The decorator's den

Picture perfect vs Practical

1:20 PM

As part of my new decorator tips label, I wanted the first post to just be about these expectations we have for our homes.
Magazines all show you lavish, gorgeous options, but once you try replicating them in your home disaster strike, for many reasons.

First the homes you see in magazines have been pimped and beautified for the photo shoot, in the exact same way you would not see a fashion model pose for a picture without make up. In a home that translates into artfully placed objects to maximise focal points, direct your eyes in the right direction, and create an harmonious look. Then there is the lightning, and the angles, and the fact that the pictures are taken by trained professionals. And like fashion models, houses do go through Photoshop too. Unattractive shadows are removed, colour contrasts changed, until the house in question looks good enough to make it to glossy paper.
The homes featured in many of the magazines are dream homes, belonging to wealthy owners, and are designed to make the reader wish they lived there. But what works in a 4000 sq ft duplex, villa or penthouse will in all likehood not work in a typical 700-900 sq ft Mumbai apartment, and certainly not for people who rent instead of owning the place they live in.
One of the big trend that still seem to keep going is the minimalistic design look, which is a good one, but in magazines tend to translate as pure ethereal white all over, as I wrote about here.
As good as it might look on glossy paper, this is really the typical example of unpractical living space. If you don’t have the money to live constantly in AC to prevent the dust to come in through open windows, and a maid that will clean the place full time, you’ll end up with shades of grey a couple of months down the road, possibly turn into a manic OCD cleaner obsessing about every spills, fleck and specks of of dirt landing on the pristine surface. Surface that will be unforgiving of any daily usage induced mess. Throw in children and pets in the mix and your pretty all white decor doesn’t even stand a chance for 24 hours.

When you plan to redecorate your home, it’s good to know what your tastes are, but I would seriously advise anybody to not go by a too detailed idea of what they want and try to make their home fit that standard, but work the other way round, and make the standard fit your home and life.

The first question one should ask themselves before renovating a place is how often the space is put to use. Then how many people will use that room. Are there any children in the home? Are they young? Will glass top furniture really work in a house with kids? How much time a day are you willing to devote to cleaning and maintenance of the space? What is your tolerance to mess?

These questions will establish what your lifestyle is and be the deciding factor for the colour palette, and material used for your furniture and wall treatment. In a word if you really hate seeing finger prints, spills and clutter and have kids, you are better off with darker furniture in easily wipe able material and tons of concealed storage rather than go for an all glass see through theme.

The second set of questions to ask yourself are about your home. How does air flow, what directions do the windows face. how big are the rooms, how much money are you willing to put into altering the place (if you own your home that is). What is the general feel of the place? (some places will look far better with a rustic touch even if what you want is modern minimalism and you need to compromise a little). What is your outdoor view like? Do you want to bring the outdoor in your focal point or do you want to conceal it?

These questions will help you figure out how far in your preferred theme you can go.
For example if you dig old mansion style interiors, but live in a 600 sq ft apartment with kids, you might need to tweak things a lot to make it work and aim at scaled down furniture, neutral paint job, and easy to maintain accessories and trinkets. Replicating a Rajasthani palace piece by piece into your home just because you saw pictures that look great might not really be a good idea if you haven’t taken the practical aspect into consideration. At the end of the day, a house that looks perfect in picture but will not let you live in it comfortably is a massive fail. if you end up spending more time cribbing about the dust and how visible it is, or how you are afraid to cook in your kitchen because oil and turmeric stain your counter top and never comes off you aren’t living in a happy place made to suit your lifestyle.

That part might be the toughest to figure: What will work for me and my home?
My advice is to list all the things you like when it comes to decor, be it colour, style, lighting, material, just create a master list for yourself. What colour you see in your living room, what style of furniture, what feeling. repeat the same for every room you plan to decorate. Cut pictures out of magazines as inspiration, collect paint sample strips…and if you are like me, enjoying adding to the decor over the years, start with basic colours and shapes that will leave you an opportunity to customise and modulate later.
If you are a frequent relocator like we are, it pays to plan a theme over the whole home as from move to move you end up finding out that a shelf unit worked well in one room n one place but will work better in another room in the next home. We solved that problem by pretty much buying every furniture in dark wood hues, so that it end up blending better if suddenly the bookshelf we liked in the living room has to move to the bedroom because of space constraint.

