Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Curating Your Home

Copyright Monica L. Shulman-04

After living in three boroughs and as many apartments since we moved-in together nearly 10 (!) years ago, my husband and I found a nearly perfect space last summer and I have to say that for the first time we really love everything about our home.  It's our little corner of New York and while every New Yorker will always complain about lack of space (us, included) this place is pretty fantastic. 

As we approach our one year anniversary in this apartment it got me thinking about how our style and tastes have evolved and about the furniture, art, crap (yes) and beautiful pieces that we've accumulated or sold or otherwise got rid of over the years.  I am not a design expert but I do love exploring design and I know what I like and what moves me and inspires me.  Plus, as a photographer I can't help but be creative.  After the emails I got thanks to this post and because this is the way my brain works, I started to compile a list of the things to think about when decorating a home.  This is how we've decorated our place over the years and, I've generally found that if you feel good in your home environment you'll feel positive about pretty much everything else.

1.  Treat your home like an extension of yourself

Your home is the ultimate reflection of your taste and personal experience. It's filled with your treasures and a key is to display them artfully and thoughtfully.  I get inspiration from everything around me - people, magazines, fashion trends and of course just window shopping and online snooping (hiya, Pinterest).

Having a messy home is the equivalent of going out in the world with food in your teeth.  Would you ever do that?  Respect and take care of your home.  You don't have to spend tons of money but a never-ending pile of mail or leaving random things all around has nothing to do with cash spent.  When we first started out we had a tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights and we still reminisce about the high ceilings, old floors and even the itty-bitty bathroom we dubbed the "phone booth" - yes it was that small.  But it was neat and clean and it was our first place.

With a baby the biggest challenge is to not let our apartment become a giant playroom for her.  She has her play area with her own little table and toy chest near the kitchen and her room and of course during the day her toys and random stuff are all over the place but we clean up before bedtime every night.  We all live here together, after all.

2.  Don't be afraid to mix high and low

Our home has everything from flea market, West Elm and Home Goods finds to fine original art and furniture and artisan pieces found on our travels and random things I've inherited from my grandmothers and parents.  Look for handcrafted or unexpected items that tell a story and look like art in their own right and most importantly, also look for pieces that you love.

3.  Invest in beautiful things that you will have for years

Yes we have a lot of inexpensive pieces but over the years we've also collected a few special investment items.  They're big memories displayed in our home. We've bought certain items at important times in our life -- like when I passed the bar exam, when my husband got a new job, my first important photograph sale -- there is something in our apartment to mark those occasions.  Also, when we travel, instead of souvenirs I like to buy something that will remind me of the place we visited. 

4.  Think about what makes you happy and comfortable

Even if I wanted to, I couldn't live in a place that looks like a museum.  I don't like wasted space so every corner has a purpose and I like our environment to feel inviting and warm.  When friends and family come over I want them to feel like they're home. 

I literally jumped for joy when we got rid of our old black leather couch that was the last piece of furniture left over from my husband's bachelor days.  It was honestly the most comfortable couch ever but it was the world's ugliest sofa.  We held on to it for years because I wasn't really ready to commit to something "really nice".  When I was pregnant we knew it was time for something new and we went with this deep purple/navy color sofa because it is so unusual and unexpected.  The fabric is very kid and accident-prone adult (ie. me) friendly and I love the modern style.  As a counterpoint to balance out the dark color we went with a neutral cream side chair.  I love it so much but I won't lie...a small part of me freaks out a bit whenever Lucia gets too close to it with whatever she is drinking.  Oh well.

5. Who cares if it doesn't match

Anything that matches too much makes me feel itchy.  I love mixing patterns and styles (I have my mother to thank for this who we mercilessly teased because of her crazy outfits and now we are just like her).  I love my vintage gold frames but I also am obsessed with the clean  lines of our couch, chair and  floor rug (although it sheds like a beast).  I would describe our kitchen table and chairs (that you can't see) as modern but a bit rustic.  

6.  Make a plan

Make a plan as to how you will lay out your furniture and display your artwork.  Think about whether you want to do a gallery wall and where each piece will go depending on how you lay out your furniture.

In our small-ish apartment we were very limited by our floorplan.  There was no other place to put our couch so it went against that wall.  The end.  The rest of our furniture was laid out depending on where it made sense and where it fit.  As for the art, hanging and placing artwork is one of my favorite pastimes.  I'm not exaggerating, I love it more than pizza (that's a lot).  I hung all of this art by myself.except for the gold mirror that needs at least two people to hang because it's so heavy. 

7.  Don't feel like you have to keep an item forever

If you get sick of something get rid of it.  You can sell it online or give it away.  We've gone through more coffee tables than I can count.  We never found the "perfect one" and I'm convinced it exists and now that we have a toddler who loves to play in our open living room we just didn't see the need for one.  We opted to use a trunk from Pottery Barn as a quasi-side table (also triples as storage and seating) and a cool marble top table that we found in a shop in East Hampton.  

8.  You're never really finished

Your home will evolve like your tastes and your needs. We have a lot of fun looking for new things and seeing how we can move our artwork around to make space for more or to just change things up when the mood strikes.  The thing to remember is to have fun with it and to know that your space is always changing to fit you and your life better.

What do you think?  Any tips for curating your environment?

All the photos are a small look at my living room.  You can see my workspace and bedroom gallery walls here and my daughter's room here and here.  Also, a small peek at my kitchen gallery walls here.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman02
We found this vintage, hand-carved wood, gold art deco mirror at a flea market in Chelsea.  It was the end of the day and the guy was so desperate to get rid of it that he let us have it for $50.  It weighs like 200 pounds.  The back was ripping and one false move and the mirror itself could have broken.  We paid more to repair it than what we paid for the mirror itself but it was worth it.  We will never forget carrying that thing down 6th Avenue looking for a taxi.  And the mirror hangs next to two original pieces of art (one a lithograph that was an engagement gift from my parents and the other an original painting by a Cuban artist that we bought from our friend who is an art dealer).  Our art is a very eclectic mix that includes original pieces, my photographs, and a few prints that we bought on the street in South America and in Europe that cost next to nothing.  For me it's all about mixing and finding things that you love.  By the way, check out the mess on my kitchen counters.  It is insane how chaotic my kitchen gets every single day. All 30 square feet of it!

Copyright Monica L. 

Copyright Monica L. Shulman03a
My little corner of mirrors.  Mix of vintage (one of them has been in my family forever) and new finds from NY and abroad.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman-13 
Both of my grandmother's are amazing artists.  They both sew beautifully (my mom's mom worked as a seamstress making children's clothes for years) and my dad's mom actually made the round mirror you see in the reflection.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman-10

Copyright Monica L. Shulman-12

Copyright Monica L. Shulman-14
This cabinet fits perfectly in the nook of our entry way that would have otherwise been wasted space.  It doubles as an armoire for some of our coffee table books (since we don't have a coffee table) and a few special finds like the handmade metal birds we brought from Cambodia and the Rodocrosita stone bowl I got in northern Argentina.  I love that leather stamped tray that I opted to lean too - a fellow photographer shared a photo of hers on Instagram and we both agreed that for $40 you can't really go wrong.  Also, recognize the print?

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