Every year at this time, I review the 50-some columns I have shared with you over the past 12 months, which is a bit like watching a Charlie Chaplin silent film backward. I ferret out one bit of wisdom per month, a lesson learned, often the hard way, and wrap those missives up for you, six-pack style. Here are my top takeaways from the first half of 2018:
IN JANUARY I spotted a trend. Those hand-painted blue-and-white pottery and porcelain pieces — ginger jars and vases — that my mom’s generation collected were cropping up in home stores and catalogs. Hmmmm. Then, while interviewing a trend expert about the New Traditionalist movement, bringing traditional looks back into the home in unexpected ways, she gave this example: “It’s putting Delftware in an all-white modern Miami apartment.” I then started seeing more interpretations of this style on fabrics and wallpaper.
Indeed, the quaint blue-and-white Royal Delft pottery, named for the town in the Netherlands where artisans have been making it since 1653, has been coming across the pond in a big, updated way.
Lesson: History repeats itself in home décor, too, often in surprising, appealing ways.
IN FEBRUARY, four months after DC and I moved into our new house, a friend, who’s on the board of our city’s Philharmonic Orchestra, texted me: “This is rather forward of me, but I’m wondering if you guys would be interested in hosting a ‘Connect with the Phil’ event in your new home ... next month ... for 50 to 60 people” So began a panicked flurry. Torn between, What am I crazy? And, Of course, I love a party, I ran the proposal by DC, who asked the obvious question: “What all would we need to do?”
I read him my overwhelming list.“We can say no,” I added, hoping one of us would be sane about this.
“I’m fine hosting an event that would support the arts and our community,” he said. “Plus, we’ll find out if we do have a ‘great entertainment house’ like the real estate ad promised.”
So the party was on. And we do.
Lesson: When in doubt, have the party.
IN MARCH, I discovered the power of the porch. As mama used to say, “Take it outside.” When the kids are screaming, the dogs are scuffling, the television is blaring, your spouse is cranky, and your workaday world has frazzled your last nerve, the best medicine is — the porch.
A magical space that lets you both get away and be home, a porch is life’s decompression chamber. While flipping through “On the Porch,” a book featuring porches across America, I projected myself onto these carefree places where folks do the best kind of nothing: rock, knit, whittle, visit, court, cut the kids’ hair, shell peas, shuck corn and watch the world go by.
Lesson: “There aren’t many homes that wouldn’t benefit from a porch,” said the author, architect James Crisp. “A porch can change the way you live.”
IN APRIL, I was expecting my first grand house. My daughter and her long-term boyfriend, both age 25, were buying their first house in Texas, where both were starting doctoral programs. (Read smart and poor.) They were cobbling together their savings and meager incomes to qualify. They found a house they loved, made an offer, and got outbid.
“I thought we had it,” my daughter said, crestfallen. “I’d already drawn up a furniture plan and chosen paint colors.”
“So had I,” I said. I’d been on diaper pins and knitting needles, wringing my hands, eager to start molding my next …, er, I mean, my daughter’s dream house.
“We’ll never get a house,” she said.
House heartbreak is the worst.
Then, realizing I was the adult here, I struggled to find some calm, reasoned perspective, which I found in the back of my closet behind the hamper. Then I shared some hard-won advice.
Lesson: When buying a home, always be ready to walk away. Emotions kill deals and lead to horrible investments. If you lose the house, another will come along.
IN MAY, a chorus of elders gently put me in my place. I’d written a column about how to put the “you” in your home, but not too much of you. I’d written: “I’m picturing those homes where the sentimental owners smother every doily-covered surface with memorabilia … and where oodles of family photos spread across tables like the tattoo plague. Sometimes, less of ‘You’ is better.”
That prompted a 90-year-old woman to write to tell me that I had made her feel bad for her desire to keep the things she loved around her. Oh, boy.
When I referred to “those homes,” I did so with a “slight sneer,” she said, and felt called out. “In my home, which I have been in for 52 years, I am surrounded by objects that have behind them stories, living memories. I live in what some might call a museum of a life well lived. ... You made me feel guilty for not being more philosophical and for being downright unmotivated to spend the years I have left getting rid of stuff.”
I was knee deep now. I shared our email exchange with readers, who, in turn sympathetically weighed in.
Lesson: Listen to your elders. And when dealing with their belongings tread softly.
IN JUNE, inspired by my porch findings and the news that nine family members were coming to stay for a week, I created an outdoor getaway. The five adults, three youngsters and a baby would stay upstairs. Holy Legos and diaper pails. It promised to be exactly the kind of madness DC and I hoped for when we bought the Happier Yellow House.
As I surveyed the upstairs, my eyes fell on the unfurnished terrace off the landing.The 19-by-19-foot covered outdoor area overlooks the backyard and greenspace. If I’m living up here with three kids and a baby, I know where I’d be.
I had five weeks to turn the empty slab into an inviting escape. I drew a plan, then ordered a bank of upper and lower marine-grade polymer cabinets from WeatherStrong, which would come in 10 days, and a mini fridge for one wall. Then I ordered some resort-level outdoor furniture — two large-scale rattan chairs with ottomans, and an area rug — from Blue Oak Outdoors, and, poof, the space went from wasteland to oasis.
Lesson: The secret to a successful family staycation comes down to two words: Breathing room.