I have been quite absorbed of late in various things at home, and I'm afraid that several comments on previous articles went unanswered. In this article I would like to address the problem of not being able to decorate because of financial limitations, or a husband who objects to it. I got my ideas from living on the homestead in the days before interior decorating became popular. I believe all the other women who lived in those days will be able to identify with what I am saying.
I have included some photographs from Better Homes and Gardens to illustrate that not all rooms have to be decorated in order to give you a feeling of contentment. In most of these pictures, it is the pleasing way in which the posessions are arranged, that give the effect of decorating. Using objects that everyone has, such as clocks, books, chairs, tables, lamps, dishes, cushions, photographs, and gifts from other people, you can create a home that feels just right, without going over the top with a particular decorating style.
In the 1940's and 1950's, hundreds of families built homesteads in the wilderness, where they were mainly concerned about creating shelters that were safe and warm first, and clean and neat, second. We got any ideas we had about what a bedroom should look like, from the Sears and Roebuck Catologue, which showed pictures of bedrooms with their products in them. We imitated that as best we could with what we could find.
In those days the style of a lady's dress was just perfect for making a skirted table cloth, or even a curtain, if you can imagine. However, we preferred everything to be very plain, because it was easier to look after. An empty jar or tin can filled with wildflowers might be a centerpiece for a day and then the whole thing was tossed out. Some things came in colored jars and bottles, so we kept them and lined them up on the windowsills to see how pretty they were with light coming through them. Making a bed as perfectly as we could, or setting a table as neatly and precisely as we were able, using a diagram from a cookbook, was as close as we got to decorating. The idea was to create a scene or a mood by the way we displayed the ordinary things we used daily.
You can probably see in these photos that there is very little really obvious decorating going on. The decorating simply uses things that people need, in an artistic way. You see lamps and chairs and tables arranged so that it looks balanced, clean, pretty and bright, and it is somewhat exciting to look at.
In homestead days, the people we knew could have the most charming log cabins. They didn't decorate as we do today, but their floors were swept with sawdust, which gave them a sweet smell and a sheen. They had curtains on the cupboards, made from flour sacks. (In those days, flour came in cloth bags.) There might be a clock on the wall and a kettle on the stove. Some people had braided rugs and quilts. Others had paintings on the walls, usually painted by members of the family, of nearby scenery. They weren't as concerned about decorating, as they were about function, and yet, they managed to have such cozy homes and they still loved beautiful things.
In the photo of the green chair next to the little chest of drawers, you see a very simple decorating scheme. It may be using someone's favorite colors. I like sage green a lot, so it really appeals to me. They used a lamp, which everyone needs, but have used it decoratively. Everyone has a mirror, and such things can be placed over a short dresser like this.
If you can't decorate for one reason or another, there are many ways to make you feel that you are decorating. Take for example, the towels in the bathroom. Try folding them all in one direction, with the folds facing out, and according to color or size. Place a bar of fresh soap on the sink or in a special soap container.
When you purchase something for the home, whether it be soap or paper towels, find the most decorative ones. They usually cost no more than the plain brands. Need a box of kleenex? Find the box with the best picture or artwork on it. In your closet, sort your clothes according to season or color and hang them on soft padded hangers. In the bedroom, make the bed carefully and fold the top sheet down neatly. Arrange your own personal items according to color and size, and place them on a paper doily in a tray. Just cleaning a room and making sure that it is fresh and comfortable can create beauty.
Match your colors as best you can. Maybe you have wedding gifts that you can display in groups: a bowl with a vase and a frame, or candlesticks and a stack of books. In the living room, place a tea cup next to a photograph. Surely no one would deny you the privilege of displaying a photograph. Get the prettiest frame you can find, at a dollar store. In the kitchen, clean off the cabinet tops and make enough room to roll out your dough or mix things. Display your favorite mixing bowl with a rolling pin in it. Everyone already has these things, and though they be plain, they can be used as part of your home decor.
Think of those women on the homestead who didn't have places to put things like we do today. They had to leave them out. We washed all our dishes by hand and left the blue willow plates in the dish drainer, but they looked very decorative there. Decorating is more than having all the right objects and accessories. It is using the things that you naturally will have, in an artistic way. You probably own books or magazines. If you are not using the books, they can be laid with the bindings facing outward, and used as height for a lamp or a vase.
Maybe your children have toys, or you have childhood toys that can be displayed in a corner shelf or just on the floor near a book case or a table. You aren't just decorating. You are finding useful places for the things you own, but you are also placing them in a strategic way so as to appear artistic.
Anyone can throw a towel on the rack in the bathroom, but a thoughtful lover of the home will fold it carefully to make it look important and special. After all, this is a place where the most important people in the world to you, live. Anyone can throw a quick meal on the table, but it takes a real decorative spirit to arrange the table and the food neatly so that people feel they've really had an experience of some kind, and that there is an atmosphere in your home of some kind, that they like, but they cannot quite define it!
If you have nothing to decorate with, just use what you use daily, and you will see a big difference in the way your home looks. When you go out to choose something that you really need, choose the prettiest you can find, whether it be a slipcover for your couch, or a table cloth.
When you fold a napkin at a place setting, do it in a way that shows carefulness and thoughtfulness. I did write an article about this a long time ago but I never look back at old articles and wouldn't know where to find it, so I'll repeat something in it about a girl I met who lived in her grandmother's house. It was an old place and the tile was peeling from the floor and there was really nothing decorating-correct about it. However, she had taken a metal utility shelf from the garage and cleaned it and put all her towels on it in the neatest way.
Her kitchen was so clean that she had nothing on the surfaces except a canning jar with some lilies from outside. She had sparkling clean windows, with a pretty plant on the windowsill. Now that is really "decorating." She knew exactly what it took. In spite of all the pretty show homes and show rooms that I have gone to see on open-house days, this house still stands out in my mind as being the best decorated, because I was able to get some ideas from her about using the things everyone has, such as towels and dishes, as decorative items.
For good information that takes the mystique out of decorating, go here http://www.home-decorating-room-by-room.com/ for instruction. Sign up for her newsletter and then learn a step by step, room by room method of re-creating your home.
Also, you mght enjoy peeking into some real homes here http://theoldpaintedcottage.com/cottagemonth.html. Some of the cottages on the previous months are "decorated" and some are more plain, but they can all inspire you and give you ideas.