It's finally nesting season, and I welcome it with open arms. This is the time when when domestic goddesses can show their stuff and domestic rituals come alive. But during this busy time, let's face it, the house can get a little unsettled.
My advice: don't sweat the small stuff. When it comes to keeping a house, I draw the line between perfection and good enough, and generally am happy with the latter. Homes should be generally straightened, since it is this care that allows for the space to function without the distraction and unsettled energy of dirty dishes, unmade beds, toys and such on the floor, or unwashed or folded clothes tossed around. Good enough housekeeping is the compromise between keeping the house functional and keeping it real. Perfect order is unattainable anyway.
Mary Randolph Carter’s book A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life (Rizzoli 2010) hits this cord well.Carter’s book is refreshing in that it is not a decorating book on how to pretty up a room. It is an honest documentation of homes that have evolved out of the organic process of living, and the value of good enough housekeeping. The book features chapters on topics like Living with Bric-a-Brac, Living with Work, Living with Children, and Clutter with real life case histories. Oberto Gili’s home, for example, depicts how he orchestrates his living and work spaces in a tiny New York apartment, mostly due to his love of tables. The book states that the most valued table (MVT) “is awarded to a marble topped table near the kitchen and the light of the garden. It’s his (Gili’s) favorite place read the newspaper, have coffee, prepares homemade pasta, edit his pictures, meet with clients, and serve dinner to friends.” A creative use of space where the home services real life in a myriad of ways. Other profiles include artist Nathalie Lete, Pamela Bell, artist Natalie Gibson, and Ralph Lauren executive, Daniela Kamiliotis.
Carter tells us that authentic domestic space evolves through the organic process of living. Interests, travels, dreams, experiences are the stuff of a great interior. Keep it real, let it flow, let go of perfection so that the incredible value of good-enough can do its thing.
This morning, I used a new table runner and got some flowers at the corner grocery. They just seemed to go with the colors of the season. Toast and apricot jam for breakfast, that is all. The toast was sourdough and buttered and the jam is a fruit spread with no sugar. But what makes this little breakfast so appealing I think isn't really about the food per se. It's about the color of the flowers, the deep apricot jam, the silver blade on the knife, and the deep citron and blue stripes on the table runner which is coming to the store soon. The senses are heightened on so many levels. Even the fragrance of the flowers, strong coffee (not pictured), and jam comes into play. When it comes to dining, sometimes it's not just about the food. To make any meal extra special, its good to think about all the elements -- table linens, flowers, the food, and the place -- each of these contributes to the experience of dining. What a pleasure it can be!
But bliss does have a flip side. Brands with a quick and repetitive sales model often design their goods with "planned obsolescence" in mind. Design decisions like quality and durability of materials and sewing craft are planned to erode quickly. This means that a great bedding set or sweater might look beautiful on first use, but colors will fade, fibers shrink or get itchy, and buttons will fall out quickly. Thus begins the cycle of consumption that requires more visits to Goodwill, stresses your monthly budget, and occupies a never-ending place on your to-do list. It's truly a treadmill. Further, in order to produce these goods at such an enticing price, other corners must be cut. Fast goods are often produced in slum factories in developing countries where children and young woman work for less than living wage. The dye process for some textiles uses harsh chemicals that are dumped into water sources and the soil. All this for fast profits.
The alternative this would be hand-crafted goods. Instead of big highs and big lows, slow goods are long-wearing, predictable, and actually improve their durability over time. They fit into a lifestyle built on ritual, routine, community, and commitment. It takes time to cook, to iron (on occasion), to do laundry and make the bed. Fabrics are savored and collected and become like old friends. Over time, that one pair of favorite linen napkins, for example, will also be less expensive to use and maintain than a slew of paper napkins or cheaper cloth napkins. Your shopping routine will become simple and cost-effective when you live with things that don't often need replacement.
So this is the dilemma. Go for the bright shiny object with the great price or a more authentic and carefully made object that will last longer? I think you know which we prefer. What about you?
Every so often, I get an urge to make my bed. Not in the way of getting new bedding or even in changing the bedroom decor. I mean how the bedding comes together and is arranged - in short, how the bed is made. I know that bed-making is probably way down on your list. Ranking with doing dishes or folding laundry, making the bed is just a chore that needs to get done.
But hold on for a second. Perhaps the drudgery of bed-making has a silver lining. I think it does. In my book, there are two really important things to having the best bed: comfort and beauty.
