Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Duty Plus Beauty

Home living has to be more than working. If everyone's job had an end-result of beauty, it would change the results considerably. I remember growing up how we used to have what is called "copy-books." Some of the students had made their's so beautiful, they were worth saving. They contained various subjects that we were graded on, and we learned quickly that we would either be miserable completing the task, or add beauty to it and relieve the pressure, increase the enjoyment, and end up with a project worth admiring.
Today's cottages are by artist Susan Rios. You can order these prints at a reasonable price and decorate your home with them.
In previous articles on the Lady Lydia Speaks columns, I have mentioned how children will form some of their tastes, their likes and dislikes, visually. I had a painting of two children sitting on a little white fence with berry buckets in their hands. My children always wanted to have their picture taken in a similar pose. We tend to imitate what we see around us.
Our moods can be greatly affected by the sights we see. In Elizabeth's Gaskell's "North and South," the main character, Margaret, wrote to her cousin and expressed her great sorrow over the gloominess of the place she had removed to.
When we wake up to bleakness and emptiness, we can get quickly depressed. This sets a very cloudy forcast for the day! That is why, in going about the necessary work of the home, I believe it is good to include as much beauty as possible.
Our grandmothers put out their little colored embroidery, their small vases of flowers, and all their pretty tapestry for a reason. The home is not intended to be a box where everyone lives a plain existence with no softness and loveliness surrounding them.
Linda Lichter wrote in her book "The Benevolence of Manners" that modernist designers had taken away the beauty of architecture, so much so, that a songwriter expressed the blandness in a song with, "Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same." These elitist designers believed in "less" and told people it was "more," hoping to talk them into such bland living. As she so eloquently stated, we have gotten more and more of less and less..."
When we live without beauty, as though we were in jail cells or army barracks, it can create depression. The little cottages here really are cheerful and give some idea that a simple structure that would otherwise be very depressing, can create a happy response in the human heart when it is decorated beautifully.
It is in my opinion, important to approach other things, such as dish washing, laundry, cleaning up messes or sweeping, with an eye for detail and for beauty in the end. That means that when it is finished, it creates an opportunity to improve the look, not just with cleanliness, but with the things that make you smile; the things that make your heart happy.
Let me give some examples:
A favorite doll or toy in the book shelf gives the eye a rest and makes you smile as you glance across the book titles.
A lamp sitting on a colorful cloth gives the surface some softness and creates less glare.
Other interesting touches of beauty:
-Add a collection of photographs in interesting frames, when straightening and cleaning a fireplace mantel
-A copper kettle on top of your stove
-A vase of flowers in the kitchen gives an unlikely color spot
-A colorful mat or rug at your feet in the kitchen
-After cleaning the bathroom, fold towels in a special way and put out a fresh bar of soap on top of them.
If you teach yourself and your children that there is a reason and a reward for the work of the home, they, and you, will approach it with an entirely different attitude.

The painting is by Susan Rios, called "Rosey Beginning" which can be purchased from http://www.karenwhitney.com/sr/gallery2/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=21


Lauren Christine said...

I was wondering if you might know where one could find instructions on how to braid or crochet their own kitchen rug? I saw your daughter had made one for you, and I would love to make one for our kitchen too! Thank you-
Lauren Christine

Lydia said...

I put some links up on the article. I hope it helps. We will try to post our own instructions soon.

Mrs. Anna T said...

I think it's very important to find the balance between cold, bare surroundings and shelves full of clutter. Having some lovely decorations really helps brighten things up, but at the same time, I have a tendency to accumulate junk and clutter I don't really need. A lot of work to do in that department!

Lydia said...

Anonymous commenters: please read the article for the main point, and do not get distracted on any arguments. I hardly call placing a bar of fresh soap on a nicely folded towel an act of clutter, extravagance, or fussy decorating.

Lady Eleanor said...

There is definitely nothing wrong with adding a little warmth to a home by using a few decorative items. Our homes show our personality and each is of course unique.

Anonymous said...

I love the pictures of the little rose-covered cottages! So pretty! I have to say though that my husband and I actually honestly enjoy the more modern, minimalist look! it's funny how beauty is in the eye of the beholder because it is truly restful to us to have a home where less is displayed. That does not mean it is sparse, but for example we have mostly a palette of neutral colors and then in the spring/ summer I might put out a few throw pillows in bright colors but that would be about it. I do tend to use fresh flowers with very bright, vivid colors and dont shy away from artwork (in moderation of course:) but many people have commented upon entering our home 'where is all your stuff?'. We just enjoy a very minimalist appearance, and truly find it to be soothing. Now just as a note, I personally don't like the extreme versions - the houses where they look like jail cinder blocks and everything is cold, sterile and white. our house isn't like that but it is very neutral, clean,with the main colors being white, chocolate brown and a soft blue

K said...

