Interior design and landscaping lessons learned in 2020
Usually at this time of year – and what a year it has been – we think about what we have learned on our way to a better life. Here are my top takeaways from 2020:
In January, Our three dogs were fed up with the mud and kept coming back from the yard, where the lawn wouldn’t grow because the trees were overgrown. My husband and I received professional help. As we sat on the deck with landscape designer Tony Evans, DC and I overlooking our mud pit, we spat out options: a fountain, a fire pit, a pool, no more mud. Two weeks later, Evans came back with a plan that was far better than we could have imagined, which is why we eventually hired him. It would be seven months for the vision to become a reality and the yard to get muddy before it got better. But when COVID shut the world down, our new outdoor space delivered higher returns than we could have imagined.
Lesson: Don’t ignore your garden. In the past I have always preferred interior design to exterior design. I now believe that this is a mistake.
In February, We opened our door to a stranger. A family friend asked if we had a free room for a student, Jessica, who needed shelter for 12 weeks while she was doing her final internship on her way to her PhD in physical therapy. My mind raced through a parade of terrible results, but I wrote back, “Of course we will help.” And our private life got better. She came to us for dinner, threw herself around the house, and made our nest feel a little less empty.
Lesson: Believe in humanity. If you can be a haven in a storm or a temporary haven for someone in transition, open your door. Your heart could open too.
March, I reconnected with the ideas of the late architect and designer Michael Graves by previewing a range of 100 new kitchen items, from cookware to canisters, when his design firm of the same name, Michael Graves Design, brought them out. Each object embodied its three-part formula: form, function and mood. I interviewed Graves almost 20 years ago and twice since for my first syndicated home design column. He impressed me and the world.
Lesson: I have rediscovered how applicable the Graves Method is when facing a creative act. Whether you’re approaching a recipe, room, or relationship – or in the case of Graves, a city library or toaster – ask how I can make it a better experience.
In April, We crouched in place and began a chapter of unknown length and unfathomable darkness. In the course of life I was amazed at the flexibility and adaptability of humanity and at the versatility of our houses, which suddenly had to become everything: school, office, gym, church, restaurant, theater and beauty salon.
Lesson: I found a new appreciation for my home. When the world is a troubled place, we turn to our homes for support, comfort, safety, and now almost everything else.
In May, DC and I got involved in the big pool debate. The landscape design for our garden was available in two versions, with and without a pool. We had to choose. I looked longingly at the rendering of the pool. The cool aqua rectangle was sure to be seductive. I welcomed the idea of soaking up a cool bruise on one
hot summer night. DC not. He called a pool “sunken money”. I called it “liquid joy”.
Arms crossed. Back turned. I interviewed my readers. The votes were split. I did the math, which was sobering. The cost of setting up a pool, as well as maintenance, heating, insurance, and repairs over a 10-year period divided by 20 swims per year was $ 400 per pool. No number of margaritas by the pool would help me wash that off.
Lesson: The cheapest way to get a pool is to buy a house that has one.
In June, I met a young couple who gave the tiny house trend a new twist. Hannah and Ian Hernandez were motivated by the desire to own their home and travel easily. They bought a school bus and converted it into a tiny house, or “skoolie,” as they are called by a growing group of bus converters.
To turn the bus into a home for their young family, the couple gutted the interior, insulated the walls, added electrical wiring, clad the ceiling, and installed sinks, a shower, composting toilet, stove, refrigerator, and cupboards to create a 35 foot long house on wheels.
Lesson: “Living small doesn’t mean giving up,” said Hannah. “It means forcing yourself to look at everything you have and wonder if it can serve more than one purpose.” Regardless of the size of your room, this is a good mantra for all of us.
Come to me next week for a recap of the lessons from the second half of the year.