Monday, March 29, 2010

The Well-Layered Room

When you enter a well-layered room, you feel it. It welcomes you graciously and fills your senses with texture and color and vitality. It accommodates all kinds of activities and all kinds of moods. It can be cheerful, cozy or intimate. It speaks volumes, quietly.
(T. F. Simon, "Vilma Reading a Book", 1912)

If you ask me, I'd say there are four qualities to a well-layered room:

1. Comfort
There is always a pleasant chair waiting, a place to set your drink, an interesting book to leaf through, and a vista to settle your eyes on (whether it's a postcard leaning against a mantel or an open window onto Rue Jacob makes no difference). Furniture is arranged with meaning so that even as a first-time visitor, you feel immediately at ease.

2. Passion
A well-layered room reflects the kind of life lived within its walls. It offers an intimate glimpse into the lifeblood of its owners and makes you realize, "Aha, now I see who they are." It's like a journal entry into their soul.

3. Honesty
A well-layered room contains no concealment or pretense. If a piece of much-loved furniture is slightly shabby, it doesn't hide in a dark corner -- it's valued for its faithful years of service. Books and paintings and objets are collected piecemeal over time instead of during one-stop shopping trips. Nothing is overly precious. Curiosity is welcome.

4. Fearlessness
Timidity does not belong in a well-layered room. (Timid rooms are only one layer deep and usually colored beige.) A fearless room embraces the juxtaposition of different sources and patterns and histories. Just like a great cocktail party, it's filled with an assortment of interesting characters taking part in the same conversation.

The Bohemian painter Tavik Frantisek Simon comprehended all of this.
("Interior of My House in Paris", 1909)

So does Peter Dunham.
(Photo by Miguel Flores-Vianna)

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) had an innate understanding.
("Interior", 1920)
As does designer Michael S. Smith.

Matisse got it.
("Interior with Phonograph", 1924)

Tim Clarke does too.
(via Hollywood Style by Diane Dorrans Saeks)

And Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947).

Nicholas Haslam grasps it on a cellular level.

Do you have a well-layered room?


Hels said...

Oh Lisa, I want to be Vilma in your first painting.

I think arts and crafts houses tried for your very goals, at least comfort, passion and honesty. I can imagine William Morris and his fantastic socialist contemporaries designing the handmade and simple forms that relied on beauty of natural materials.

Imagine the fireplace in the centre of the room. It had a very wide hearth and an inglenook for quiet, warm reading. Imagine the polished floor boards, scattered rugs and rich wall paper.

Best of all, imagine getting rid of Victorian rigidity that kept the formal rooms For Best. No children or puppies were allowed in those stuffy Victorian spaces.

Victoria Thorne said...

This entire post is (a multi-layered) heaven.


Hannah Stoneham said...

This post is quite literally, a work of art. Lovely images. Thank you


Debra said...

What I love- is that there are no rules. Well-layerd and well-loved~ having our things about us that reveal some of our story. When I enter a well-layered room I ask questions about the books, the flowers, special mementos. That's when you really feel like you're getting to know someone. This is such a fabulous post.

Acanthus and Acorn said...

Well said Lisa!!! It's hard to imagine not being surrounded by things that are rich in history...mine!

I do try to keep it all organized and edited, and hope that I am successful in this area. But, I find great pleasure in sitting in a favorite chair in any room to gaze at this or that and the memory that it holds.

Mrs. Blandings said...

I have one. The others are still evolving. Lovely post - and I adore that Matisse had a place in it.

Sneaky Magpie said...

Unfortunately not yet but working on it. I don't like buying everything at once so for me it is a very slow process. Most of the time I buy vintage furniture and this takes time. Hopefully one day I will get there.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

yes, to the point of multilayered. great post

aprilinparis said...

Aaahh, a room of one's own! build and renew, as the soul itself does, and then to take a pause and recline in...

what a lovely post, thank you.

the designers muse said...

What an interesting post. Great paintings and great rooms! It's remarkable how interior views in some great paintings of the past can still be such inspiration today.

home before dark said...

A lovely sashsay. Like you I am always tuned into "what's the story." Because I chose to live with three generations of stuff, it can become a bit chockablock and then I have to edit a bit. Who will be the Vuillard of our time?

Joanna said...

With three kids and two dogs, my rooms can't help but be layered! What I like most about well-layered rooms, is how they evolve with time. I thinks it's sad to visit a friend and their living room is always the same, down to the placement of every knick knack.

Laura said...

Oh those red sofas are just calling to me! I do have quite a layered room, but I'll admit it is not quite so stylish as these examples. But over time perhaps it will be...

Karena said...

Lisa, I love what you have accomplished here with the current designers mixed with great works of art!! The four points say it all.

Art by Karena

Giveaway up on my site, come and join in!

Karena said...

Oh and now following! What a great discovery!


EE said...

I adore this post!! I think I do have a couple of well-layered rooms --but the best part of working on it is that if it's not there yet, that's kind of the point. Good layers get added less by going shopping than by taking trips, reading books, undertaking projects (including art), and just getting older.

mary said...