Well said, my husband always comments on how he so happy that I put my photographs up all over the house. I don't have to buy paintings since our home has my photography and paintings all around us. Not only is it beautiful but the photos remind us of places we've been or moments we care about.
When you think about it as a homemaker your are not only responsible for the upkeep of a home on a practical level but the psycological well being of your family in how you decorate your home.

Anonymous said...

I am more and more inclined to agree with you, that simple touches can make a home beautiful and a pleasant environment that is unique to us and our families. Sometimes we may not like various aspects of our homes; perhaps the tiles are ugly or the paint is not a colour we would choose, but personal touches can do a lot to improve the mood until the time comes when we can change the bigger things. In winter especially, a cheerful interior can really make a big difference.

Mrs. H said...

This has always been a problem for me. I know we need beauty on our home, and get terribly depressed without it, but I'm clueless as to how to create it. I can appreciate beauty, but I can't look at a blank space and imagine something beautiful in it. How does one learn this? I don't have money to put into it, just time.

I tried asking my husband what he likes, but he's too utilitarian. He likes blank, colorless, and empty walls, empty tables, and shelves filled with magazines, flashlights, car parts, and video tapes, et cetera. Yeeks!

Like anyone, I can grab a few things and lay them about, in an attempt to decorate, but that's all it looks like, as though someone grabbed a few things and laid them about. If I was wealthy, I'd be one to hire an interior decorator. What does a relatively poor person do when they lack the decorative gene?

Anonymous said...

I really agree with everything you said in your article. For me, I have found that if my sole focus is keeping everything clean and put away, but with no thought for beauty, then my chores stay just that...chores, and I become tired of them, day in and day out. Ah, but when I focus on making my place more attractive by adding a grouping of pictures, either table-top or on the wall, or I add flowers, artwork, or hang lovely curtains, then my homemaking goes from being a list of chores to a real artform. I am transformed in the process. No longer is my role a drudgery, but now it is soul-filling.

Lillibeth said...

Lauren Christine-- I have just posted tips about the rug at The Pleasant Times. I am not so good at writing instructions so I hope it isn't too confusing!Ahttp://thepleasanttimes.blogspot.com/2007/08/rag-rug.html

Unknown said...


I discovered your blog through Helena who came to my blog for the first time yesterday.

You are a wonderful writer! You have a way with words and you are obviously a seasoned homemaker! I have so enjoyed reading your pieces, including your observations of the woman being the guide in the home! Very inspiring!


Lydia said...

Ladies please check my daughter's blog at www.thepleasanttimes.com, listed on the side here, as it is updated. Today it is about hats.

Katy-Anne Binstead said...

I have enjoyed this article very much. I am currently trying to get my home all pretty...I blogged about how frustrated I was. I have several projects in the works, but am waiting on finances even though it won't cost a lot. However, my husband told me that if the baby doesn't come tomorrow, he's going to take me to some of the quaint, cute little stores here in town to find some "pretty things" for our house. I am hoping customs lets my painting and other pretty things through the border.

Katy-Anne Binstead said...

Hey are you talking about prettying up an area with something that you wouldn't normally have put there? Like leaving a vase of flowers on the kitchen bench one time that isn't usually there? Or are you talking about just decorating the house?

Cara said...

Oh, what I wouldn't give to have window boxes full of flowers sitting cheerily under my windows! But they're outlawed by my HOA, so no beauty outside in that way until we move somewhere else.

I totally agree with working toward beauty. Household chores are so much better if I'm doing them to make things pretty in my home.

Lydia said...

Regarding these comments: You are all so right. It seems so dull and mechanical when work is done without an eye for excellence, or beauty.

Sweet Necessi-Teas said...

Well said! You have such a way with words.

I love my 80 yr. old father. He can fix just about anything, but his fixes are usually pretty unattractive. A few years ago, I was helping my parents redecorate the farmhouse that had been my grandparents. It needed some repairs and I was just appalled at the way he was going about them. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I pulled him aside and talked to him about the same topic you have discussed here regarding the effcts of beauty on our state of mind. I ended my little talk with, "Utilitarian doesn't have to be ugly." That little phrase has become a family joke. We always have a good laugh when he makes a repair, but it made the point. Now he usually thinks about the visual appearance and the mechanics!

I always enjoy reading your posts!

Carla said...

Re: the lady who has no "decorating gene" or money — it can be a simple as putting some pretty stones into a favorite bowl or a scrap of lace nestled beside a picture on a table. This time of year you will begin to see interesting seed pods or frothy weeds in the yard which can look smashing indoors, too. A few years ago I gradually bought house decorations for the fall. Now I cannot wait until September 1 (my personal date) so I can trim my doors frames with silk leaves in fall colors and put out my fall dinner napkins. Little touches add up.