Lately I’ve been thinking about my own place. Not that it’s happening in the immediate future (I currently live with family), but inevitably I will need to get my own place – likely a small one-bedroom or even studio apartment. I’ll finally have carte blanche when it comes to every single decision regarding design and function. The scenarios I’ve played out while pouring over Sotheby’s real estate listings will suddenly be a reality, albeit with one significant caveat. How do I reconcile years of inspiration via Architectural Digest with a Dollar Store budget?
I’ve never been a Target idolator, but I’ve always respected their collaborations with well-regarded and high-priced brands and designers. I like the idea that your average person can get a piece of the pie, can own a version of something they’d normally only be able to afford in a parallel, affluent life. Others criticized these collaborations, saying that the mass-market affordability (and the step-down in tangible quality necessary to make them happen) cheapens the brand. The reason people want the brand in the first place is because of the quality and the exclusivity, so by doing a line at Target, is anyone really getting what they want? I can see both sides of the argument, but I think critics will be happier with Target’s newer approach. They’ve skipped the middle-man and created their own lines, inspired by trendier and more expensive brands. A brand’s reputation isn’t hurt, but Target shoppers can choose from items that are more in line with what they might be coveting online or in magazines than one would expect from such a massive, accessible store.
One such line created by Target seems to have caught the attention of many design bloggers and Instagram basics. It’s called OpalHouse and it’s incredibly (sometimes painfully) trendy, seemingly very heavily inspired by Anthropologie’s home collection of product. As I filtered through the 567 (!!) items available in the Opalhouse collection on target’s website, I thought about what items I’d consider purchasing, were I in need to furnishing my own place. Definitely best to avoid anything too trendy or attention grabbing, something that I wouldn’t get sick of, wouldn’t be embarrassed if any guest saw it, and things that reminded me of things I’d seen and wanted over the years, albeit at a much much MUCH lower price point. I decided to give myself a budget of $25 or less per item, and not to go crazy. I think it’s important your home didn’t look like someone else designed it, and picking too many items from one brand or one collection is a trap to adopting someone else’s taste as your own. Where’s the fun in that? Here’s what I came up with:
^ Plastic Tumblers 16oz ($1.99 each) and 22oz ($2.49 each)
^ Velvet Fringe Pillow ($24.99)^ Palm Taper Candlesticks ($14.99 each)^ Artificial Palm Leaf Plant in Gold Base ($24.99) – I’m not sure I can keep a real one alive^ Various Wood and Cast Frames ($14.99 each)^ Green Embroidered Tassel Accent Rug ($19.99)
^ Floral Earthenware Vase ($14.99)
It’s a House Hunters cliche. A young couple and a flustered realtor wander around a house more than a few decades old and they stumble upon a wood paneled room. If the realtor is lucky, the would-be-homebuyers suggest they can take down or paint the paneling to make it livable. More than likely, though, this young couple is mentally writing the house off. Too dated, too dark, not HGTV enough. I admit I’ve never been particularly fond of wood paneling, but recent examples of homeowners and designers embracing and updating the look instead of replacing it altogether have given me pause. Perhaps a wooden walls and ceilings can be cozy and even a kind of neutral that allows furniture, art, and fixtures to take center stage while still maintaining more visual interest than painted drywall. As an example, I’ve chosen some photos from a real estate listing I’ve revisited many times over the past several months. While not traditional vertical wood paneling, I believe the principal applies here. Faced with wood ceilings, walls, floors, and trim, the homeowners chose to do the exact opposite of convention, painting wood trim and hardwood floors and leaving wooden walls and ceilings as-is. The results are spectacular, and it’s not just the views that do the trick. The balance of warm wood with pale pastel paint and light floors provide the perfect juxtaposition. An oversized paper lantern as the primary light fixture, simple furniture, and a few luxury details, such as marble counter tops help carry on the high-low, traditional-modern, light-dark, grounded-ethereal balance they have going on. Talk about real estate envy. From now on, when I see wood paneling or boards on ceilings or walls, I’ll think twice before mentally painting them over or ripping them out.
White cabinets. For years, it’s all you saw in magazines, HGTV, and popular home blogs. Studies were done that showed white cabinets were the most desired by home buyers. House flippers and mass-appeal designers were steadfast in their devotion to all white kitchens. Prior to that, it had been all dark woods. Super dark. Unnaturally dark. And before that, light wood, maybe a honeyed oak with lots of wood grain. Lately it’s all about painting cabinets in shades of grey. But isn’t it more fun to have an edge, to be an original?