First, the comfort. You want your bed to be a sanctuary that provides bliss any time of the day. That's asking a lot, but there is a way to get there. The first is making sure that the sheets stay relatively clean. In my 1970's childhood household, sheets were washed once per week and I've tried to stay true to this schedule. Just the idea of slipping into clean sheets produces a tiny burst of joy, yes?
Comfort is also influenced by what fabrics you choose to sleep with. Most sheeting is cotton or linen since they breath, are soft and long wearing. Linen breaths more than cotton and gets softer over time. Either works well. Sheeting should not be made from synthetics since they are the opposite of these. On the next layer, you can add a blanket which should also be made from natural fiber. Wash once a month. Your comforter or duvet insert can be either polyester or down. I recommend having at having a light and heavier weight insert to use seasonally. During the dog days of summer, the duvet cover can be used by itself as a bedspread - no insert needed. As a last layer, don't forget a bed throw either on the bed itself or nearby. Having a throw around is a little personal luxury that's all about portable comfort. I often will use a throw during the day when napping or reading and sometimes at night if it's very cold.
The key to comfort? Cleanliness, quality fabrics and layering.
This one is harder to define, since it is very subjective. A beautiful bed is in the eye of the beholder. There are a couple of bedmaking components that enhance beauty, no matter how you define it. The first is keeping everything in good shape. By good shape, I mean keeping pillows, duvets, blankets and all free of rips, tears, stains and in generally good condition. It is surprising how these tiny imperfections impact perception.
The next part of making a beautiful bed is the care and craft of layering and folding the bedding as you make it. This is really a simple act but one that will do wonders for the overall appearance of the bed afterwards. Laying down your flat sheet and tucking the sheeting well is like laying a smooth and well crafted foundation for a home. If this initial part is done well then the entire bed will benefit. We recommend hospital corners for your sheeting. Y’know, the way nurses used to fold sheets before fitted sheets were invented. Not to worry, your bed will not look like it belongs in a hospital. Use this technique with your flat sheet and/or comforter. It might seem minor or a waste of time given no body will actually see these corners. But herein lies the secret to great beauty, I think. beauty is made in the details and when no one seems to be looking.
To get this look, follow these steps:
- Lay the sheet on the mattress and tuck it in at the foot of the bed.
- Grab the corner of the sheet still sticking out and pull it up so that it sits on top of the mattress (we’ll call this the triangle).
- Tuck in the remainder of the sheet corner that you didn’t pull up.
- Tuck in the triangle.
- Repeat at the other corner.
By Sydney Lawson
Over the years, I've had the conversation many times on the merits and pitfalls of using linen napkins. The first time was with my first collage roommate and the last is still to come. The conversation seems to go like this. Cloth napkins do take some upkeep. They need to be washed and they need to be stored and folded. Ironing is nice for formal events, but not necessary. All that maintenance takes about 10 minutes of extra effort per week. To put that in context, that's about the same amount of time it takes to water an herb garden, make a smoothie, or call a friend. But for the time starved, it's a couple of minutes extra that could be used for something else. The real question becomes what does that extra few minutes per week get you? Is the work worth it? Here are a few that come to mind.
It gets you options for setting a table. Options that come from having several styles and colors of napkins that can match a mood, a particular table setting arrangement, or kind of food. Having options like these is important as it invites mindfulness into the daily ritual of setting the table.
Something else it gives is economy. Over time, having to purchase paper napkins or paper towels can be expensive, and cost will exceed the investment in purchasing linen napkins pretty quickly. Linen is one of the most durable fibers around so the investment is long term.
Using cloth is environmentally friendly. Resources like water and electricity are needed to launder napkins, but over time, the collective amount of paper used for napkins does make a impact on forestry resources.
Most all, cloth appeals to the psychology of ritual that covets predictability, beauty, and tradition. There are few things more pleasurable and reassuring than daily rituals like setting the table. Selecting napkins, feeling and folding them in your hands, using them over and over, laundering, and storing are all markers of ritual. Ritual is a way to structure tasks around the house and it helps develop pride over time of a job well done.
Paper napkins are faster and more convenient, but using cloth invites a slower more mindful approach to daily life. Try it and see. Here are a couple of Modernplum favorites for late summer.
It's the heat of summer, and keeping cool at night can be a challenge sometimes. Air conditioning, if you have it, is an obvious choice. But there are other ways to beat the heat that are all-natural, electricity-free and simple. Here is our list of five basics that will make a difference in your comfort and heat.
