I want you to read this quote from a 1986 New York Times article about the late design superhero Albert Hadley:
“While Hadley always has his design principles firmly in mind, he also understands that interiors are for living, and that they should be enjoyed by the people who live in them, rather than reflect an idea of perfection imposed by a decorator.”
For some of you, 1986 doesn't even register. I may well have said the article was from 1886. For others, 1986 was all about dancing to Madonna in your bedroom and Top Gun and posters on your closet wall. Whatever. Suspending your age for a minute, what was true about design 32 years ago is still true about design today. Interiors are for living. Albert Hadley understood that. It would behoove us to remember this idea in the age of Pinterest and Instagram.
I spent last week in New York City with my husband and two of my kids. While nothing was happening at our house on the remodel because the power mysteriously went off on Wednesday (and has still as of this writing not been restored despite daily calls by just about everyone to the power company), we thought it would be a good idea to shop for furniture. We went to my favorite furniture store of all time, ABC Home and Carpet, only to find three of its floors under renovation. If you’ve ever wondered what ABC would look like empty, now you know.
What was available in the store was quite lovely. There were beautiful vignettes, as always, and yet not one sofa or chair was worth a second sit. I felt like I was walking through a live shoot for an Instagram post. Pretty but not comfortable. Inviting but not livable. No soul, no life, only surface beauty.
The same was true on our visit to Anthropologie’s Design Center downtown. I cannot tell you how much I was looking forward to that visit. I had high hopes for their upholstered pieces after years of drooling over the catalog and samples I have received from Anthropologie of beautiful, rich textiles used to cover their sofas and chairs. Again, I could pass on every single chair I sat in and I sat in them all. That’s not to say that I didn’t find things that I would love to have in my house. It did, however, get me thinking.
We live in an age of persistent visual input. We are all very aware of this. We talked recently about identifying our own personal style in a world in which we are constantly seeing examples of what’s “in” and what we “should” have in our homes. More than style is the idea of how we actually live in our homes. Albert Hadley understood this. Read that original quote again but in the second part, replace “a decorator” with “social media”. I’ll do it for you: “…[I]nteriors are for living, and … they should be enjoyed by the people who live in them, rather than reflect an idea of perfection imposed by [social media].”
At what point is what we see on the surface enough when it comes to decorating? I like to surround myself with pretty things, no question. However, I would rather the comfort of my grandmother’s old, ugly brown and white blanket to a new pretty pink number that wasn’t as soft or inviting. There isn’t really a point for me where the surface is enough when it comes to decorating.
Decorating is a process of layering and experiencing that can’t be rushed no matter what filter you use. Yes, you can buy all new furniture and pillows and art and make it work. Yes, you can mix in antiques to give your room “historical depth”. Yes, you can decorate a room in almost no time and it will look good, maybe even great. But it will take time and thought for your home to be a reflection of you. It will take time for your home to have soul. The best rooms, after all, have soul.
''Modern,'' Hadley said, ''is a point of view, an attitude.'' Until our trip to New York, until I sat on pretty sofas and chairs without any soul, I told myself that what I meant by “modern” in our modern southern bungalow was clean lines and simple furnishings. What I learned from our trip to New York was that Hadley was right. Modern is an attitude. To me, modern is about how we live with our children and interact as a family. What are the attitudes, experiences, or habits that we want to develop at home and how do we use decorating and design to support those attitudes, experiences, and habits?
Southern is also an attitude. It is more than French or English antique furnishings, floral wallpaper, and plantation shutters. It is welcoming people in, laughing with friends until late into the night, finding yourself with everyone’s children playing in your backyard, and a counter full of food for Saturday football.
I’m looking forward to our Modern Southern Bungalow finally being ready. It won’t be furnished when we move in. That part will take still more time. I hope you will join me on that adventure.