The Thinking 

Home Decorating

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More on Carl Larsson

August 3, 2012


Esbjorn Doing His Homework, Carl Larsson, 1912

MEREDITH writes:

It pained me to read that some of the Swedish painter Carl Larsson’s critics questioned the happiness of that family, and called him a hypocrite.  What rot!  And how wonderful that he had such a family and a haven to retreat to, as all men should.  It allowed him to go on, and continue to paint, and we all benefit from his work today. Read More »


The Home of Carl and Karin Larsson

August 2, 2012


THE SWEDISH PAINTER Carl Larsson created one of the Europe’s most beloved visions of domestic harmony. Dozens of Larsson’s watercolors and paintings featured his immediate surroundings: his wife, Karin; their children, their house and the countryside near Sundborn, the village where they lived in the late nineteenth century. A son confined to a chair in punishment, the children diving into the river, two daughters getting dressed with toys scattered on the floor, the family fishing for crayfish, Karin ironing  — these scenes were suffused with light, vibrant color and a deep appreciation for the enchantments of life with children. Larsson’s painting have enjoyed continuous popularity, but they have also at times been the victim of snobbery. This was to be expected. Domestic idealism is disdained in the modern world.


Nevertheless, Lilla Hyttnäs, the house in Sundborn, is one of Europe’s most popular artist’s houses and represents something of a revolution in interior decorating. While many nineteenth century interiors were somber and formal, the Larssons favored bright colors, handcrafts, and cheerful informality. Part of the Arts and Crafts Movement, they were a major inspiration for what we think of as Scandinavian design and even for the contemporary do-it-yourself movement. The house is not the kind of dwelling that would be conceived by a professional decorator. It has the organic quality that can only be the result of gradual evolution, rather than a preconceived scheme.

For those who enjoyed the discussions at this site on life in small houses, (see here, here, and here) the Larsson house, which can be viewed on the family website, may be of especial interest. The Larssons had a way of creating interesting and varied scenes in relatively small rooms. Read More »


The Principle of Non-Decoration at Work

December 15, 2009


Donna Karan by David Shankbone.jpg

  These two 21st century goddesses are fashion designer Donna Karan and her daughter Gabrielle, pictured in Karan’s vacation retreat in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The compound was featured in the December issue of Architectural Digest, along with the homes of Elton John and other celebrities. Karan’s beachfront buildings typify what might be called Sybaritic Minimalism, another exemplar of the Principle of Non-Decoration discussed in a previous post. There are enormous close-to-the-floor divans and chaises throughout and a canopy bed large enough for seven brides and seven grooms on the deck.

The Western woman’s infatuation with Eastern mysticism is on display in the infinity pool and yoga pavilion. No ostentation is disdained provided it is done in the name of inner enlightenment and wears the clean garb of simplicity. “Everything is honest,” says the designer of her over-sized furniture. “We hate fakery and pastiche.” Traditional Western forms of ornamentation are presumably “fakery.” Karan boasts that it is “an international environment.”

Behind all this studied minimalism – the builders erected a structure and tore it down when they didn’t like it – there is the innocent’s love of nature. “Collaborating with Donna is an intense experience,” Cheong Yew Kuan, the architect, says, “both visceral and cerebral. There was one constant in the flux of our ideas: the elemental way she wanted to live with nature. It was never about making a fashion statement.” Karan is more Alcyone, the Greek goddess of the Sea and Tranquility, than powerful fashion potentate who commands a restless empire.

Karan has made her wealth in New York and the capitals of the West. But where is she happiest? “Africa and Bali.”

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Principle No. 1 of Traditionalist Home Decoration

November 16, 2009


IN PREVIOUS ENTRIES, I discussed the influence of sterile modern design on the home. In a series of intermittent posts, I will be offering some basic principles of interior decorating for traditionalists. Here is Principle Number One.       Red house tile: Cock by William Morris


Traditional homes, in an age when the model of the two-income family reigns, have one big problem. Let’s call it fundlessness.  Adhering to the absolute necessity of a woman at home,  the traditional family may live in a state of genteel poverty or, even worse, serious impecuniousness.  Forced by this condition to buy a small, hideous house or rent a small, hideous apartment, traditionalists face a seemingly insurmountable foe: ugliness.

