It’s that time. The time of year when I look back at the weekly columns I have shared with you over the past 12 months, which is a bit like watching "I Love Lucy" reruns at high speed backwards, and try to glean the one best piece of advice I stumbled upon each month. Then I wrap those lessons up for you here, in a two-part series, 12-days-of-Christmas style. Here are the first six:
IN JANUARY, organizing month, I got serious about taming the tough stuff. Most of my house was under control (until we get to April), but certain pockets and categories defied order. For instance, I had yard tools propped in the garage like assault weapons. Every time I bumped one, it threatened to behead me. So, I uncovered tricks to tame our most unruly possessions, including scarves, kitchen utensils, shoes, toys, and yes, garden tools. The day I seized control, I mounted pegboard on my garage wall, where, using an adjustable hook system, I hung not only the garden tools, but also saws, mechanics lights, extension cords and lawn chairs. Off the floor, these items no longer lie in wait.
Lesson. You can make anything, even your most unruly possessions, orderly.
IN FEBRUARY, I broke out of a design rut, and, with a few small moves, revived my dated dining room without buying new furniture, only accessories. By trading a pair of round carved mirrors for modern clean-edged ones, painting the room an updated blue, and switching out the traditional area rug and light fixture for contemporary ones, I took the room from traditional to transitional. What a difference.
Lesson. Many people live with outdated décor because they think the only alternative is to start from scratch. Redecorating after you’ve done it once can feel like volunteering to do middle school over. So rooms stay the same for years. But changing the accessories can be transforming.
IN MARCH, I said good-bye to my Colorado home. Though I’d moved from Colorado six years earlier, selling the home where I’d raised my family for eight years was bittersweet. At the closing, after we’d drained a dozen pens signing forms, and I’d started to gather my things, I overheard the lender say to the buyers: “Congratulations on your new house.” And I froze to take in the first moment in 14 years that I was no longer responsible for this house. A weight lifted. A mortgage fell away. A title changed hands, and a wistfulness rose in my chest. I shook the new owners’ hands, and told them I was glad my house was going to a good home.
Before going to the airport, I drove by the old house, and sat out front. I felt as if I were opening an old favorite book. I took a minute to thank the house for the shelter it provided my family, the celebrations it oversaw, and for its embrace.
Lesson: One, it is possible to very much want something that makes you sad. Two, always say a proper good-bye to the places you’ve lived.
IN APRIL, chaos came to our once orderly home to stay. Toys were everywhere. A full-night’s sleep became a luxury of the past, and my husband’s and my deepest conversations revolved around potty training, feeding schedules, naps, and detailed reports of what went in and came out when. We got a puppy.
Lesson: If you want a pristine, immaculate, well-ordered home, don’t have kids or pets. But that is not the life for me. If pets are part of your home life, design with them in mind. I splurged on fun pet home accessories: handsome food bowls, a gorgeous porcelain treat jar with a ceramic bone handle, and good-looking beds. (I like Jax & Bones and Wash ‘N Zip.) All for puppy love.
IN MAY, a rug dealer DC and I met months earlier while on a cruise that stopped in Turkey called to say he was in Florida, with a large collection of rugs. He wanted to stop by. “Absolutely not,” I told DC. I’ve always been highly suspicious of foreign rug dealers. But DC wanted to go for it: “If you want to step up our décor, this would be a good way to do it.”
The next afternoon, Hakan Zor and his partner Sam pulled up with a van full of rugs, and so began one of the most memorable evenings DC and I have ever had – one spent talking over grilled-cheese sandwiches and wine about Turkish and American politics, our families, and, of course, the wide, wonderful world of handmade rugs. By the end of the night, Hakan and Sam had turned this once resistant, distrusting rug shopper into an enlightened consumer of this ancient artform -- and sold us three rugs.
Lesson. I now understand why designers say if you can only splurge on one item in your home, make it a great rug. Warning: once you learn to appreciate fine handmade rugs, you can’t go back.
IN JUNE, I learned how to age gracefully from a wine class. DC and I had been taking wine-tasting classes. He learned about wine, while I drank it, which was perfect.
At one class, a fifth-generation winemaker explained the difference between a young wine and an old one. “A young wine,” he said, “is nice to have dinner with, once. A middle-aged wine makes for a more interesting dinner companion because it has more to talk about. An old, well-preserved wine has even more complexity, and is one you want to have dinner with again, and again.”
This made me feel better, since I had been lamenting my own bygone youth when my skin would hold its own self up, when I could read the fine print without rummaging for glasses, and when my knees did what I asked them to without argument. Hence my new mantra: I’m not getting older. I’m getting more interesting!
Lesson: When storing wines at home, keep them dark, cool, and lying down. If cared for properly, great wines get more interesting as they age – and so do we. Cheers!