Linen is extremely breathable and self-cooling in heat thanks to its high moisture absorbency, soaking up 20% of its weight before feeling damp. Plus, who doesn’t like a complimentary massage? Due to breaks in the fabric, linen stimulates blood flow and induces relaxation. The more relaxed you are, the cooler you will be.
Waking up in the middle of the night thirsty with a dry mouth doesn’t help keep you cool. The body is 70% water as we all know, and without water consumption our bodies begin to overheat. Studies show that room temperature water is better than ice cold water in terms of the amount of energy your body uses to heat the cold water and the body fat that cold water solidifies, making it harder to digest.
This will allow air to circulate within and outside of your bedroom. If you're getting hot at night, it is better to let heat out than let it sit in one place. Also, there is something very soothing about fresh air even if it is a warmer evening.
Are you always trying to find new ways to fall asleep faster, stay in a deeper sleep, and wake up in a better mood? Then linen bedding may help you in your quest! Similarly to linen clothing, it is breathable and its high-moisture absorbency makes it softer over time. Not only does it absorb a lot of moisture, it also quickly releases it through evaporation; a guaranteed, natural cooling system.
If the heat (along with the stress of everyday life) is making it hard to fall asleep, try breathing techniques. Focusing on your breath distracts you from thoughts on your hot situation and helps you relax. There are also certain techniques to make you tired!
by Sydney Lawson
No doubt American craftsmanship is blossoming everywhere. Dwell Magazine recently published its annual Made in America edition that features makers across America like Modernplum who are invigorating local manufacturing, small creative business, and small-scale production with products for every room in the house. This annual list coupled with the growth in popularity of Etsy and Martha Stewart's American Made project seems to indicate a blossoming of the craftsman and the well-crafted product here is the United States. The article presents 50 well-made and designed options that utilize and develop the talent, resources, and infrastructures that already exist here. How nice it is to know where these products were made, who made them, and with what materials. There is some thing irresistibly comforting and healing about making with integrity and authenticity like this. Computers, machines, and digital information, which pervade every aspect of our lives, while necessary and efficient, cannot fill our need for human craft, touch, and ingenuity.
I often look at fashion for clues as to new trends, and there is something definitely happening right now with summer plaid. Summer plaids are those slightly campy patterns often in classic red, white, and blue that signal carefree style. Ever since Julie Andrews waltzed through the fields of Bavaria with her check picnic blanket in the Sound of Music, a little plaid clothe just seems right for outdoor events and entertaining. We stumbled upon just such a plaid, with classic colors of red, navy, yellow and white and have made a collection of napkins, tablecloths, and runners that are great for carefree entertaining, indoors and out. This is a pattern that goes just as well with paper plates to bone china and back again. If there is one cloth that just says the season, this might be it.
Spring is here. Finally, we all can venture more freely outdoors, bask in the sunlight, and live with less. All these pleasures are encapsulated into the Farnsworth House by Mies Van der Rohe. This home is an iconic example of modern architecture that was built in 1951 along the banks of the Fox River in Plano, Illinois. It was the summer home of Dr. Edith Farnsworth, a Chicago-based physician. The way it floats, the way the walls blend with the environment, the lack of ornamentation is the closest thing to camping inside. It's one of our favorite things. For more information, follow these links:
This month we are kicking off something new. It's a look into our Favorite Things organized by month and season. You probably don't know this but Modernplum started off as a blog about a lifestyle laden with simple things, authentic experiences, and finding beauty everyday. Favorite Things is about capturing all those. We have a new board on Pinterest that will keep everything organized by month. First up - the Trench Coat. This embodies everything we love about Spring dressing. It's slightly spontaneous, it's simple, it's a classic and it's timeless. Where it to the park or to dinner. Slip it on with heels or court shoes. Put your hair up or in a pony. Most every retailer regardless of price point carries the trench during this time of year. If there is one piece of clothing that signifies the new season, it's the trench.
It's Valentine's Day and I can't think of a better way to express my gratitude and love to everyone than with paintings by Cy Twombly. Twombly paintings are both personal and universal. They are about me, and you, and us, and them. His painting's scratches, marks, and smears express the our universal need to connect with others, to reach out and to belong. Looking at these paintings makes me feel connected to humanity as a whole. I can recognize myself in these marks. There is something hopeful and comforting and very inclusive about that. These paintings are a wonderful Valentine's Day reminder about the true nature of love. Have a beautiful day, everyone.