The one-income family is much more likely to encounter architectural oppression than its relatively high-flying two-income counterpart. This oppression may appear in the form of a rectangular 1950s ranch house with metal windows and asbestos flooring; a tiny, dormered Cape Cod with rooms no bigger than horse stalls, or a “garden” apartment complex that has all the charm of a Stalingrad high-rise. There’s no point in pretending you live in a castle when you live in a shoebox. It is of absolute importance to acknowledge ugliness in one’s immediate surroundings. Denying it will only make things worse. Once a person reckons with the existence of a demon, he can begin to exorcise it.

And, that’s what interior decorating becomes in these unfortunate cases:  a form of exorcism. One cannot knock down walls; erect additions that will obscure the original outlines of the house; or blast the whole thing to smithereens. One has to work within the body one has been given.

Do not despair. The human eye craves beauty. It is easily distracted from ugliness whenever there is the slightest sign of true beauty in a room. The trick is to purge the demon by your own process of embellishment. This is not always easy and takes some careful thought and consideration. Women who come into an ugly house and immediately festoon it with stencilled flowers in an effort to mask cheap architecture only make things worse. You must first examine the ugliness, breathe it in, look for the breaches in its defenses. Do nothing until you have taken stock of the enemy. This may take months or, depending on the formidability of the foe, even years.

Once one has studied the enemy, one can come up with simple strategies. Find the ugliest point in a room and work to move the eye away from it. Initially, it may be things no more expensive than a few house plants, a beautiful table cloth, or a collection of sea shells gathered at the shore to begin the process. Later, one can work with paint, furniture, fabric, lamp fixtures and art objects, all within whatever budget you are given, to lend your shoebox charm. There is no home that is irretrievably ugly. None. The very cheapest of homes can indeed be made into a castle with patience and perseverance.

I once met a woman who lived on the edge of a four-lane highway. Her tiny ranch house was the sole remnant of a vanished neighborhood that had been knocked down to make room for strip malls. To make things worse, her house was not originally lovely. Surrounded by hideousness all around, embedded in the very heart of the demon, she had created a home filled with feminine delightfulness. It was not possible to point to one little knick knack in her collection or one piece of furniture that was responsible for the pervasive atmosphere of charm and repose. It was a mysterious almagamation of effects, all of them very cheap.

This woman had come into the heart of the beast. She had seen. And she had conquered.


 Country Living Magazine

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Lydia Sherman on Clothes and Home

November 2, 2009


Lydia Sherman continues to explore traditionalist clothing and home decorating at her blog, Home Living. She writes on these subjects within the larger context of the spiritual mission of home. Unlike Martha Stewart, who recommends that women meditate and eat chickpeas to attain enlightenment, Lydia hearkens to the Bible and the traditions of the West.

This painting by Charles Edouard Boutibonne of 19th century women mountaineers in comely, modest attire is one of many she has posted. Women, as Lydia often states, can do physically challenging tasks and look feminine at the same time.


But, we’ve come a long way since then. Fashion has been revolutionized and we’ve been liberated. Now we can look like this:



Why Modern Design is Anti-Woman and Anti-Family

October 28, 2009

                                           Interior Design Magazine/ Photo by Eric Laignel.

Natalie writes in response to the previous post on interior design:  


I was interested in your thoughts on current interior design trends and the rise in minimalism. First, minimalism is a very masculine style, and one could say that the more androgynous the feminine ideal becomes (the ideal female figure and personality becoming increasingly boyish) the more our homes reflect the change. Also, like extreme thinness, minimalism is a class-based aspiration, the more people have the less they want to show, any kind of opulence is seen as bad taste. Why is this so? Perhaps there is a strong bias against femininity in design circles: a bias against the opulence of the traditional female form and against the female home. [Laura: That had never occurred to me! Fascinating.]