I myself prefer light natural wood furniture, that’s pretty much a standard in Switzerland. It’s a land of gloomy weather 9 months a year, long Winter nights and people naturally want to have as much light as they can in their home and not feel oppressed. But light wood doesn’t work very well in India, less because of the natural light factor than the dry dusty climate. Dust is a massive problem in India, in cities even more so, it’s the black pollution dust that sticks to everything and is hard to clean. This dirt shows on light furniture before you have a chance to spell “squeaky clean”. We had natural rubber wood in Bangalore, and the DVD shelf is now a book shelf in Ishita’s room, the TV stand is still there in our living room, the futon sofa is gone. As much as it looked nice in our old flat, it was massive pain in the butt to keep clean, and still it. The rubber wood shelf unit, is having grey patches all over that never really come clean despite the good varnish on it. The TV stand is a laminate MDF unit that has permanent black spots that we somehow managed to turn grey last Diwali and are back to black-ish  as I write this. So much so that my advice is that even if you are living in a small space, opt for darker hues for your furniture, beside the idea that small spaces should only be furnished in whites, and light hues to look bigger is actually a well enduring myth. A myth I am to cover in the future in a new post, as this one is not the place to do so.

All in all, do not aim at magazine worthy homes when you plan your decor unless you are willing to engage yourself in heavy maintenance. And remember a fashion model looks like an ordinary person when not made up and staged for a photo shoot, and the same goes for a house.

7 comments

  1. You have an ant problem? The only thing that works for these is ant chalk at their entry point or on their path, but then it leaves chalk marks too :(

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  2. Yeah pest control thugh works best done before the monsoon, after that it's too humid and dirty all around to really be efficient.

    Regarding kids room, if you can move them to the master bedroom and move to the other room, the master bed has more space which will allow you more freedom to set two different spaces. If not it is still doable but work on a smaller scale. I strongly advise you to move beyond the king size or twin beds model if you can, so that you can free up space on the ground for something else. Bunk beds are a thing that works really well in kids rooms, a lot of them now even come with concealed storage for toys and bedding. Another option is to go for two loft beds, they are the size of a twin, can be pushed against a wall, and there is space underneath to set a study or play area, some do come with a built in desk.
    Keep the colour on the wall neutral, the best would be to find a colour both kids agree upon, then paint the whole room in that area and then assign wall space for the kids to decorate as per their respective tastes, stickers work really great for that. I will cover kids room in the future :-)

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  3. bunk bed is out of question ...as we dont want any stunts hapening!!!as it is hapening now...:) ..we have done the loft bed ..thing fr 1 ..and younger one is still in her cot so we get her big girl bed nxt yr ..and the sticker thing is alos something we ae lookin to ..after few yrs we were thinking of including the flower bed area and will make it into their study ...bt what abt some privacy ..a pull dwn film or any sort???

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  4. For privacy you have several options, the easiest one is run a curtain rod in the middle of the bedroom and hang curtains that can be pulled to divide the space. Another a bit more labour intensive would be to have a wood panel wall installed with an oppening in it to create a kind of divider between both kid's area, the problem is that you can't have it all wood without cutting air flow and light, so if you go for that road, have cut outs in it.
    A thoughened glass divided that has opaque areas also would work, but kids get rough so that one would work only for older kids.
    I'd say definitely take the flower bed inside to gain a significant amount of lost square feet if you can because these are sadly the most useless thing I have seen in a building and even constitute a health hazard during the monsoon becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

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  5. Great insight. I never really thought about the things they do to make the pillows fluffier or bedspread cover the bed just right for the photo angle. I know I get really irritated when I buy a comforter that doesn't fit the bed like in the pictures on the package. I've started buying my comforters a size too big because hubby and I fight over covers and if I don't, one of us is going to get cold. :P


    I usually use the pictures to get ideas only. I've never tried to recreate an entire room. I like looking for things I can do to make my own rooms more comfy or new storage ideas, etc. One of these days I'll get around to making a 5-star looking room but for now I'm happy I have a place to sleep when I'm not in my car. I don't think I even get time to look at it before I get in the bed most days.

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  6. I need a big quilt too, otherwise there isn't enough space underneath for both DH and I :) I like to snuggle into it so I need the extra fabric.
    getting a 5 star look in the bedroom isn't really that hard, but that involves lots of cushions that I am not willing to buy for my room, because my dog has a thing for cushion, she thinks they are some kind of puppy dolls and is always carrying one in her mouth. The 4 cushions we had on the sofa are all gone, I am using one on my chair, Jasmine claimed 2 and I have no idea where the 4th one is :)

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  7. Amanda1:42 PM

    Good ol carom powder aka boric acid did the job.

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