“I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas.”
“That is because you have no brains,” replied the girl, “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”
—L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz
My favorite house growing up was my grandparents’ house in small town Ontario. It had an orange and black shag carpet in the basement, was right next to a graveyard, and promised the odd thorny patch for anyone who might be so inclined to run down to the river barefoot. I loved that place. Home (in its most noble sense) is so synonymous with happiness and safety that the closest Canadian linguistic equivalent for hygge (an integral component of Denmark’s famed happiness culture) is ‘hominess’. Home is not unique to humans, as Jay Griffiths (beautifully) wrote; “A nest is a circle of infinite intimacy… Every nest whispers ‘home’, whether you speak English, Spanish, Wren or Robin.” People talk about being ‘at home’ in their own bodies—or not. Home has the potential to be a point of struggle: elusive, precarious, violent, or absent altogether. Home and love are closely related; we feel the most at home with those we love and who love us in return. Home is a concept that I find endlessly interesting, not excluding the process of making things feel homier via decoration and design. There are a few books along those lines that I’ve especially loved perusing:
Undecorate: The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design // Christiane Lemieux
Undecorate allows the reader to tour a handful of personality-filled homes. Unique styles, tips, and homey musings are explored as the home-owners are interviewed and we get to taste the vibe of the space. It turns out there’s a reason for all the pineapple-themed bric-a-brac in the ‘home’ section of your neighbourhood department store; pineapples are symbolic of having settled in, of being comfortable and safe where you are, with an added sense of permanency. In one of the interviews, it is described that “In the eighteenth century, retired sea captains would put pineapples on their homes to signal a safe return home… That’s how we feel here… We’re not moving anymore. We’re home for good.” The image of a sea captain finally returned home for good is a soothing one (I tend to think of Earnest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea as the antithesis to this narrative). Lemieux’s book is a fun read and great browsing material; put simply, making a space your own is much less about following a set of guidelines and much more about surrounding yourself with whatever it is that you love.
Home // Ellen DeGeneres
“Books really help warm up a room, even if you don’t have bookshelves.” — Ellen DeGeneres.
I’ve taken this advice to heart (perhaps not surprisingly) and have heard it, in some form or another, from several sources. Among them is a saying attributed to Cicero; “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” DeGeneres takes the reader on a tour from home to home—moving semi-frequently—with each new place delivering a new flavour and new lessons learned (some comical, others startlingly practical). The design skill in this book is a thing of beauty and it’s fun to see a lot of the same pieces brought to life in a new way as they are moved from home to home. Yes, the places in this book are way more lavish than the average home, but as DeGeneres explains at the beginning of the book, one of her favourite childhood memories is of going to look at open houses with her family (as they moved from rental to rental), “…it was interesting to see how different people lived, the furniture they used, the way they decorated…” Filled with stories, triumphs of interior composition, humour, and inspirational energy, Home is a pleasure best suited to slow page-turning with a hot drink nearby. Two things that I learned from this book:
- It helps to start with “great bones”—something about the house when it’s stripped bare of furnishings and fixtures that is already special (not an easy feat in an age of mass-produced duplicates, a trend that certainly extends to housing of all kinds).
- Don’t ‘save’ the cherished furnishings/ dishes/ linens, but use them—let them get dinged and stained and scuffed because the alternative is that they never become a real part of your life at all. Additionally, you become a part of their history and character in doing so (such as when you find something at an antique market that ‘has character’—it’s very likely that it was its time being used by people that gave it that character). This sentiment is echoed by Marie Kondo—that things should be used and seen rather than stashed away—emphasized when she tells the story of a fancy set of glasses that were taken out on a family picnic; they would have been safer in the cabinet at home, but having used them to enrich the time spent with loved ones made the glasses truly special. Gretchen Rubin has a similar rule in her home: to spend out (in one especially illustrative example, she describes a friend who ‘saved’ an expensive truffle oil for so long that it spoiled and she never got to use it). All of this is to say that while it’s important to love and be grateful for what we have, it is good to actually put those things to some purpose: to write in the fresh notebooks, light the beautiful candles, and to use our favourite dishes, blankets, and cups (this may seem obvious to some, but for me it was really good advice) .
Leaf Supply: A Guide to Keeping Happy Houseplants // Lauren Camilleri + Sophia Kaplan
If Julia Child were to have discovered a passion for plants rather than cooking, I imagine her book would have at least somewhat resembled Leaf Supply. The book is lovingly organized with chapters covering a variety of subtopics like light and temperature, repotting, and rare and unusual plants. Like Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Leaf Supply is filled with detailed instructions that appear to have been put to the operational proof. There are cascades of visually-pleasing examples of plants, soils, and personal spaces in which (something like the former books) real plant-owners tell us about their quirks, techniques, and favourites. Mine is Monstera Deliciosa, also known as the swiss cheese plant. Perhaps this is because they remind me of the retired ticket master in Amélie, but unlike the poor plants foisted into providing post-retirement therapy for the ticket-master (he punches holes in the leaves like he used to do with the tickets), Monstera Deliciosa come with holes already built-in and I think they’re wonderful. Leaf Supply is an excellent book for anyone considering houseplants, who wants something instructive for the beginner botanist, or for any person who is simply searching for a pleasant book to leaf through.
“Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it.”
—Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club