Less is More
As published in the Napa Valley Register.
You’ve probably heard the oxymoronic expression, “less is more.” It’s a phrase adopted by German-born architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). Mies, as he was known, was one of the pioneers of modern architecture and the last director of the Bauhaus school. He also designed furniture and I’m sure you’d recognize his iconic, sleek, leather and steel Barcelona chair. Minimalism was the theme for the mid-century era.
Have you ever asked your tax preparer, attorney, or anyone for that matter (including an interior designer), a seemingly simple question expecting a yes or no answer? Instead, you received a convoluted multi-sentenced answer that buried the yes or no – if it was, indeed, ever uttered. Or, have you ever stopped reading a novel because the author introduced too many irrelevant characters or too many flowery adjectives that made the story unduly long? In the first example, you were overwhelmed and in the second, you lost interest. You were probably also irritated and disappointed. Why? Because there were too many things to digest. The excessiveness led to a blur and the intention of each was never realized.
“Less is more” is not just about quantity but about the way it makes you feel. The accessories in your home, and the way you’ve grouped them, are meant to tell little stories, to create lovely vignettes, and to uplift your spirits every time you see them. If yours do this for you, it means you’ve put some thought behind each arrangement. If they don’t, there could be a few reasons including the possibility that you’re displaying too many things. Ones you love the most are lost among the others. You may even feel burdened or even depressed by over-abundance. Do these problems pale in comparison to current events in the outside world? Of course, but I can attest that beautiful aesthetics can bring pleasure and boost spirits as we all shelter in place. Your surroundings matter.
I just moved into a new home. One of the first things I purchased was a water fountain for the patio. I placed it close to the house so that I hear it from three different rooms inside. The sound of its flowing water calms me. I bet that many of you have felt uplifted with a new color of paint. Or maybe you’ve removed carpet to expose hard wood and all of a sudden feel lighter and refreshed. The point is, your environment can affect your emotional health.
I may be breaking my own rule by going on and on with questions and examples instead of focusing on “less is more.” But, I want to drive home the fact that creating a beautiful home is not a frivolous exercise. And as far as accessorizing goes, it is easy to do and won’t cost a dime.
Start by critiquing each of your rooms. How do you feel? Does each reflect a certain story? Do you see harmony and rhythm in color, style, texture, and purpose? Does each make a single, appealing statement or multiple, conflicting ones? These questions venture into the esoteric territory that I mentioned before so let me give you a couple of real-life scenarios.
Because I’ve been working with clients remotely, one sent me a picture of accessories she had recently purchased. She also showed me where she had put them including her powder room. I knew the space well as it was part of an earlier design project I had worked on. It was gray and white with accents of black. She emphasized this color palette with a black and white vase, black and white flowers, and a white candle. But I also spotted a piece of wall art in the reflection of the vanity mirror. It was an abstract in black, white, blue and lime green. I happened to know that she had two lime green vases in her living room and suggested using them instead of the black and white vase. I also suggested that she remove the candle and a couple of other too-small items.
Although this powder room looked nice before the changes, its style was elevated just by removing superfluous and/or items that were too small. And, in doing so, the lime green accents became stronger and easier to appreciate. Fewer things, bigger impact. Or, “less is more.”
Here’s another example: As I was putting my new guest bedroom together, I wanted to decorate it in a different way than I had before. I also wanted to create a serene, coastal ambiance. So, I combined white, aqua and sea green bedding (that came from three different bedrooms) and gathered all my glass jars and other accessories with these same colors. Each had to pass the color and style test in order to stay in the room. They included a tropical Monstera plant, a bamboo chair, and three water-color paintings.
The room was feeling happy and so was I. However, I knew I had over-accessorized and started to edit. I did so by analyzing the scale of objects. If two had a similar size, only one would stay. I also removed two of the three chairs. All were different from each other and all were stylistically perfect for the room. But the bamboo won out.
Editing can be difficult when all accessories work and you like each and every one. But “less is more” is a fail-safe motto to follow. And, in my case, I was able to use the “rejects” to create a little coastal guest bathroom.
When giving your home an accessories makeover, you don’t have to strictly adhere to Mies van der Rohe’s minimalist sensibilities. Just group similar items together, vary the scale and remove what seems redundant. Keep adjusting until each room looks and feels so nice that sheltering in place is a daily pleasure.