the small wooden dining table, extended an Asian "nature" theme into the kitchen.
On the other hand, my favorite home -- so far -- is the one I live in now. It is a spacious, 100-year-old, two-bedroom Craftsman-style house, featuring a library, expansive living room, country kitchen, and small bath. Large windows encircle the house, each revealing a work of art -- a limitless vista of wilderness to all sides. This time, we began with a space that spoke for itself. Wood floors throughout and four old fireplaces added to the rustic feel of the place.
So we followed that clear "rustic" theme, selecting hand-carved wood furniture, mostly from Mexico and Southeast Asia. Hand-woven textiles from Thailand worked beautifully, draped over bedspreads, dressers, and wooden storage chests. We made curtains from ceremonial-quality Balinese silk sarongs. We placed wall hangings in several wide-open spaces. We re-covered a heap of old cushions with enticing cotton and silk cushion covers from India. Our storage trunks, two placed beside each bed as nightstands, were selected from favorite Mexican artists. We selected a minimalist array of intriguing handmade sculptures, bookends, and storage baskets to accent the house, and added only a few original paintings to the library (the one room with a limited outdoor view). We spread area rugs from around the world throughout the house to soften and warm each room, including the bathroom. In the bathroom we included a large handcrafted mirror, handmade wastebasket, and several ornate, handcrafted textile-hangers to use as towel racks. In the kitchen, kitchenware and simple decorative accents were selected from favorite artisans around the world.
Surprisingly, we didn't spend as much on home décor as one might imagine! The finished look is worldly yet entirely harmonious, featuring a broad cultural selection of handmade rustic elements. Best of all, our home is incredibly welcoming and relaxing. It appeals to us and suits our sense of style. Selecting and purchasing was easy -- we found and purchased almost all our handmade home décor online.
THIS IS FOR YOU
Above all, remember tip number one: Determine the style that you absolutely love, stay true to it, and you will absolutely love the outcome! Beautiful home decorating is much easier than it may seem. Don't worry -- just follow your heart. Your heart will lead you to the style that brings you the most comfort, welcome, and personal inspiration.
Catherine Gallegos serves as editor-in-chief of Novica.
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