Our existing home came together by leaps and bounds. And just as it finally started looking like something coherent, we put in an offer on another house to expand our living and working space. Having learned our lessons from decorating our first house, we decided not to reinvent the wheel and look for ideas and advice from the professionals. That is not to say that we buried ourselves in piles of home decorating magazines. Rather, we looked for a handful of comprehensive sources that covered a variety of home decorating aspects while not going overboard.
Stop number one – Good Design Can Change Your Life by Ty Pennington, the man who could build an entertainment center in under two hours on Trading Spaces and made the phrase “Move that bus!” iconic.
Many of Ty's designs are person-specific and could not be easily adapted for another home. However, his ideas are worth exploring and taking to heart. Building your vision, recognizing that your environment impacts your life, creating a space that reflects who you are rather than blindly follows the latest fad or duplicates that picture you saw in Vogue... All these things are as applicable to life in general as they are to building your living space.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of one's personality in creating one's home, Ty also provides many ideas and sources for recycling, sustainable and environmentally friendly materials as well as using traditional objects in unexpected ways (wicker neck rolls as reading lights, anyone?).
I first heard about A Big Book of Small Cool Spaces on NPR's The Splendid Table hosted by Lynn Rosetto-Casper. Lynn interviewed the book's author, Apartment Therapy's Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, about challenges of cooking and entertaining in tiny big city apartments. And while New Yorkers, Bostonians and Chicagoans can get by without cooking due to the abundance of take-out options, according to Mr. Gillingham-Ryan, there was definitely hope for those who wanted to combine city living with culinary fun.
Many of the “small cool spaces” in the book are located in renovated former office buildings, warehouses and factories. While all of them have oodles of character, square footage is definitely at a premium. Instead of giving up and moving into the suburbs, the owners tackle the challenge head-on, resulting in some truly unique, practical yet elegant layout solutions.
Do not be mistaken – we are not talking about movie stars, big-shot lawyers or realtors here. The owners of these fascinating little urban gems range from beginner artists, photographers, graphic designers and architects getting their first “real” place in the city to families with two working parents and multiple children.
The author's own apartment is also in the book, and is just as worthy of admiration as the others. He and his wife lived in a 300 square foot space with their baby daughter for a year (you can almost hear a chuckle as you read, “...you get to know your baby really well that way.”), before their neighbor decided to move and sold his 400 square foot apartment to them, making it possible for the young family to significantly expand their living space and finally create a bit of separation between themselves and their little girl.
Even if you are not scrambling for space, I would strongly recommend this book as a fantastic source of space-saving ideas that allow you to make the most of your square footage without sacrificing style.
The Well-Dressed Home begins not with asking how much space you have, but rather what your closet looks like. The author Annette Tatum, encourages you to do two things at once: identify your personal style and that of your home (or your favorite place in your home). Drawing inspiration from a diverse group of fashion designers, she groups interior styles not by color, or size, or the nature of structural elements, but rather by adjectives normally reserved for one's wardrobe: bohemian, vintage, eco, classic, retro, resort...
Have you thought of using your favorite scarf as a basis for your living room's color palette? Do you suppose the color and finish of your lived-in leather cowboy boots would look comfy and inviting on a comfy armchair? Does that antique chandelier remind you of the pearl-and-crystal earrings you got from your grandmother? Anything goes, and deriving one's big vision from a small object can lead to truly spectacular results.
Not all of the designs in the book appealed to me, which was only natural, considering that my personal style and that of the owners of many of these spaces are probably very different. However, I found the thought process equally fascinating for both the places I had trouble relating to and my favorites.
In addition to some great stories and fantastic ideas, all three of these books are fun to peruse through when you just want to occupy yourself for a few minutes. All three authors employed excellent photographers, making these rooms nearly pop off the page and providing you plenty to feast your eyes upon.