In October 2013, Cameron Diaz’s Chelsea, Manhattan apartment (pictured below, with the gold backsplash) was featured in a design magazine. Her kitchen was a revelation, bucking the trends, she chose dark, emerald green cabinets. I knew someday I’d like to design a home with a green kitchen, perhaps even for me. In the years since, I’ve found more examples of design forward homeowners taking a gamble on green and winning big every time. It’s distinctive, classy, bold, original, and grown-up. If all green cabinets feels like overload, consider painting just the base of the kitchen island. You could have an Emerald Isle of your very own.
Culture is like a rubber band. When pulled too far one way, it over-corrects, snapping back past the ideal and far into the opposing direction. For a while it seemed like minimalism was king. I’d flip through a magazine and find houses that could scarcely be called homes. All stark white walls, concrete floors, clean lines, bare bones. For the past several years, it’s been much the opposite, with trendsetters doing pattern on pattern on pattern. It has to be arabesque, embroidered, mixed textures, just layers of visual interest. I believe there’s a happy medium. Ornate and simple are both beautiful, and obviously design is a deeply personal expression, but it seems a mixture of both would be a natural fit for most. Somewhere along the line, I think the beauty got lost in the shuffle. Intricate designs, rich fabrics, and a sense of bespoke indulgence can be inspirational, but are designers leaning in too far? Those elements should serve the higher purpose of design, to inspire and contribute beauty to one’s surroundings. It seems the forest has been missed for the trees.
Maybe my point is best made by way of synecdoche. Consider Gucci’s fairly recent entry into the home decor marketplace. These cushions (starting at $1,150 apiece) are embroidered with detailed images, tasseled, fringed, and made of velvet. Are they also ugly? Is that the sign of the end of a design craze, when it’s been pushed beyond the limits of good taste? If someone spotted one of these in their grandmother’s apartment 20 years ago they’d smirk to themselves about how awful they were, and yet now the coolest among us are shelling out more than your average person takes home in a week to purchase pillow, just because Gucci told them to like them. I wonder what design would look like without branding. I guess it would just come down to good taste.
George Nakashima is everything you hope to achieve as a designer and artist. His work can be found in the homes of taste makers and king makers, A-list Hollywood stars and revered designers. As a creator, his style is distinctive, immediately recognizable. And yet, despite the overwhelming popularity of his creations, something about the timelessness of his craftsmanship and his ability to elevate and refine natural forms have kept his work from the good-taste repelling hell of mass-market trendiness.
I spend far more time than I care to admit perusing architecture and design magazines. As of today, I subscribe to four different Architecture and Interior Design magazines and often I ingest the latest issues of four or five others in the bookstore or grocery store magazine aisles. My internet search history consists of endless visits to Sothebys Real Estate, Houlihan Lawrence, Estately, Apartment Therapy, various editions of Curbed (house of the day tag being my favorite), the list goes on and on. Somehow without having any palpable connection to the world of architecture and design, it’s a significant part of my personal identity. In a home, an office, a public space, but especially when perusing real estate listings online, I’m often redesigning elements in my head. What would I change? What do I love? How does the design impact my mood? In a parallel universe I have a thriving design firm. But for now, I have access to a computer. Though I’m not creating, I can compile, mostly for myself.
How does George Nakashima fit into this? George Nakashima’s work fits everywhere, that’s what makes his work so tremendous. Though the work itself is understated – usually a single material (wood) often in a nature-made shape (spruced up through his workmanship) – it brings a room together. That’s an oft-used phrase; “it brings the room together”. To me it means it’s the necessary element that brings balance. Nakashima can work in a sparely decorated mid-century home, contrasting the clean lines and man-made-perfect look of an Eames piece with an organic shape. A Nakashima coffee table will bring instant masculinity to a feminine room, it will bring comfort to a modernist scheme. A Nakashima dining table will make a very formal dining room a more accessible room. In my parallel life as a high functioning master of interiors, a Nakashima work will always have a seat at the table. The proof is in the pudding. Below are just a few examples of his work at work. It’s unmistakable, immediately visible, but not ostentatious. Great design. One day I’d like to own a piece or seven.