"Pretty always looks good next to pretty." -Emily Henderson, decor goddess.
The black walnut cupboard is a handmade gift from one of my husband's
woodworking forefathers and I'm eternally grateful to him.
I'd like to tell you that there was a method behind my madness.
But sadly, there was not.
Just some perfectly normal chaos.
The problem, if I can describe it succinctly, was that over recent months, as I decluttered and restyled one small area of my house, as one does, I would reject one or two items from their former home. Now these were all things that I admired and wanted to keep, but I just didn't know where to put them at the moment, so I took the lazy way out and sent them on pilgrimage to find a new place to live.
Which is not necessarily a horrible problem if you are talking about a handful of wandering possessions. But I'm talking about a crowd.
The orphans gathered here around the black walnut cupboard in the living room, which was already a bit topsy turvy, and I'll be honest. As the crowd grew, they made a pretty unruly mess.
I'm not a huge fan of displaying things on the floor
but this globe situation is kinda working for me.
Now let me go back a few months and unwind the progression of this madness.
Last Christmas, these shelves housed a pristine arrangement of thirty-some-odd white pillar candles and posed as a neutral and minimalist foil for my Christmas tree. They were neat and orderly and I loved their white cylindrical perfection.
Then 2020 happened.
The drawers hold my carved wooden animal collection and the lower cupboards are full of oversize photo albums, old family photos, and our collection of diplomas. They minded their own business and stayed out of the mess.
After the holidays, a handful of thrifted books were wedged among the dwindling supply of candles, and in a midwinter's attempt to make the arrangement look artful, I tucked a wooden box and few small baskets.
I'd also framed a flat-lay nature print from Haarkon that my second-born gave me for Christmas, and needed to hang it somewhere safe as I pondered its permanent location. In February, I found a vase at IKEA in the exact same shade of green as the print, so obviously they needed to wait together for their forever home. And in what turned out to be my last shopping trip before Covid shut down the world, I spied an irresistibly round and adorably green vase at Sky Nursery. Surely, vase belongs with vase, right? So I shoved it onto a spot of quickly diminishing shelf space, and tried not to think about the mayhem I was creating.
That tiny little wooden sugar dish belongs to a long ago tea set and I love it for several reasons, including its survival instincts. I'd long puzzled over what to do with it, but smacking it down front and center all by its lonesome is working for me.
As spring turned to summer, and I began dumping even more haphazard items on the generous ledge of the cupboard - I believe it's that ledge that gets me in trouble; it just begs for wayfarers to come and sit a spell - I had the distinct impression that I was taking a bad situation and making it even worse. Items were carefully stacked against all three sides of the cabinet, and spilling out onto the floor. Definitely out of control.
The pile continued to grow until last Friday night. And then, around two a.m. which is when I do some of my best thinking, I walked past the dump zone and said to myself, in quite a stern and no-nonsense tone, "Come on. Surely you can do better than this."
I love how the greens came together -in the painting, the vases and bowl, and the background of our wedding photo. Let's pretend I planned it that way, k?
Abruptly, with no vision of any kind, muscle memory kicked in and I simply began putting the heap of untoward objects into logical places.
- The small mirror, a wedding photo, and a dearly beloved picture of Irish Setters playing in the surf all took a lean against the back of the cupboard.
- Two white ceramic candle holders scooted underneath some of the holdouts from the candle display.
- A green handmade ceramic bowl made friends with the tiny green vase.
- Three handmade ceramic containers lined up front and center on the ledge. My mom and I bought the first and third containers from the same potter at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair back in the 1970s and I love to see them back together again.
- A pair of fish-decorated ceramic dishes from Cambodia dropped onto the lowest shelf so I can see their happy selves as I walk by.
- And my favorite two globes - in sizes Colossal and Ginormous - lined up on the floor nearby, where they fill my eye at the same moment as the incredibly detailed model of Planet Earth created by my fourth-born that hangs in a nearby corner of the room.
I finished and stepped back. My mind was utterly blown.
Not only are the first and third ceramic containers a mom-and-me purchase from the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair circa 1976, but the framed photo of the Irish setters came from the same place. We each bought the same photo and now I have them both. Not sure if this one is my mom's or mine, but at this point, it really doesn't matter.
Because somehow, this crazy configuration of random objects - each one pretty in its own right but together a seeming cacophony - suddenly made sense.
Now, I'm not about to enter this specimen in a shelf-styling competition. (Is there such a thing as a shelf-styling competition? There should be.) But all the same, I found my jaw on the floor when I realized that what was once a disheveled assortment of flotsam and jetsam had suddenly taken on a reasonably aesthetic and inspiring glow.
Looking across to the entry, I see more walnut furniture, another photo of an Irish Setter, and in the painting, a matching splash of green. I planned none of this; interesting how it all worked out.
As I stood observing this miracle, stunned into thoughtful silence, a sentence popped into my mind.
"Pretty always looks good next to pretty."
This pearl of decor wisdom had poured out from the gifted brain of decor goddess, Emily Henderson, and onto her blog, and then earlier this same evening, into my eyeballs and heart. To be fair, she attributes the sentiment to her own styling mentor, and uses the mantra to guide her in similar moments of impromptu and unrestrained rapid-fire styling.
And you know what else I was thinking, as I continued to ponder the magic of the moment?
"You're right, Emily. You're exactly one hundred percent right."