What beautiful pictures. (I'm well-layered with dust, does that count? ... no, I don't think so either).
However, was really commenting to point you in the direction of the latest Persephone Books letter in case you miss it. There's someone in LA who wants to start a Persephone reading group. Of course, LA is a big place, and I don't know if you're into book groups ...

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Oh, yes please!! You just listed all of my favorite designers :-)
I hate going to a house that has no personal items, just a 'pretty' layout that could be in a furniture catalog. I think that speaks VOLUMES about the owner and I'm instantly bored. Is that mean? haha

Ivy Lane said...

What a wonderful post! I need to study this a bit further and add some layers throughout my home! So many paintings yet to be hung, seat covers to be changed, fresh flowers needed!

Loving your blog!

Marti said...

Hi Lisa!
Fun post to read, study, and ponder. Here's my question - how to you avoid clutter when adding layers? I've gathered so many things that I love, but together, they're a jumble sale... I like how you began by listing the three points with examples for each. Would you embellish with even more examples? It's so highly personal, so a 'formula' isn't what I'm after...more of a loose recipe whose ingredients, timing, and accompaniments are open to interpretation...
You're pure delight!

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

In previous houses, yes, I have had well-layered, spoke-volumes-upon-entering rooms and I loved them.

But in my current small home, between the space issue and my new "less is more" mentality, I have grown to appreciate the simplicity of surrounding myself with just the most precious touchstones of my life.

less clutter for me is less strife

materfamilias said...

I admire your blog very much 'tho i rarely comment -- couldn't resist today as this is such a scrumptious post and makes me appreciate that I have at least two rooms that I enjoy v. much for their layering, altho' some of the furniture could someday be improved . . . Colour's important, for me, and texture, but especially elements that are interesting and have personal meaning.

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

I do. And I love it. It makes ME happy whilst driving others bananas. Give me personality, history any time. LOVED this - such yummy images!

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I love T.F. Simon's work and "Vilma Reading a Book" is my favourite (hence it's use as the header image on my blog).

I'm still decorating my first place and I think the four qualities you propose are quite inspiring. I've got the comfort down and the honesty is there too but I'm definitely missing the passion and fearlessness. Because it is my first place, I feel constant pressure for it to be perfect or to follow a certain style or set of rules but, really, I'll never be pleased with it if it doesn't have its own personality, which is the future I'm dooming it to right now.

Lisa said...

This post totally sums up my objective in making my home comfortable and my own (well, my family's too). Now I have a name to put to my goal "well-layered". I've always been a fan of Sister Parish and her goals for a room and her aims mirror your list. I've just finished (this is its third incarnation in 15 years) the front foyer/hallway - not exactly filled with comfortable chairs and places to set a drink, but as it's by the front door, it does give a glimpse of the inhabitants and I do feel it's 'well-layered' and accurate in its presentation. This post was pure food for my soul. Thank you.

Tracy Watier said...

A lovely post. Completely agree. And yes, I have a couple of well-layered, always evolving rooms. The others are catching up, soon I hope.

Miss Cavendish said...

I adore layers, in the English eccentric manner (and manor). But then again, I can be equally charmed by sleek austerity. (Just no stuffiness, please.)

Helen James said...

Layers, in clothes, rooms and people always make for the most interesting subjects.

Katy Noelle said...

Perfect and brilliant post! I lived in a too small, dysfunctional cottage for 14 years and, 2 years ago moved to this new farmhouse. At first, the blank painted walls with nothing unpacked was such a balm. Then, it got cold and unlived in. General design principles can be helpful in knowing what you love but when they become a PC thing it gets gross. (BHGs is driving me absolutely nuts with this!) I wanted to quickly settle into our new home but I find that I can't do the designer thing and just layer up a room! I have to let the room jumble and then get cleaned and to let serendipity do it's work.

My husband (who's Mom at this very moment is painting her gorgeous brand new colonial on the hill the same beige throughout - blaaaaaaa!) is coming out of being raised in a catalog. He keeps saying that every room should have something unique and odd in it to make it real and keeps suggesting the most ghastly solutions. There's no recipe! Only the lovely "mundane"! = )

Well, my! I usually comment but this time, I've been more typing out a stream of thought about one of the most dear to my heart things - making home!

Thanks for the space and inspiration to do so! Katy Noelle

P. M. Doolan said...

I most certainly have a multi-layered room (I like the term). Layered with bits and pieces and mainly with layers of books and journals. Sometimes I wish my wife was tidier than me, but alas,we both leave our layers discarded. Funnily enough she recently published a poem called "Layered".

Megan Taylor said...

what cozy corners, desks, vignettes! you have an eye for the concept of 'a room of one's own.' thanks for this's very inspiring to me.

nicole said...

Beautiful post! Your home and blog are so inspiring. I am moving to Los Angeles next month and I hope to be able to achieve a cozy layered look. All of your tips are greatly appreciated!


