The Art of Finding Your You-ness


As some of you may know, my design mantra is all about putting your “you-ness” into your home.  So, it may surprise you that as a designer, my first priority is not your you-ness, but it is that your room be functional.  Let’s take your bedroom for example.  Is it a space that is conducive to sleeping, nesting, resting, dressing… even romance?  Can you easily access your clothing and view your outfit?  Is there a handy place for books, remote controls, and charging cables?  I need room for a yoga mat in mine.   Your needs will be different.  But all that?  That’s what I think your bedroom’s first job is.

Capturing the “you-ness”?  That’s it’s second job.  And I know, many struggle with that vague term, but your you-ness can be as simple as a list of your must-have’s.  Like I must have that colorful crocheted blanket because it was my mother’s, or I must have jewel green wallpaper because even the thought of it makes my toes curl.  Or perhaps your you-ness is in family photos, or a collection of driftwood, or baseballs, or an ancient stuffed animal.  There are no rights or wrongs here.  It just takes a little bit of thoughtfulness about yourself, and figuring out what makes you happy.  Which is not a bad exercise in general, or so my therapist keeps telling me.  (And you’re welcome.  I’ll bill you later for the session.)

Let’s use artwork as an example because it’s one of the easiest ways to incorporate your you-ness into your home.  It instantly adds interest and color and personality and depth.  You may be able to list the people you know that have artwork that you like - because it can be that memorable.  Or if not, figure it out.  Go to a museum or the library and see what you respond to.  Don’t grace your walls with fill-the-space art like a vacation rental furnished at the Christmas Tree Shop.  Don’t hang poorly framed art of daisies or ships that you inherited from your uncle that mean absolutely nothing to you.  Choose artwork that is an expression of that thoughtfulness about yourself that my therapist just demanded.  It is a 100% you-do-you zone, and what could be better than that?

But first, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the fact that any kind of artwork is an investment.  I mean any kind.  Tastefully framing that old postcard?  A surprising investment.  If you approach collecting art frugally, your biggest expense will be for proper framing.  But DO NOT skimp on proper framing.  Save your money until you can do it right.  It’s that important. If you go to a local frame shop you’ll get expert advice and service at a bit of a higher price.  But if you are confident in your tastes, go ahead and try a discount frame store and save a few dollars. But be warned, at both places you will spend more money than you expect.  Trust me.  It just adds up.  But it’s totally worth it for all that the fabulous you-ness you are expressing!  And also, just for how great it feels to have art in your home.  It really is pretty great.  And so grown up. 

So here’s the good news.  Art is everywhere and everything can be art!  But first you need to unlock your inner curator.  Make a point of noticing and appreciating loveliness … anywhere.  You’ll find it in restaurants, coffee shops, other people’s homes, on the street, or in your child’s eyes.  You just have to make a point to see it.  And while you’re at it, take note of how it’s displayed too.  It’s just practice.  I remember when my son was young, he unknowingly demanded this same thing of me.  And I will never look at construction equipment the same way again.  To this day, I still see a giant crane, or scaffolding on a building, or even those big trucks that spit out the jersey barriers through my son’s eyes.  He taught me that.  So, you can do this.

And where to find it?  There are the easy, traditional, and sometimes expensive avenues—going to galleries or art openings.  Nothing could better and it’s an important industry to support, but I know it can be overwhelming if you are just starting out.  But try it.  Go to a local art show anyway.  You’ll be amazed at what you can get for a few hundred dollars.  Maybe a small painting already framed.  Maybe some signed prints.  Or maybe you just practice noticing the loveliness there.  Keep an open mind and stretch a little.  It’s actually fun and it won’t take up your whole night, and again, you feel so grown up after.

When I started collecting, I haunted the thrift stores and yard sales.  I never ignored the stack of mis-matched paintings that leaned in the corner or against a tree.  Yes, it was usually a pile of poorly framed old ships and daisies, but every once in a while, you’ll find a cool old map or poster, or just a painting that speaks to you.  It’s like panning for gold! It’s a little addictive and I’ll still do it today.  Do you want to up your game?  Go to some of the higher end consignment or eclectic antique stores and look at that same stack of paintings in the corner.  It’s the same idea, but with less stuff you don’t want.  And of course, there is Etsy and Ebay.  I found a treasure trove of vintage Russian nationalist posters on Ebay that I framed for a software company and put in their lunchroom, which was sort of a joke about the desired wor k ethic. They were a big hit, but who knows what you’ll find.  Just check and make sure you are getting real, signed art or authentic original posters - not the printed duplicates that are all over the internet.

And lastly?  Embrace the art around you.  Consider articles of clothing, keys, your kid’s art (but don’t overdo that category), pages from old children’s books, albums from the 70’s, a collection of wheels mounted on the wall, bottles of hot sauce on a shelf.  For heaven’s sake, I have a collection of hands! Clearly anything goes!

And by the way, let me finish what I started with that list of priorities for your bedroom.  Guess what comes up as the low ranking third priority?  It’s the actual design of the room.  The thing that most people hire me for actually comes up third!  It’s the architectural details, the paint, the furniture the window treatments, all the soft and hard furnishings.  And oh yes, all that is important.  But it should act like the glue that holds those first two priorities in place.  Then you have all: function, personality and style.

And if anyone knows of a silver haired, single man with those same qualities?  Please give him my number.  I think my therapist would approve.

Jen Coles is a professional home designer and mother of four who lives in Manchester.

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