Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Decorate With Something Useful


I may be alone in this, and if pinterest is anything to go by, I am, but when I see pictures of cute vintage homes filled with open shelving and delightful little vignettes of antique knick-knacks, I shudder, and think, 'But what about the dusting?' This makes me officially not part of the cute-house club. But just because I think knick-knacks should stay between the pages of magazines, or in the houses of people with 'staff', doesn't mean I don't decorate, it just means that I like my decor to earn its keep.

I am a fan of the permaculture concept that elements in your house and garden should perform as many functions as possible. When we planted a hedge to screen out the neighbours (function one), we chose lemons because we can eat them (function two), and as a bonus it looks and smells divine (function three) and attracts bees when it flowers (function four). I like to decorate on the same principle. The things I love to collect and display on shelves and tables are baskets, vases, bowls, candlesticks, lamps, jugs and plants, oh and a free pig money box from our insurance company that we put all our 5c coins in for the yearly charity coin line at school.



Here are the craft drawers next to our dining room table and the living room. Vases, baskets, and an old world globe from an op shop. What I love about having a limited number of 'things' is that you get to know each one intimately, and develop little routines for using them.


The vases I grab all the time to use on the table, especially the teeny milk bottle ones at the front (thanks Aly, darling sister-in-law who always gives good presents), the baskets are regularly filled with fruit, or whatever I have brought in from the garden. The flat baskets are the perfect size to fit in the gap between the top of the refrigerator and the cupboard built above it, so I use them to dry herbs and flower petals on top of the fridge. The deep basket is the perfect size to fit a packet of chips, so is known as the chip basket, when it isn't being used for apples or walnuts.

The globes have been so useful over the years. Whenever we are talking about a country at the dinner table, or are discussing something on the news, or the children are doing their homework at the table, the globe is right there. I bought the little one recently, because the old one still has the USSR on it!

I mostly decorate with food though. As you can see in the top photo, we eat a LOT of fruit, and we bring in a lot of produce from the garden. It has to go somewhere, so I figure it may as well be displayed gorgeously in my favourite bowls and baskets as be stored in a plastic bag on the kitchen bench. Actually, my kitchen bench currently has a giant ceramic salad bowl of apples, and a basket of slightly squishy pears ready for stewing.  When you try to live thriftily and organically, with gardening and cooking being major elements in your day, you can't just have a nice little fruit bowl in the corner with three apples and a banana in it. You need space for storage, and also space to cook in. I have quite a small kitchen, so around the corner in the dining room is a long sideboard which I try to keep clear apart from a large pot plant, so that I can stack my big baskets and bowls of fruit and vegetables there if I need a clear bench for a big cooking project.

Sometimes these jugs hold custard, sometimes daffodils. Obviously jugs need an extra good scrubbing by hand as well as a trip through the dishwasher (or a soak in boiling water) if you are going to use them for both flowers and food.

I do like William Morris's principle that everything around you should be useful or beautiful - but I think that most things can be both. My house is too small, and my time too short to surround myself with things that are just beautiful, and it would be so sad in our short lives to be surrounded by ugly things whose only virtue is their function.

Kindling basket that was our ex-laundry basket. Sitting on an old shoe cupboard that now stores firewood.


Now, over to you - do you like the vintage, eclectic style of decorating with lots of bits and bobs and dusting, or do you choose not to dust? Or do you embrace minimalism? Or do you long wistfully for minimalism but live with the reality of duplo, barbies, and children's art all over the fridge? If you are a gardener or farmers' market cook, how do you organize all that food?

Disclaimer: There are a small number of knick-knacks in my house that I am sentimentally attached to. But I happily dust them because I love them. Also, I have a very large number of vases. Including a whole cupboard devoted to them in the laundry. The Man sometimes looks pointedly at them. But they are so USEFUL. Because you can put flowers in them, and... you know, sometimes even small branches...

14 comments:

Heather said...

I love decorating the tables around my house with bowls and platters of fruit. Fruit is so colorful and ALIVE. It also reminds the kids who are too lazy to get up and go into the kitchen when they are hungry that there is a tasty snack right within their reach.

Jo said...

I love that your children are just like mine. Although fruit on the dining table gets drawn on here. I am sitting looking at Bob the Lemon, who has a fetching fringe and looks rather surprised...

Linda said...

You're a girl after my own heart! When I see rooms stuffed with knick knacks my first thought is "Glad I don't have to dust that lot!" I do have vases etc but not too many. It also helps that my husband has a "thing" about a window sill covered in ornaments. I love the idea of your lemon tree hedge, sounds delightful .

Jo said...