Secondly, I think there is a link between increased consumerism over the past decade and the rise of minimalism. There is a strange dissonance between the “patriotism” of buying more stuff and our minimalistic homes – we buy and then we chuck it out to make room and space. I also think it is important to note that the rise of minimalism coincided with the rise in esoteric spirituality in the West – many disciples of minimalism believe themselves to be cleansing their spirits in some unfathomable way. [Again, this is an excellent observation.]

Thirdly, minimalism is not a style conducive to successful family life, no matter how it has been sold to us. It is not comfortable; it requires extreme effort to maintain; you cannot close doors on mess if your house is on an open plan; and most importantly it is not child-friendly. [Amen!] It is a style which celebrates the rise of the consuming individual, an individualistic style and not one which can function at a family level. We have lost the sense that our homes are places of comfort, hospitality and nurture; they are simply reflections of individual taste and our monetary worth, homes are assets. 

However, it is my belief that minimalism is on the wane, particularly in Europe. The UK has seen the rise of the new domestic style, and a concurrent rise of many articles on “high flying” women choosing the domestic sphere over commerce. However, the new domestic style is very much sold to us a kind of vintage make-believe, a style which plunders a more domestic past for its inspiration, and as someone interested in design (it’s in my blood – a family business) I find this to be a little cowardly, and too tongue in cheek to be taken seriously. [Yes, this trend toward retro-chic is unserious and cynical.]  The only way forward is to bravely ignore trends and follow William Morris’ advice and buy only things which we consider to be either beautiful or useful.

Laura writes:

Thank you, Natalie!                                                                              

William Morris wallpaper

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The Principle of Non-Decoration

October 27, 2009


  Photo by Eric Laignel.
Modern design and fashion are characterized by a love of uniformity, monotone colors, and visual barrenness. In clothes, this means grays and browns for women with few embellishments or frills. In interior design, this translates into an absence of pattern, vibrancy, texture and warmth. It’s egalitarian chic and deliberately plays down luxury. Only the trained eye can see the expense.
Kidist Paulos Asrat, of the blog Camera Lucida, recently traveled to the New York Design Center’s trade showrooms in Manhattan and commented on this phenomenon. Designers, she notes, are more caught up in self-expression than the creation of  beautiful and liveable homes. She writes:
 “So, if artist/designers don’t really care about their public and the real world, and they are much more interested in experimentation and self-expression, what happens to the products? As I’ve discovered, they suffer a great deal.”
In the following exchange, Kidist, an artist and textile designer, shares more of her thoughts on the subject.

The Tactics of the Anti-Woman Woman

October 27, 2009


It is a standard rhetorical device of feminists to always and unfailingly make token nods to the domestic woman, as if to say, “I’m not against domesticity. I only want women to have the freedom to choose.” This is a lie. They do not want freedom, but the transformation of female nature.

A perfect example of this is Joanne Lipman’s recent editorial in the New York Times. Lipman, former deputy managing muckety-muck at the Wall Street Journal, expresses outrage that women’s progress has stalled because women overall are not making as much money as men; boasts at length of her career triumphs; and states that the authentic woman is one who demands a raise or a promotion. She argues that women “need to take risks” and, in what is suppposedly an essay on the general position of women in society, only mentions motherhood or marriage when bragging about her ability to fit them in around a high-powered schedule. There is not a single positive reference to them.

But, Lipman then remembers the obligatory gesture. She remembers that she must not appear to be saying what she is in fact saying: that the highest goods a woman can achieve are power and money for herself. And, so she makes the standard acknowledgement. She says, “Women define success differently; for some it may be a career, for others the ability to stay home with children.”

When feminists say they want “balance” for women or they want the freedom for all to define themselves as they choose, they are counting on the gullibility and passivity of ordinary women. It is not possible for society to affirm two radically opposed ideals. It cannot encourage the young in two entirely different directions at once.  


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