If we’re honest, we all have at least one friend whose home we envy just a teensy bit. Maybe it’s because their house is bigger, newer, or simply that they have a keen eye for decorating that leaves us wondering how we missed that lesson in our high school Home Economics class.
What exactly is it that makes a home beautiful? I ask because it’s something that I have grappled with for years. I am convinced that when the genes for interior design got passed out, I was definitely skipped over. Put me in a kitchen or in front of a spreadsheet and I can do great things, but when it comes to decorating, well…it’s just not my forte. But as a believer in lifelong learning, I think that my genetic deficiency can be overcome, so I have been doing an unscientific study over the last few years and have discovered that beautiful homes have some common traits. If you too want to create more beauty in your home, follow these simple tips:
Color can be tricky. It’s so easy to decorate with a palette of neutrals because it seems safe, but you run the risk of swimming in a boring sea of beige. So embrace color and add a splash of it here and there around your home. A good way to ease yourself into color is to add color using pillows – nothing is permanent, and you can change them throughout the seasons.
There have been volumes of information written about how to de-clutter your life and home. In fact, entire industries have been built around home organization (KonMari, anyone?). If you’re not quite ready to undertake a thorough purging of clutter in every room around the house, I recommend a baby step: take a look at each one of the surfaces in your rooms – the kitchen counter, the office desk, your dresser – with the goal of eliminating any items that don’t “live” on the surface. Yes, you can keep the framed handprint of your preschooler, but the mail that has accumulated on the kitchen counter goes. As I tell my kids, “a place for everything and everything in its place”!
Nothing brings warmth to a home like an arrangement of fresh flowers. Some women spend their money on shoes or lunching with girlfriends – my vice is fresh flowers, and I can never quite get enough of them. During the cold winter months when nothing is in bloom in the garden, I can even live with regular old grocery store flowers that I will arrange and put on an entryway table as a foretaste of spring (click here for my recent blog post about a DIY winter flower arrangement with step-by-step instructions). If you have the good fortune of having scented flowers in your garden, do yourself a favor – you will thank me for this – cut some and put them in a vase in a central location in your home. The intoxicating scent of fresh lilacs or tuberose wafting up your stairwell is a glorious scent to wake up to in the morning.
Bring Your Home to Life with Smell
While we’re on the subject of smell, try to find ways to incorporate pleasant smells into your home. There’s a reason why real estate agents recommend that you bake cookies just before prospective buyers look at your home – home cooking adds a dimension of warmth and hominess that all the interior design in the world can’t match. If cooking isn’t your thing, try using scented candles that match the seasons (no pumpkin pie candles around Easter!). My favorite scented candles that I discovered in Paris years ago are now easily found online here – just in case you’re looking for another beautiful, but dangerous vice (I’m such a bad influence!).
Be Intentional About the Sounds in your Home
This is the easiest tip because it costs nothing! Part of creating beauty in your home is controlling the environment. In a culture that values being “always on”, use your home as a place to turn off the constant stream of chatter and noise. Whether we realize it or not, our brains process the stimulus of sound – so keep non-essential stimulus to a minimum. Instead of keeping the TV on in the background, turn it off and try to embrace the quiet opportunity to be alone with your thoughts.
Create Technology Boundaries
This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip. Technology has become so much a part of our daily lives that it’s important to have time each day when we aren’t in front of some type of a screen. A recent report found that 71% of respondents slept with or next to their mobile phones and 35% reach for their phones the first thing in the morning when they wake up. I fondly remember the days when my work e-mail stayed in the office and messages sent after the workday ended were answered the following morning. Be the boss of your devices – create times during your own rhythm of life when your technology will be turned off.
Find pockets of your home where you can incorporate plants into your décor. Not only do houseplants clean and purify the indoor air, they add some color and visual interest into your home. If you are looking for your first houseplant and don’t know where to go, try Home Depot. I have found that their prices are fantastic and the plants I buy there tend to thrive beautifully – in some cases, even better than the houseplants that I have purchased at my local garden center.
One of the most beautiful things in a home is a house full of guests. All of the decorating and de-cluttering that we do doesn’t mean much if we don’t practice hospitality. It’s the laughter around a good meal, the intimate conversations, and the connections with other people that really add meaning to our lives.
So if there’s one tip that you take and use in your life, let it be this one. Invite those friends over for dinner even if your house isn’t perfect. Even if your toddler just used permanent marker all over your couch or you have to put five loads of unfolded laundry behind a closed door. In the end, our homes are the canvas that relationships are painted on – they should inspire us and our loved ones to go out into the world to do great things and then welcome us back for refreshment.