Thursday, July 26, 2007

Live Well On Less: Home Decoration

Is there anything more ladylike than concern for others? Our lives may reflect God's grace, but so often, our homes do not.

Perhaps you truly aren't affected by the way things look, but what about your family? Is your husband is longing for a handsome place to sit? Are your children's toys unwelcome in the living room? Providing an attractive, comfortable home is an extension of caring for others.

You can live well on less by creating an environment that makes others feel at home--on any budget.

Let's not talk about styles or even colors. Let's talk about the elements of beauty in the home, what some might call good taste. When we're dealing with a tight budget, we can't afford to buy junk.

Below, I had to sift through many ugly lamps to find this $11 pottery lamp.

The more an item costs, the more carefully you should scrutinize your options:
$100 at a consignment sale..."when will this item be reduced in price?"
$5 at a yard sale..."I will use it for now, and sell it when I find something better."
FREE..."Sure! I can make this work somehow!"

Appropriate vs. Tacky
Does the item suit its purpose? Is it there for show or function? We don't have room in our budgets (or our homes!) for looks alone. As much as I love the spirit of Emilie Barnes, I could never advise you to decorate an adult room with teddy bears!

The reading chair and ottoman was a splurge at $90, but its natural sheen and soft seat make the whole room cozy--and functional.
Genuine vs. Fake
It is always better to choose a real thing, even worn, over a reproduction.
An old Oriental rug adds richness that a polyester version can't. I would take bare wood floors over an ugly rug. Whenever possible, choose natural materials over synthetics--you can't fake the sense of touch.

The same applies to flowers. I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but it would be better to paint your front door a rich glossy color than to hang a wreath of fake roses on it. You can buy gallons of expensive paints for $5 at Habitat Homestores or the Oops bin. Plant a six-pack of annual plants for $1.47 in pots on either side of your door. The yellow rattan chair-turned-pedestal was rescued from the curb.
Plain vs. Fancy
Simple forms mix better than highly ornamented furniture. The bigger the piece, the less pattern it should have, if only because this makes coordinating with other secondhand finds easy. My childhood windsor chair mixes with curbside chairs and a $5 coffee table.

Handmade vs. Mass Produced
Always choose the unique over something that came out of a box. Don't buy a print from Target when you can hang your children's artwork for free. Why? Handcrafted items pack more decorating punch. They look real.

How To Cut Your Decorating Budget Without Even Trying:
Don't buy accessories.
Make your functional objects beautiful, and you won't need to accessorize.

My advice may be contrarian, but it works. People always write to ask how I keep my home from looking cluttered. Now you know my secret! I may choose a pretty pitcher, but I would never buy a decorative figurine to sit on the kitchen counter.

The few accessories I keep have sentimental family value. My home gets most of its color and interest from books, art, plants, and functional beauty--all items which can be made, grown, or found with little cost. (We bought this French Country patterned lamp for $5.)

New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!


Barb said...

Thank you for this series. It's given me much food for thought and much inspiration. I'm with you on the figurines! and yet people keep giving them to us. Oh well.

In addition to the children's artwork, I also frame the best pictures I take of our kids and family members. I was fortunate to take a photography class when I worked at the University of Pennsylvania for free and it helped formed my eye for better quality pictures. As a result our walls look more like an art gallery than snap shot central.

Here's a quote from William Morris that resonated with me when I read your decorating piece:

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

Anna said...

This reminds me of the aesthetic principle I live by: "Elegance is refusal."

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed your lessons this week. For quite some time I have been whining (an awful thing that is hard to admit) that my home is too small and I don't have the $$ to do anything to make it better. You've helped me realize that it's not about the money you spend, but the thought that goes into each purchase. While price should be considered (you get the quality you invest in), the most expensive is not always better!

I really have enjoyed what I've learned and how much you are changing my attitude and my thoughts on decorating. What I find most humbling is that I initially tried to utilize Ms. Stoddard's ideas when I first set up house with dh. After about 6 mos I gave it up as too costly and not Christian like. I like what you said about out homes reflecting God's grace as much or more than our lives.

I can't tell you how much what you've said here will help my daily life. Thank you!!


TracyMichele said...

People have often commented on the lack of clutter I have in my home. I always laugh and say it is because we can't afford to have extra "stuff". Often I see that as a bad thing but you have me realizing my simple living really is a great thing. I have already said it... but thank you for this series!

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I love your advice. I'm not much of a knick-knack person, although I do have a collection of turtles from around the world, but they're all housed together in a curio cabinet. I prefer books and useful items.

Unfortunately, I don't do much with plants. One cat eats them all, and the other tries to make a new potty out of them.

I'm a fan of this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: The ornament of a house is the friends that frequent it.

We go to a church located in the midst of half-million dollar homes. I used to feel a bit self-conscious about our tiny little home that has not been professionally decorated and looks nothing like what you'd find in a magazine. However, I've discovered that I have something better. Several people who have come over have commented on how peaceful my home is. It took me a while, but I realized that is really the highest compliment I could possibly receive! I'd rather have an imperfect home full of peace, than a perfectly-decorated one full of a cold or chaotic atmosphere.

Mimi said...

Your series has been wonderful so far. I plan to go back over the posts at leisure so that I can implement the principles.

Anonymous said...

Meredith, your posts, your blog are just wonderful. I hope you know that you are doing a wonderful job and that your an inspiration to every person who reads these posts. You have put so much thought into this, it shows how much you love your home, your family, and most of all your love of the Lord shows. Thank you for sharing it with us. I wish I had a way with words and a way with decoration as you do. I admit I do not. I keep on trying. My husband laughs at me because I move things around so often. I even move my fridge in the kitchen..from one wall to another...he thinks it is funny..God gave me that man, he is my gift from God, because no one else would put up with me I am sure. Thanks again. Roxie

Julian said...

i too, am learning to live with less clutter, and yes, with 6 kids, that is possible. I have been inspired by you, and annas posts, I read them daily. Less in good taste is better than alot of clutter. Beauty can be a few things. I have also learned to clean out clothing and toys, and books every few months. I like to see my kids using what they have, not letting it sit in a basket collecting dust. Less sometimes is more, and less is often beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Great series, really enjoying it in the moments between nursing my newborn. Thanks Meredith!

Elena LaVictoire said...

I think your pictures are gorgeous and I am so inspired! The tip about the black pain in the other post was very helpful. I think I might give it a try!

MommyLydia said...

*sigh* Blogger no longer likes me being logged in to a gmail account it does not know.

Were you the one that wrote about turning plain boxes into beautiful containers?

I am needing "wicker baskets" for organizing my changing table shelf. But thought if I can find three cardboard boxes of appropriate size and use those directions, I could use those instead.

But now I can't find the directions on how to do it!

Anonymous said...


You are my absolute favorite blog. I love your tips and your photography. I think you should consider writing a book. E-books and self published books are options but I think with the popularity of your blog and the great example it is of your work, I think you could get a regular publisher interested. Check a Christian bookstore for books about the home and see who the publishers and editors are. This will give you ideas on whom to approach. I'm a wanna be writer so I have studied the industry and can help you with the hoops if you decide you are interested.

Cyndi Lewis

Anonymous said...


I forgot to ask. Where do you find your "finds". Can you give us readers a list of places that you frequent. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

My oldest wants to be an architect/interior designer. I think I'll have her read these entries, when she returns from camp.