We went out to buy pittosporums for a hedge, but came back with lemon trees. I can't think how that happened!

lucindasans said...

Very artistically composed pictures, Jo!

Love the cupboard that looks like an old catalogue cabinet. I want one of those. Wish I'd kept few from old library clean outs.

Growing up I dusted weekly with my sister. It was one of our jobs. Now I dust very irregularly. I try to minimise the number of shelves or cupboards or side boards because my family like to use them to put things on rather than put things away. No bench tops = fewer hot stops of clutter collectors.

e / dig in said...

i also shudder at and dust collecitng doo-dads, Jo, and am on a constant mission to downsize my stuff to a simple arrangements of a few beautful and personal things that give me great pleasure to see (liek your arrnagements). i love shutting doors on stuff, otherwise the stuff has to be beautiful and useful! that's my kitchen - i opted for open shelving recently for practical reasons, so had to make sure i only displayed what i love AND use.
we are actually moving offices soon and i have to store more stuff in my space, but i hate the sight of it all, it makes me queasy! so i'm going to see if i can get cupboard with doors to shut it all away.

Jo said...

I see I am one of a mighty army of cupboard enthusiasts! I love looking at pictures of cute things on shelves, but prefer to fill my house with resolutely closed, dust-proof cupboard doors. Except for most of the vases and baskets of course!
e, I think that is the key for open shelving - using what is on it so frequently that it doesn't collect months' worth of grime...
And Lucinda, having no surfaces certainly solves the clutter problem..

Janine said...

I am a believer in beauty + function as well. With two small kids, I really like having things that function as both toys and decor. I loathe dusting as well!

Jo said...

Hi Janine, lovely to see you here, have been peeking at your blog - you have beautiful babies!
It was when I got involved with a Steiner playgroup that I really got into beautiful, natural toys for the kids. It is so much less aesthetically offensive to have beautiful wooden blocks or lovely rag dolls all over the floor than plastic tat from Kmart...
So yes, that is another useful, beautiful category for decorating..

theroadtoserendipity said...

I am a sad magpie collector of little bits of washed glass, unusual rocks, roadside rubbish and anything else that catches my eye. I put it all together in ex coconut halves that Steve polishes in the shed, in shells, in thrift shop brass planters and I filled an entire wire globe with broken crockery and washed glass that I found at the beach. I recycle it all back into my plant pots but until it gets replaced it stays "somewhere" in all its ecclectic crazy glory. A tidy life isn't meant to be mine...

SarahN @ livetolist said...

Ugh i hate dusting - I can't believe it's a 'thing' and I'm always convinced wherever I am is uncharacteristically dusty than anyone else's place, to justify NOT dusting it as often as it probably should be done!

Given I had minimal to no flat surfaces at my old house, it was hard to justify buying anything just to 'look nice'. I do have a striped salad bowl that's merely for looking nice (and reminding me of the trip I got it), but it could easily be put in service. And I have some ornamental birdcages, but the dust makes them look authentically rustic :p

rabidlittlehippy said...

I too like practical decoration although I have enough knick knacks too as my mother loves to gift them. They stay undusted most of the time. :(
I love your baaskets of fruit too. We have the issue of little bench space (and much of what we have is under clutter at the moment as we try to find storage solutions and move on unwanted stuff) so recently I purchased a 3 tier wire hanging fruit basket to hang from the curtain rod hook. It looks good and frees up benchspace too. I now need to work out what to do with the gorgeous Bendigo Pottery bowl my aunt bought me over 10 years ago that has, until now, been our fruitbowl.

Jo said...

Such a good idea to hang up the fruit - and not only for benchspace. my toddlers used to take one bite out of pieces of fruit, and then put it back. Drove me insane.
Sarah, I love the thought of your authentically rustic birdcage! You and Jessie both have empty bowls now - oh, the possibilities! I quite like having 'empties' on hand for a sudden garden glut, or when a friend brings over a bag of produce that I have to store 'somewhere' all of a sudden.
Fran, your collections sound lovely. I adore eclectic interiors full of interesting things - in other people's houses! Yours sounds like lots of fun. I have a pot plant outside my back door that I empty Posy's pockets into - rocks, shells, feathers, pinecones. All the treasures! You clearly share her wonderful bowerbird tendencies!

GretchenJoanna said...

No matter where I've lived, there's not been much space available for doo-dads, unless they are part of a cooking or craft project. Currently every horizontal surface holds plates or bowls of colorful tomatoes, and sometimes they feel more like clutter than decoration. Recently, though, I inherited some artsy ceramic plates to put them on, and that helps me think they are only beautiful.

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