Anonymous said...

what a gorgeous post-I love your versions of layers-so thoughtful. xoxo

Anzu said...

Stunning rooms, and I like your list. It's often a very classic English country house look I think.
Being lived in is a key quality. My office has a far more layered look than my home, because I spend more active time there. The first day I moved into I scared myself as it looked so horrible and corporate. Over time, however, it has developed the most wonderful, creative feeling.

Emily said...

Layers galore over here at my home. I like what I like ,and I make no apologies. Never want my home to look like I decorated over a weekend. You my Lisa, are one onion-----lots of layers!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Hels: Yes, love those Arts and Crafts houses -- so organically beautiful and free of artifice. Love your description!

Victoria Thorne, Hannah Stoneham: Thank you!

Debra: So agree with you -- it's the details that reveal the soul.

Acanthus and Acorn: I have a favorite chair too, in my living room...perfect for gazing at memories, as you said...

Sneaky Magpie: How perfect that you're taking your time -- so many people don't or can't.

the designers muse: yes, yes, I so agree -- I always look at old paintings when looking for inspiration.

Laura (What I Like): Love those red sofas too.

Karena: Will check out your site asap...

EE: Beautifully put.

mary: How great -- a Persephone Books group in LA! Thank you for pointing that out -- I missed it.

Architect Design: It's not mean if it's true, is it? :)

Ivy Lane: Thank you for stopping by! xx

marti: Great question. Some designers have a revolving shelf that they use to store bibelots and objets that can't all be displayed at once. (Layered is good; overcrowded is not) If you have a collection of similar items, you could display them all together and create a tableau. Look at magazines with great tablescapes and copy them. There is a principle of the power of three; also mixing low and high objects; also books, candles and flowers are always welcome. I may have to do a future post on this, so thank you for this comment!

Susan's Snippets: Whatever works for you works for me...a home should reflect its owner. It sounds like yours absolutely does. xx

materfamilias: Thank you for commenting (It wasn't so bad, was it?! ) Yes, yes, texture and color and things old and new that touch the heart-- you've nailed it perfectly... xx

Claire (The Captive Reader): How amazing that you used that as your header! I must check out your blog. I only just discovered TF Simon and think he is absolutely incredible. Re: your place, don't strive for perfection! It isn't possible and will lack soul. Let your passion lead you and your home will reflect you much better than following the dictates of a magazine. Just my humble opinion.

Lisa: Your hallway sounds perfect. Photo please. xx

Katy Noelle: There's definitely something to be said for living in a blank space and waiting until you hear the muse calling. I've only just decorated my guest room this week after living in my house for two years because I didn't "feel" it; suddenly, I do.
I have no doubt your home will be beautiful. And you are welcome to unload here anytime -- it was a lovely and insightful post. xx

P.M. Doolan: Your home sounds DIVINE. As does your wife's poem!

nicole: An early welcome to LA for you! Let me know if I can be of help to you at all... xx

Anzu: I have no doubt that your office is spectacular, judging from the brilliance of your blog. xx

Emily: Being called an onion is a high compliment indeed. Thank you.

24 Corners said...

Your post is beyond inspiring! So beautifully done and as I am on the verge of moving into a newly built home, it will be referenced many times over!
We have truly tried to architecturally layer the home as best we could and now I'm hoping that over time the interior will develop the well lived in...beautifully layered look that will wrap it's arms around us everytime we enter.
Thank you~

madeleine said...

It's a dreamy world you've made so real, so soft, so inviting.

And with so much care.

Love this.

Anonymous said...

A marvellous post. Thank you.

Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

I LOVE this post - it quite took me away into a great place I've been dreaming of but not quite certain where to find...thanks a million for this most enjoyable trip ^_^

Julie Anne Rhodes said...

There are rooms in my house I do not use much, and I just realized why... the layers are all wrong! Well they could do with some Spring cleaning as well. Piles of papers and junk threaten to eat you alive upon entry.

LiveLikeYou said...

The best home is the one that truly expresses who we are. I think "well-layered" is a great way to put it.

JudyMac said...

This entry in the world of blogdom has to be one of the most delightful I've ever read, particularly the four qualities of the well-layered room. One can just never have enough of those neat things we are attracted to and find so dear to making our houses fun places to call home. My best friend, with whom I am always out on the hunt, and with whom I shared a copy of this post, pointed out that we are obviously both well layered. You really outdid yourself with this one, gal!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful blog you have. I leave a footprint from Sweden & Agneta. Nice to meet you!

Glenda said...

I love a well layered room. My entire house is like this. When people come in they are amazed at the amount of things I have. It's not trashy, it's layered in a way that you see everything but in bit's and pieces. I am most comfortable in this atmosphere more than the sparse cold rooms.


StuckInABook said...

I'm so in love with this 'Vilma Reading' painting by Simon, just been reminding myself how much.

The Hausfrau said...

Most rooms in my house are very well-layered. I'm definitely a "more is more" person!

This is a great post. I'm enjoying reading back through some of your archives, since I discovered your blog just recently. Cheers!

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